Thursday, April 26, 2012

An Accidental Journey, Part Two

I did say a couple of days ago, that I was going to let you know how Magdi has been. As you will recall in Part One, I said that Magdi had told me about Egypt's troubled political environment, long before the revolution there. Corruption and cronyism were the rule of the day in the Mubarak regime. A state of emergency had lasted for decades, in order for this dictator to hold power and he enforced  that with his military and security police.
When I first began to talk with Magdi, a group of young activists called 6 April had been planning protests against the government, demanding the state of emergency be lifted and elections held.
Magdi was attempting to help them organize, mainly through social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Mind you, that kind of activity could get a person in deep trouble with the government. Of course, this was news to me! All I knew of the politics there was that Egypt and Israel had a peace treaty. I am actually old enough to remember that piece of history forged by Carter, Sadat, and Begin. What I was clueless about was the internal state of Egypt. With a rapidly growing population and rampant corruption, the economy was suffering terribly and unemployment was very high. But, if one tried to affect political change, he could look forward to being arrested, with a lengthy jail sentence resulting, complete with torture. I will simply say that Magdi was more than a little familiar with this.
As these members of 6 April, most of them university students, began to hold their protests, I would ask every Sunday for my church to pray for them. I asked them to pray for Magdi, and anyone else working on behalf of human rights. I would then follow the reports in the Middle East news media, as here in the U.S., no one was paying attention. Student protesters were routinely beaten and arrested by the security police at these gatherings, though they were unarmed and demonstrating peacefully.
Because of all this, when the "Arab Spring" erupted in Tunisia and quickly spread to Egypt, I was not all that surprised, and  in fact, I was delighted! Many people in America were baffled and crying that "Islamic extremism" was taking over in the region. Now, with part of the seats in the new parliament occupied by the formerly outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, hysteria about all of this has only increased in the West. We tend to forget how messy America's own revolution was, and the fact that the British most certainly thought us nothing but a rag tag bunch of armed extremists.
As for Magdi, he continues to struggle to make positive changes happen in Egypt. He was beaten last year by the police in a particularly bad incident, detained, and his cell phone confiscated to get rid of the video he had captured on it. Yet, as soon as his stitches had healed, he was back in Tahrir Square for another round. So it goes with my brother! I worry for his safety much of the time, but I am proud of him, as well. We are not able to chat  nearly as often as we used to. Even more rarely, we talk on the phone( he got a new one!). The situation in Egypt continues to be fluid and not really stable at this point. Some there have expressed to me that they are very frustrated. I remind them, though, how long America fought and then, how long it took to draft a working Constitution. Another full year went by after that before we had a Bill of Rights. So, I tend to be patient as I watch this play out and I still think there is great cause for hope. I believe Magdi sees it, too.
I smile as I write this, remembering something he said to me once. I always loved to tease him-it's a "sister thing". One day, I was hinting around,( not so subtly) asking if he had a lady friend waiting in the wings. He has never married. He said no, and we laughed. Then he said "I am married to Egypt".
It was a bitter sweet moment. I had mentioned more than once that I thought he should make a new life in America some day. He would say "maybe" or that he would "love to visit". But, on this day, there it was, in all its brutal yet tender honesty. He had a wife, or at least a mistress, keeping him there. Now, I knew her name and it was obvious he was going to love her, nurture and defend her, and never leave her. Yes, she is called Egypt, and her middle name is Freedom.

