Every July 23 for the past 58 years, Egypt, my country of birth, has celebrated its “July revolution” that overthrew King Farouk and ended the monarchy and British occupation once and for all. It was no revolution: It was a coup staged by young army officers. And so it has been with a series of “revolutions” around the Arab world in which a succession of military men went on to lead us in civilian clothes — some kept the olive drabs on — and rob generations of the real meaning of revolution. For years I looked at the Iranians with envy — not at the outcome of their 1979 revolution, but because it was a popular uprising, not a euphemism for a coup.
How do you discuss virginity with a class of American university students without the conversation sounding irrelevant to their lives or, worse, an exercise in exoticizing another culture? Women, sex and culture can be a Bermuda Triangle that threatens to demolish discussion through either defensiveness — when students feel compelled to defend a cultural practice — or superiority — when students feel compelled to parade their culture as being above whatever cultural challenges are being discussed. The personal is not only political, but it demolishes that Bermuda Triangle. I got a powerful reminder about that in September when I taught a course on gender and new media in the Middle East, in Oklahoma. We had watched the Lebanese film “Caramel,” directed by and starring Nadine Labaki, as the owner of a Beirut hair salon whose friends and co-workers portray a cross-section of Lebanese female experience.
When the planes flew into the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, I was living in Seattle, on the other side of America. My brother and his wife were visiting me. We did not leave the house for two days because we were worried that Americans angry at Muslims would attack my sister-in-law, who wore a hijab.
You’ve seen their mugshots: a Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a plane on Christmas Day; five young American Muslims detained in Pakistan, apparently desperately seeking jihad.
Sex has ruffled many in the Arab world lately. About time.
Do you hear the silence from the Arab world over events in Iran?
I live in Harlem, New York City, which on election night was the center of the universe. I have never seen people so happy.
Being in the region -- I was in Cairo at the beginning of November, and I'm writing this from Tel Aviv -- it's easy to see why Annapolis produced nothing new: Both Arab and Israeli politics have failed to produce anything new for years now.
How do you prevent that young Muslim from being lured by radical ideas? That was the question at the heart of a conference organized at The Hague recently by the Dutch national coordinator for counterterrorism. As Tariq Ramadan reminded the conference, preventative methods are bound to fail unless they include Muslims as part of the solution. To only view Muslims as potential radicals is the quickest way to alienate the very people needed to solve the problems.
My birth at the end of July 1967 makes me a child of the naksa, or setback, as the Arab defeat during the June 1967 war is euphemistically known in Arabic. There was no Summer of Love for us in 1967. We Children of the Naksa were born not only on the cusp of loss but also of the kind of disillusionment that whets the appetite of religious zealots.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a Muslim issue.