The perpetual cycle of terror constantly updating in the news is the combined result of four factors: The underachievement of boys, Arab sectarianism, the Politicization of Islam by the CIA, and hate preaching Imams. None of these factors alone would have resulted in this much terror.
No one wants to see another generation of Militants, but if the future is going to be different, we have to talk about the way we parent and educate boys. There are way too many boys who fall behind in school in the West Bank, Jordan, the Arab and Muslim world Just like in America!
I am speaking from first hand experience. As a stand up comedian in New York City, I’m used to male comics who talk endlessly about their video games, porn and their views on women. As a friend in comedy who has had to listen to her fair share of dick jokes recently stated: “Punching a woman in the face is not a punchline”. But I am not here to tell you about the American boy problem, for that, read Peg Tyre’s The Trouble With Boys. I am here to tell you about the Arab boy problem.
The Arab boy problem
This was not always the case. I have uncles who were leaders in their professions. Two of my brothers are mechanical engineers. Something went wrong with the generation of boys born after the 1967 Arab defeat to Israel. Fadi Zaghmout observed this trend in Jordan. Interestingly, Fadi offers Arab male machismo as one explanation for the fact that eighty percent of students entering Jordanian public universities are girls. He observed: “Boys enjoy more mobility, less moral judgement and an expectation to prove their masculinity which results in gang culture, and the toughest is the most popular rather than the one with the highest moral values.” Meanwhile, as Fadi observed, the message we send to girls is that their education leads to better marriage prospects.
Dr. Natasha Ridge noticed the underachievement of Arab boys first hand. She said: “I became very interested in the idea that western literature talked a lot about problems with the girls in the Middle East, but my own experiences showed the girls were doing very well and it was the boys who were struggling”.
Sarah Silverman observed in her HBO special “stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up, it would have never occurred to them they couldn’t”. If she only knew what Arabs tell their girls. When I was little, I was more advanced academically than my brother who has a ton of charisma but little substance. I have this clear memory of an old bedouin woman who worked in our farm saying to my brother: “InshAllah, you will be a great leader, I see you leading the Palestinian struggle”. This was right after he was kicked out of school for bringing a donkey into the classroom. I stored that memory for thirty years and when I heard Sarah’s observation, I realized why. We tell our girls who they can marry but not what they can be.
We are sectarian to a molecular level and it plays out firstmost in marriage. I come from a community of Christian Arabs. In teeny tiny Jericho where I grew up, we lived side by side with Muslims, but at home we were fed a constant diet of Islamophobia. As little girls, my sister and I were told horror stories. If you marry a Muslim, after every fight, he will take a second wife. By your third fight, you are sitting there in a sister wives situation. I fight with my husband so much, I ought to be in a harem situation. If a Christian Arab girl falls in love with a Muslim boy, either she is disowned, or one of her parents gets a heart attack, OR one of her brothers commits an honor killing. When I announced that I fell in love with a Pakistani Muslim, my family threatened to disown me. If we were still living in the West Bank, I might have caved in, or worse, have a death on my conscience. But here in America, I knew there was nothing they could do. It was not easy, somehow I did it. I am actually writing a book about my experience. It’s titled: I Married a Muslim And No One Died.
What I learned from my personal experience is highlighted by a recent headline from The Onion that read: “Everyone in the Middle East given own country in a 317,000,000-State Solution”.
As the only Palestinian in my zip code other than the halal cart guys, I often get asked the classic post 9/11 question of “Why do they hate us?”. Listen to me, we hate each other far more than we hate you. We might be mildly annoyed at you for sending us a skinny white bipolar drug addict CIA agent named Carrie from Homeland to hand deliver us democracy but when it comes to something serious like war, we prefer to keep that in the family.
Lets look at what’s going on over there. I was born and raised in the West Bank on geopolitics and I can not tell you who is on whose side any more, how is Joe Biden supposed to keep track?
