Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rations, Wishes and the Syrian Regime

Photo is courtesy of the Facebook page  We are all Hamza Alkhateeb.
With Syria on my mind, I stopped at a local restaurant for takeout falafel for lunch yesterday. The owner, a Syrian immigrant, is usually happy to serve up a side of politics with my lunch. Yesterday's side was a little different. I asked her what she thought of the current talk of the U.S. attacking the Syrian regime. She expressed her concern for civilians but said it has to be done. She went on to tell me that she believes the Americans will aim for precise targets and do what they can to spare civilians' lives. As we waited for my falafel to cook, she leaned over the counter to tell me about food shortages and the financial struggles of her friends and family in Syria. I asked about water and electricity which she confirmed are scarce. I then shared that my family experienced very similar struggles courtesy of the Syrian regime during the Lebanese civil war. She shook her head in disgust. 

As she packed my pita bread, I shared the story of my mother and I waiting in line for many hours for flour in Beirut to bake our own bread (unheard of in a city the size of Beirut but bakeries were closed). This was one of the many occasions when the army of the first Assad shelled Lebanese roads and bridges closing supply routes and forcing the rationing of what little was available. She seemed a bit surprised but I realized that I was speaking to someone who's heard about but not experienced the realities of war. 

I should have stopped there, but I went on to share one more thing.  I told her that my wish as a child was for my parents to let me leave home so I can make my way to Syria and personally kill Assad. Yes, I said that. I personally wanted to kill Assad to put an end to the suffering of so many, particularly my family. I was confident (or foolish to think) I could reach Syria somehow and get close enough to kill him. Fortunately or not, my wise parents did not agree and I did not get my wish. The woman looked at me puzzled, shook her head and said, "I have never heard anything like this before." Her response bothered me but I'm not sure why. I suspect Syrian children living through their war now more easily identify with my childhood experiences and state of mind. 

But what if I did leave home, reached Damascus and made my wish come true? One thing is for sure; I wouldn't be here writing about it today.

Today, as a Lebanese American, I'm praying that my country delivers decisive, definitive and devastating strikes to the son of Assad and his lieutenants. I'm also praying that Syrian children will live to write and talk about it. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fidelity and Betrayal

Boston Marathon bombing - April 15, 2013
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings and related events, I can't help but feel outrage toward the members of the Tsarnaev family who were directly and indirectly responsible for the bombings. They were naturalized American citizens who chose this country and took an oath to "bear true faith and allegiance" to it, and then they betrayed it. I'm finding no room for understanding or empathy whatsoever.

I posted the piece below a while back but I thought to share it again for obvious reasons. It is by no means a putdown of immigrants' loyalty to the United States. (I dare anyone to take me up on that point.) Rather, it's my story and my way of expressing my anger toward those who pledged their loyalty to this great country and then proved themselves unworthy of the privilege of American citizenship. Unforgivable.

Beirut's Green Line
Living on Beirut's Green Line for 10 years of the 15-year Lebanese civil war was no picnic.  The constant fear, uncertainty and disappointment had worn my parents down, so they finally took advantage of something most Lebanese coveted--the opportunity to legally immigrate to the United States and start a new life.  From learning the language, to finding work and adjusting to a new culture and way of life, our family's early years here were difficult to say the least.

But we were grateful to be in America.  We were grateful for a full night's sleep, safe streets, law and order, open schools and what we felt was a clear path to a real future.  I'm grateful to be alive and here today to write this blog.  I know I speak for each family member when I say we simply fell in love with this country--its ideals, its history and its people.  The kindness of countless Americans helped us through so many challenges, and it didn't take long for us to feel we were home.

A US Naturalization Ceremony
Then on a sunny day in May 1990, nearly six years after we landed on American soil, my father, sister and I raised our hands and took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. (My mother and brother followed a few years later.) We were finally Americans and we couldn't be prouder. To us, becoming American was a privilege and an honor. The oath we recited that day was not casual or optional.  It was a serious commitment to our new home, the one that welcomed us with open arms and held so much promise.

