War’s Toll At Home

A Muslim man who suffers from bipolar disorder has killed a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, for no other reason than that the woman was Jewish. Some moron fired shots at a mosque in Houston, and Muslim institutions have been vandalized throughout the country. I am so sick of the hate. And it doesn’t stop. It won’t stop.

Whenever the situation in the Middle East deteriorates–which is to say, very often–you hear people saying things like, “I don’t hate Arabs, but…” or “I don’t hate Jews, but…” I’m always amused and also mystified by these reactions because, while they may deny hate, they never affirm love. Call me deluded, but I prefer love.

Arabs and Jews. Can you even tell them apart? They’re hairy (and I don’t mean just the men); they’re loud (try overselling them something; go ahead, I dare you); they dote on their children (‘Is that all you’re eating?’ is the universal lament of the Middle-Eastern table); they sit together and smoke and want to remake the world (‘Ah, back in ’67, if Nasser had…;’ or ‘Ah, back in ’67, Dayan should have…’)

Jews and Arabs. I am convinced that, when they die, they come back reincarnated as one another. And they still don’t get it. They still want to make the other one believe in their right to survival. Maybe that’s why they love to tell stories so much. Storytelling is how they survive. And their stories are so similar: Persecuted and driven out of their homes. Looked upon with suspicion. Hated for their customs.

At such times, my reflex is to go back to books. I find myself reaching for Hanan Al-Shaykh and A.B Yehoshua, for Mahmoud Darwish and Anton Shammas. I turn to literature. There, at least, I don’t have to come across borders, mental or otherwise. I don’t have to figure out who’s right or who’s wrong. I can just live other people’s lives for the length of a book.

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