The one thing that most of the sides have in common is American weapons. The American defense industry is like a big pharmaceutical company taking advantage of our self hatred by prescribing us weapons. The voice over for the commercial would go as follows: If you hate your neighbor and want to take over his oil fields, call your nearest American Military General to see which weapons program is right for you. Our latest line of fighter jets might help relieve symptoms of mild to severe terror. The disclaimer would sound like this: Do not take our drones if you are also taking weapons from the Chinese as it might cause an unsafe drop in political pressure. Side effects might include uprisings, military coups and blurry visions of democracy. Then in super fine print across the screen, it would say: If your war lasts longer than four years, you might bleed to death.
We Arabs have to treat ourselves. Where is our Arab Carl Jung? Ever since the 1967 Arab defeat, we have victimized ourselves and blamed the outsider, any outsider. And when this really gets going, all outsiders are just “Satan.” Arabs call America “the big Satan” and Israel “the small Satan”. We have come up with very complicated conspiracy theories to explain what went wrong. We have to say yes to reflection and no to Weapons. But, hey if the Americans want to continue air dropping stuff, they can airdrop some ranch dipped hot winged flavored doritos. While they are at it, they can airdrop some wet wipes because the doritos are messy and we are running out of water.
The line “We must love one another or die” from W.H. Auden poem’s September 1, 1939 has never been more relevant. We have to focus on what unites us which is our language, art and our rich culture. All of us, Christians, Sunnis, Shias, Wahabis, etc. in general are in this mess together. I feel sorry for George Galloway. He has been saying this for years. He even learned Arabic to delivery his “Unity is strength” message but we still don’t hear him.
Meanwhile, the West keeps telling us that Islam is the inherent problem. But, as Fareed Zakaria explained: “You can’t explain a variable phenomenon with a fixed cause.” Fareed has to justify his Ivy League degrees with fancy words. I spent more money on facial hair removal than I did on college so I will use plain English. You can’t blame the last forty years of terror on Islam which has been around for 1,400 years. During the “cold war’ with Russia, America fought a proxy war. I will refer to Hisham Melhem’s brilliant summary from his article The Barbarians Within Our Gates. “The Islamization of the war in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation—a project organized and financed by the United States and Saudi Arabia—triggered a tectonic change in the political map of South Asia and the Middle East.” The CIA totally birthed the concept of a Militant or Jihadi Muslim. You can believe me and Hisham or watch Charlie Wilson’s War.
I felt this tectonic change first hand. I am the youngest of six kids. My parents had three kids in the early sixties, and three in the early seventies. Around the time I was ten, men started growing their beards and women started wearing Hijab. My two older brothers were offered cash handouts in high school if they joined Hamas which was the Militant Muslim Alternative to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Where was this cash coming from? That’s how the CIA solves problems, by throwing cash at them. My brothers rejected the cash, left for America to study and became engineers. And we became divided which, on a larger scale, is the story of the Palestinian Diaspora. It was also at that point that Arab dictators started feeding their people the Palestinian cause. We drank the Koolaid, instead of talking about academic achievement, we started talking about politics. We started confusing our raison d’etre for demolishing Israel instead of raising educated boys who can compete in today’s economy. So my brother who was born in 1970 and his generation grew up to be underachievers. At this point, my personal story ends because the underachievers in my family are Christian Arabs. Uber came to their rescue.
Now comes the fourth and final ingredient in producing a terrorist. The enabler in the form of the hate preaching imam. Start with a young man who is disenfranchised by society and has low self esteem (imagine Arab Bart Simpson living in a refugee camp somewhere), throw in a dash of Arab sectarianism, some cash from the CIA via our tax dollars and a sermon by an imam like Ateeq who calls for destroying everything that is not himself: “destroy the Jews and whoever made them Jews, and destroy the Christians and the Alawites and whoever made them Christian, and the Shiites and whoever made them Shiite”, et voila, you have your man.
Conservatives accuse President Obama of being Muslim. I wish he was. At least he would offer young boys in the Middle East a different ideology, that of Intellectual Jihad. I want Arab and Muslim boys to put up posters of President Obama reminding them that the one who uses his words ends up leading the free world.