Monday, April 23, 2012

An Accidental Journey

I met a man two years ago, quite by accident. No, not my husband; I met him very deliberately over two decades ago! That is a story for another day.
The fellow I met in the spring of 2010 was floating around in the virtual world of Facebook. Surfing various pages one evening, I met him on a comment thread. His name, along with his profile picture, made me suspect he was an Arab, though he had a very good command of English.
As it turned out, he was Egyptian, well educated, articulate-and a Muslim. I had never met an Arab or a Muslim in my life. Now, in a post 9/11 America, it seemed possibly unwise.
"Well, it's okay", I thought to myself. "I'm liberal and tolerant. I'm sure he's just fine...probably." I sent  him a friend request and he accepted.
The next morning, I turned on my computer and went to Facebook. Almost immediately, this man popped up in my chat window, saying "Hi!"
I froze for a few seconds. My mouth dropped open, my pulse quickened and I realized I was not breathing.
"Think!" I said to myself. "Think fast!" I typed "Hi", took a gulp of coffee, lit a cigarette and waited. Just like that, he replied, "How are you?"
A voice in my head shouted, "Oh God! Oh my! An Arab Muslim wants to know how I am!" Visions of a terrorist training camp flashed through my mind. "I'm fine" was my carefully crafted response.
As we got through the initial introductions, I realized I was being very silly. Why would a terrorist want to contact a forty-something Iowa housewife? I live in a nice state but it is hardly a target rich environment.
I certainly have no inside information of any useful kind. I can't even program my TV remote!
Relaxing a bit, I sat back and enjoyed chatting with my new friend, on that day and for many afterward. In the months that followed, I learned a great deal from him. As knowledgeable as I thought I was about world affairs, I soon figured out that I was ignorant of many things.
Magdi had a very good understanding of Christianity. I, however,  knew nothing about Islam.
Magdi knew much about America and our people and culture. I knew Egypt had pyramids, and maybe camels.
Magdi told me about the happenings in Egypt, the Mubarak government and its corruption, and the stirrings of a revolution, long before the Arab Spring erupted on my TV screen.
There was one more thing Magdi told me, something that ended up profoundly changing my life. He told me about a people called the "Palestinians".
I had known of them throughout my life-Arafat and the PLO, radical terrorists, always attacking Israel. As they say in the South, "That's how I heard it."
Well, bless this patient man, Magdi. He began to connect me to credible, well respected sources of information, many of them human rights organizations. I read reports and documents. I went to alternative news sources instead of relying solely on CNN. I was being led on a journey that I had no idea I would be taking.
What I found outraged me. It was shocking, and to me, shameful.
In all my life, no one had ever told me there was a "Nakba". I did not know Israel has six hundred checkpoints throughout the Occupied Territories, nor that the people of Gaza live under a militarily enforced blockade. I did not realize that Israel had killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in military actions against Gaza and in southern Lebanon. Honestly, I was floored! And I cried...and cried.
Thus began my education in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Magdi started it, others have continued it, and I am now committed to it, dedicated to trying to help the Palestinian people find peace, with justice.
No group of people has ever affected me quite like them. I have had the pleasure of getting to know many, via friendships on the internet. They are intelligent, politically engaged, resourceful, resilient and strong. I have developed a love and respect for them that two years ago would have seemed insane to me. But, that was before Magdi.

Note: In Part Two of this post, I will let you know how Magdi is doing now, since the revolution, and perhaps I will introduce you to some of my friends in Palestine. If you keep an open mind and are willing to hold my hand, I can take you on a journey that will leave you forever changed.

All my love, from America...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Letter to My Love

Dear Palestine,
How are you today, my dear?
Is it quiet in Gaza? You know what I mean. Are bombs falling on you? Or is it a day when the children do not have to live that nightmare? Has everyone had something to eat? Did you find some wood or coal for a cooking fire? I know the gas ran out. I know clean water is scarce. I know you live in the dark most of the time. No lights-and little light is shined on the situation there.
How is the West Bank today? Did settlers hurl rocks at your children on their way to school? Was anyone left at a checkpoint to die? How many homes were raided last night? How many will be destroyed today?
So many here do not know, and they need to know(
It is a helpless feeling, to know what is happening to you, to know what you have endured for decades, and to not be able to stop it. To be honest, my love, this has really been getting to me lately.
Between America, Israel, Hamas, the PA and the UN, it is like one giant pissing contest and you, the people, are the ones getting wet. I can see this and I cannot do enough to change it. I have no wealth or influence, no connections to people in power. I have only my voice and this laptop that I use to try to tell your story. Others, just like me, are doing the same thing. It is not that Americans do not care. It is that they do not even know. Maybe I can change at least that much.
But today, my dear one, my body is so tired, in mind so heart aching and breaking....
Just know that I am still here, that I love you every day and that I will be back. I will always come back. I would not leave you even if I could. You have become a part of me, of my heart, my soul. There, you will always remain.
All my love,
A Woman in America