Those of us who were born in the Middle East, know for a fact that freedom of expression is a fantasy, a dream that never came true and doesn’t seem to in the near future. Governments never allowed it and the people themselves never bothered to obtain such privilege. I always heard that focusing on how to provide for the family is more important than complaining about governments or religious intolerance. Give me bread, not the right to speak was the norm back then. True there were lots of “revolutionary” movements, but all were politically motivated. The movement for internal change was taking the back seat always due to the focus on the Arabic situation on the political map.
When I immigrated to the States, I started seeing signs of freedom of expression. Although I was slow keeping up with the changes around me, but I tried to cope with such great change. Early nineties witnessed the first gulf war. We went out for a demonstration against the gulf war. This was the first time I ever go out in a demonstration. I didn’t need to cover my face nor I needed to fear baton waving security personals. It was a great feeling to be able to express your approval/disapproval with anything on mind. The uprising in the Palestinian territories was another example. Suddenly, I felt that I’m tasting something I didn’t know how it could ever taste have I stayed in the middle east.
I do realize that the foreign policy of the united states is full of flaws and injustice, but the fact that you, as a citizen, can express your disapproval with such policies is a great thing to have. I now realize the value of freedom of expression. And that somehow affected me when dealing with others. You can actually stage a demonstration and draw a funny picture of the president of the USA, in front of the lawn of the white house. Comparing such scenery with what you see on arab TV of arab demonstrators makes you see the two extremes. But the greatest lesson I learned was that freedom of expression has two sides. Just as you want to have the freedom to express, you must give such freedom to others.
One demonstration sticks in my mind was during the Palestinian uprising, and in front of a synagogue in east Cleveland. We were around 40 or 50 demonstrators. There were swat teams and police force that could’ve been larger than us. They pointed out where we can demonstrate and where we can not cross. They were holding the riot gear, and some even climbed on the roof of the synagogue with rifles to prevent any deviation. As expected, a group of jewish demonstrators also staged an opposing demonstration, and there was an area of about 10 feet separating the two groups. In this area, there were cops to prevent anyone from crossing their designated area. It was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration, but it turned a little ugly at the end. One jewish demonstrator crossed the the line and got close to our area shouting anti arab slogans. One of the cops got a hold of the guy and pushed him back harshly. A couple of jewish demonstrators ran toward us and they spitted at some of us so close before the cops could react. During that, one arab dude slapped the face of one of the two guys so hard that he fell, but by that time, police was concentrating on that small area and they prevented any further problems. We then went home after we expressed our voices against the Israeli occupation.
I participated in many demonstrations in down town Cleveland and few outside such as NY and DC. Just like most arabs here, we enjoyed such feeling of being able to express our views. Again, freedom of expression comes in two sides. During one demonstration in downtown Cleveland, the KKK were staging a demonstration in the late nineties. Many ethnic groups, including arabs, gathered along side the African American American community and staged an anti-demonstration to the KKK. For the first time I hear people yelling at us calling us names and demanding that the country be purified from any “colored” skin that is not Arian. I hated hearing those calls, but I realized that freedom of expression is far more than expressing your own views.
I was listening to the radio one day and I suddenly heard a speech. I can’t remember who the speaker was but it was a guy during the sixties about freedom of expression. The meaning of it is that when you as an African American, accepts the rights of a white angry man to burn a cross in his private property, that’s a freedom of expression. Just as you wish to scream for your right for equal opportunity in employment, education, and treatment. I tell you, the speech moved me so much that it changed how I view things. I, as a muslim, must accept the right of anyone saying that I, again as a muslim, bear an evil religion. He has the right to demand my deportation for no reason. He has the right to say whatever he wants to say about me, and I have to accept that. Only then, I can demand my right for freedom of religious practicing, freedom of wearing any cloths I wish, and freedom to speak my own language. Wait a minute bo3bo3, that means you also have to accept the fact that they have designated a part of the beach in Cleveland to be a topless beach. Ok..I mixed up here. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s to respect the others right to express, even in dress code, in the same manner that you demand acceptance from others.
Sadly, and being born in a middle eastern society, you would get conflicting reaction. If you try to adopt freedom of expression when dealing with others from the middle east, you would always run into a wall of rejection. This is so obvious in forums that have members from both camps. The mentality of such rejection is very strong. I could accept easily someone who attacks my religion or ethnic background, provided that it remains in the dialogue phase and never evolves into a violent behavior. Would it hurt me hearing someone attacking my prophet or religion? Absolutely yes. But I can not deny their rights to express freely their opinions. I’m seeing this always here and on other websites of course. But to me, I adore the concept of freedom of expression, even if that meant for others to call me a camel jockey or an arab hillbilly. It takes so much effort to practice how to freely express your views, but it takes twice as much to accept that others have the same right.
This closes my experience being an immigrant to the west. I tried to shed light to what an immigrant encounters, and what typical reaction he/she may have. With this, I knew I was gambling. I decided to strip almost naked so others see me through my mask and cloths, and I knew that it could generate animosity or rejection toward me. But to be honest with you, I came to the conclusion long time ago that this is who am I, and you could hate me or respect me based on whether you judge me relative to my past or today. It did back fire on me on few occasions, but believe me, I never cared. I am who I am, and what made me today, is what happened to me in the past up until yesterday. I shared so much details of my private life, and conveyed the details straight from the heart to portray exactly how I felt, regardless if it was a wrong or a right feeling. I hurt others and others hurt me. I loved others and others loved me. It’s life, and admitting such life is half way to the “solution” provided that there is a problem at any rate. Some of the actions I did in the past may seem to be unjustified and unforgiven, and I agree. But I don’t want to lie, so I’ll tell you this. As long as I have the respect of my family, that’s all what counts. Thank you very much for reading and I hope it left a positive impression on some of you. I also hope that these chapters have helped some to avoid the pitfalls that I have fallen into, for they now see the result and what could it do to the soul. My deepest apologies if my words have hurt some of you, for the intention was all the time a good intention. I’ll see you around.
Crazy & random thoughts
7 years ago