Lying in the dark with Sofiane flailing his arms around in bed, the baby asleep and finally detached from my nipples. Listening to Fresh Air pod cast and there it is: the American woman who has written a book called what else? Unveiling or Unveiled or some such shit. Poor woman married an Arab and had a hard go it. So then decides to exploit her personal life to help balloon what we all hear daily: Arab men are controlling. Arab men will marry you and then steal your children. Arab men will try to destroy your personhood.
Hum... And then I think, what would be the title of my memoir? How can I counteract this attack? Because for every stupid book like this one, I have to deal with a million little questions from everyone I meet. "So...did you have to convert to Islam? So, what does your husband REALLY think of women?"
This woman is following in the proud tradition of Sally Field’s role in “Not Without My Daughter.” I think every American has seen that film. If not, everyone has learned the lesson of it: Arab men will woo you, bed you, marry you, father your children and then steal them away in the black night taking them back to their tents in the sand where they will force your daughters to dress in head to toe black polyester with nary a bellybutton in sight.
This woman and Sally Field and all the other women, including lots of Arab women, I might add, who have written books and consulted on films have fucked me over and made it impossible for my marriage not to be a jumping off point to a political and religious wartime conversation piece or an excuse for ignorance to rear its nasty-toothed head.
Just yesterday the man who came to fix my living room windows says to me (picture him standing on my window sill, facing away from me/ picture me in cummy pajama bottoms and a huge bathrobe, Zakeria on my hip, my hair frizzed), he says to me: "Well, I have another job, too. I work in the airport. Yeah, I have to support my wives and kids. So, I guess I'm more Arab than the Arabics!"
What the fuck am I supposed to say to this man? A man who refers to the Chinese immigrants of his neighborhood as "Orientals." Orientals? What fucking era does he come from?
OK, and let me just back up. This man works for TSA, which is in charge of the security of JFK, the busiest international airport in the United States, right? This man is a cultural disaster. He has absolutely no clue about anyone besides his own white bread breed of Americans who sit down with him every Thanksgiving or burp their way through Memorial Day cookouts. This man is an ignorant joke. And he is supposed to make our country safer? I swear, this man wouldn’t know a real threat if it hit in between the eyes. But he sure as hell is a racist, ignorant SOB.
Gad Bless America.
But back to my Tuesday morning.
What am I supposed to say to this man who I have just moments before told that my husband is from Algeria?
Stupidly, I engage him. "Well, my husband just has one wife. That's me."
"So, he's just getting started, hu?"
"Uh, no. He's finished, actually. He doesn't need any more wives. I am plenty enough woman for him."
What was I thinking? That I could somehow convince him, a man who attaches a device to his vacuum cleaner and then vacuums his baby's nose out, how could I somehow explain to him that just because some men who are Arab have more than one wife, that my husband was quite satisfied with just the one?
How could I possibly make myself feel less humiliated by this, short of pushing out of the window well and onto the concrete a few stories below?
And might I just add that all the while he is pronouncing the word Arab like Ay-RAb.
And since I am running all over the place with this entry, let me just point out something more current about Sally Fields. I love her show, Brothers and Sisters. I watch it every Sunday night. She plays the mother of a big gaggle of grown siblings who live and play and duke it out with one another in the California sunshine. She is a widow and the shadow of her husband looms over the show, in part because some of them still work for the business he started. Love it. But here’s the latest revelation of the show. The Grand finale of the show goes like this: not only did Sally Field’s husband have a life-long mistress; he also fathered a son by a third woman.
I must point out here that this does not bring to the surface any questions of her late-husband’s religious beliefs. Religion is almost never mentioned in the show. I have the feeling that the uncle might be Jewish, but that is just because his name is Sol.
No one in the show is talking about the need to lobby congress to protect women like Sally Field from sneaky men who have, de facto, THREE WIVES.
The show treats her dead husband’s personal life as just that: personal.
But when it comes to sharing a life with an Arab and Muslim man, that marriage must become political. It is forced into this realm by all the films and books and magazine articles that again and again paint Muslim men (especially Arab Muslim men) with boogieman eyes that steal women’s souls.
After September 11, I thought I could act like an ambassador of sorts. In my trips to North Africa I would talk to people about the America I love, about the people I know who protest the war in Iraq, who advocate for justice in Palestine. And here in New York could talk to all those people who I meet, in the park, on the subway and ask about Sofiane’s name, about my husband’s background, or even my friends and family, about what I know about Islam as a lived religion, about the infinite variety I see in the people who practice it. But I get tired of it.
What impact can I have when the images and ideas about Muslims and Arabs are so solidified that I can't even begin address them? Not really.
Case in point: A conversation I had the other night at dinner with a couple of cool ladies:
Chic #1: Those poor people in Miramar are all dying. I guess the government isn't letting any aid in there.
Chic #2: Yeah, well, aren't they Muslim, or something?
Me: Well, actually, it’s because they have a military dictatorship over there and are afraid that the US will try to spread the idea for regime change along with the bags of donated rice and beans.
Even this gets exhausting to write (and to read, no doubt. Sorry.).