I know our story is essentially the same as that of countless immigrants from every corner of the globe who chose this country and have become (or are in the process of becoming) woven into its glorious fabric. It's probably safe to say that throughout America's history, immigrants have returned every bit of kindness and every ounce of opportunity offered to them by this great country. They have paid back with hard work, ingenuity and fidelity.

Yes, fidelity is really what's on my mind today. As I learn more about two naturalized American citizens--Mansour Arbabsiar, the man at the center of an alleged Iranian plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington, and Mohamad Soueid, who was indicted yesterday for acting as an agent of the Syrian government and spying on Syrian protesters in America, I'm outraged and disgusted. We don't quite know either man's motivation yet, but we do know they were both lured by foreign governments to put American lives in danger and undermine the very basic rights and liberties guaranteed to all in this country.

I am grateful that law enforcement officials found these two individuals and that they're now in the hands of our justice system, but the words of that oath are haunting me. Did they mean anything they said the day they raised their hands and became American citizens? Clearly not.

Below is the actual Naturalization Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. Whether you're a naturalized or native American citizen, please read it carefully and renew your commitment. Let's all return every bit of kindness and every ounce of opportunity offered to us by this great country.

"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God."


Thursday, March 21, 2013

A New Middle East

As President Obama visits Israel, I have more thoughts and blog posts brewing in my head than I have time to write, but it occurred to me that I should have titled the piece below "A Modest Proposal for a New Middle East". Scroll down under for the November 2011 post. 

Israeli President Shimon Peres shows President Obama
   an olive tree at the presidential palace on March 20, 2013.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

(And here's the transcript of the speech the President gave in Israel today.  Brilliant!)

November 15, 2011

A Modest Proposal for a New Arab World
The Voice of America's new Middle East site today published this piece I wrote. Take a look and let me know what you think.  Click HERE for the VOA site or see the text below.

A Modest Proposal for a New Arab World

By Laura Boustani

There are so many unspoken rules, ancient prejudices, historical tipping points and complicated allegiances in Arab politics. Most of them have a great deal to do with religion and little to do with human rights, equality or freedom.  In fact, hating and oppressing all the “others” is a time-honored Arab tradition.

Shiites oppress Sunnis and Sunnis oppress Shiites.  Christians are oppressed in most Arab countries and arguably oppressive in one.  Palestinians are personae non gratae just about everywhere, but their cause is front and center for militants who use it to justify attacking Israel.  Most al-Qaida and Hamas members appear to be Sunni.   Hezbollah members and Iranians are Shiites.  Jews seem to be everyone’s enemy.
Are you confused yet?  You’re not alone.  It’s maddening, but those of us from that part of the world have no problem keeping all this straight.  Much of it explains our past, defines our present and shapes our future.  In fact, much of the current unrest in Arab countries is a direct result of the connection between religious identity and power.  And, let me be clear:  Probably all religions and sects are guilty of exploiting their faith to commit countless atrocities – if not currently, then it is likely to have happened at some point in history.

I began this piece wanting to argue that Christians in Syria and Lebanon should wholeheartedly support the Syrian revolution and stand on the side of human rights, freedom and dignity for all, regardless of their fears.  But I realized that any such argument will fall on deaf ears if religious affiliation, oppression of the “others”, and fear always come first.
So, to borrow from Jonathan Swift, here’s my modest proposal for a new Arab world that rejects the modus operandi of past centuries:

1.    Separate religion from all affairs of a nation and grant everyone the right to worship as they wish.

2.    Recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person and grant all citizens the same rights regardless of their religious beliefs, gender, political affiliation or family history.

3.    Give everyone equal say on who they trust to serve them at every level of government. Yes, free and fair elections are a must.

4.    Value and protect everyone’s right to express their opinions and associate with whomever they please.

5.    Administer equal justice to all according to fair laws approved by citizens.

Perhaps what I’m suggesting is simply for Arab countries to weave into the fabric of their new nations a universal teaching of all the world’s great religions, the Golden Rule, or the ethic that we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.

Can it be that simple? 

As the American revolutionary Thomas Paine once said, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”  So, why don’t we?