By Lama Z. Khouri
In Arabic, “November 9” is written “9/11.” The day felt just as cataclysmic and tragic: the ripple effect might last for years to come, racism and Islamophobia are now virtues, and the planet might not survive humanity’s onslaught.
The morning following election night, I woke-up wishing I could ask the sun: “how did you have the strength to rise?” From my kitchen window, I wanted to shout at every pedestrian, every dog walker, every mother and father: “How can you go about your day as if nothing happened? Don’t you know? Don’t you care?”
I wished I could tell my ancestors: I am sorry for not saving your name, for the fate of Jerusalem — your land may be forever occupied, and your people may be facing annihilation.
I wished I did not have to tell my children: I cannot save the planet, rewrite history, modify my genes, or that you will always be diseased.
Your symptoms: your name, your skin color, your heritage.
Your affliction: geographic, and incurable.
Your friends’ empathy won’t save you, their love won’t cure you, and no painkiller will relieve your torment.
Over the past six years, my 18-year-old daughter employed every measure a teenager could use to separate. She rarely explored her maternal Arab/Palestinian heritage and while she felt at ease with her Italian roots, she was not consciously aware or concerned with her paternal Jewish lineage. Before leaving for California to attend college, she insisted that she did not want to come home for Thanksgiving, perhaps not even Christmas.
Following weeks of no contact, she calls me on November 10th:
“Mom, how do you identify yourself? On official forms, I mean, which box do you cross?”
“Other,” I respond.
“Do you consider yourself colored?”
“So, I am half-colored?”
Following a brief silence, the subject changes.
That evening she texts
“I am at a lecture on torture”
As if she just encountered her dehumanized half, she continues:
“Israel was the first country to legalize torture. ..
Trump wants to reinstate waterboarding… Will you be OK?…
I am worried about my cousins who are studying here. Could they be hurt or jailed? Will you be able to stay in the US?”
Before I could respond she texts again,
“I want to come home for Thanksgiving.”
About six weeks after the elections, on my way back from Jordan, my son and I had to change planes at Heathrow airport. Crossing customs, the officer who checked our passports, uttered the four words I often dread: “Come with me, please.” As we were being questioned, I see other families cheerfully passing us by — this bliss is not my children’s fortune. I look at my 15-year-old son and my heart breaks when I see his gaze fixed on the customs officer, as if waiting for the verdict. I place my hand on his shoulder, and when he turns towards me I smile as if to say “we will be alright.”
We spent about 45 minutes being asked the strangest of questions. I know the drill: I could not ask why. I could not object, grimace, or smile. When we were done, and as we walked towards the gate, my son looked at me and asked:
“Is it because we were in Jordan?”
“They want to keep us safe. They have to do what they have to do.”
“Domination deforms and depresses, as much as it inspires revolt,” wrote Muriel Dimen. But when you are suspect, revolt is not an option—deformity and depression is your share.
The rhetoric interpellates. You become your own subject, conspire in your own oppression. Interpellation is not only a feeling, it is not only a way of being. It is the shape of your cells, it is the gaze in your eyes, the beat in your step, the rhythm of your gait, the way you see the world. You must continue to keep your head down, succumb to whatever comes your way, and concede that the crime you did not commit is indefensible