My appearance on “Voice of Pakistan” yesterday hosted by Faiz Khan starting at the 12 minute mark.
Corasanti unknowingly affirms criticism of ‘The Almond Tree’
Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s response to Susan Abulhawa’s critique of The Almond Tree proves Abulhawa’s point about the book coming off as informed by white privilege and the white savior complex. Here are some of Corasanti’s major points, which need to be deconstructed:
1. Corasanti stated, “I didn’t need a Palestinian editor because I lived among the Palestinians inside the green line for seven years and saw with my own eyes the Palestinian reality.”
This is statement speaks directly to the arrogance of Corasanti that Abulhawa described. Abulhawa is Palestinian, born to a Palestinian family and raised among Palestinians in Jerusalem, in Jordan and Kuwait. Her characters were composites of grandmothers, uncles, aunts, neighbors and friends. Yet she still had several of her Palestinian friends and at least one Palestinian academic read her manuscript at different stages because she understands what Corasanti clearly doesn’t that novelists should approach the lives of others with humility. The Palestinian struggle with its many painful facets is something Abulhawa grew up with. She wasn’t an observer “on weekends” while away at school, but she still didn’t presume to fully comprehend everything her grandmother and parents told her about their dispossession and she sought to authenticate her writing from those who did. To do otherwise is arrogant and insensitive in the extreme.
2. Corasanti also said, “[Abulhawa] suggests that only Palestinians should write about the Palestinian narrative.”
Abulhawa has written favorable reviews of a Palestinian narratives by non-Palestinians. The most recent is of a book titled The Wall, by William Sutcliffe (who is white and Jewish).
3. She further stated, “I am completely mystified by Ms. Abulhawa’s criticism of The Almond Tree“.
It makes perfect sense that Corasanti is mystified by Abulhawa’s objection to the caricaturizing of Palestinians, the romanticizing of collaboration, and the diminution of the valiant Palestinian struggle over the decades. This is a textbook white privilege reaction that believes it is the prerogative of white people to fix brown lives, that nothing should be beyond their reach (not even the wounds they caused) to interpret, manipulate, pity, photograph or exoticize.
4. She then postulated “especially since The Almond Tree reaches audiences in the United States not shared widely by readers of Edward Said or Ms. Abulhawa.”
Is she really putting this orientalist novel above Edward Said’s work? Maybe not. It’s difficult to tell. But for clarification, as one of the greatest intellectuals of our time, Edward Said transformed the way in which we view the world. You cannot go anywhere in the world and not find educated people who know his work intimately. And though his work is not pop culture, it has certainly affected pop culture. As for Abulhawa, her book actually is a bestseller and has been read by millions the world over. But all that is beside the point. It’s the nature of the narrative that concerns us all, and like all people, Palestinians have a right to their own stories and they have a right to criticize and call out distortions and self-serving distortions of their lives.
5. She then stated, “Ask yourself, what is more powerful, one hundred books written by the victims of oppression describing occurrence after occurrence of loss, hardship and suffering or one book described as Kite Runner-esque and predicted to be one of the best sellers of the decade by an author perceived to be a member of the ruling, oppressor class that condemns the unjust, cruel oppression by the ruling class and extols the virtues and the legal and moral rights of the subjugated class?”
I think it’s fair to paraphrase that statement as: “Nobody wants to hear the incessant whining of Palestinians. I’m here to save Palestinians from themselves.” There are a thousand ways that Corasanti could have shown solidarity and thousands of authentic accounts by Palestinian writers that she could have championed if solidarity was truly her aim. May I suggest she and those who think like her read this excellent guide on how to check your privilege and be a true ally.
6. She then reiterated, “My protagonist would be from my friend Ahmed’s parents’ generation. What I didn’t realize was that many Palestinians didn’t know that and believed Ichmad was the Israeli pronunciation of the name Ahmed.”
So, Corasanti is actually teaching Palestinians how their names are pronounced? Further, she did not address Abulhawa’s point that the word “Ichmad” is a form of the verb to suffocate/subdue.
As a Black American, who has traveled to Occupied Palestine more than once, I not only empathize with Palestinians, but I can smell from a mile away those who attempt to transpose their narrative upon marginalized people based upon their privileged arrogance. Using literature and art that falsely depicts the realities and sensitivities of oppressed people can actually do more harm than good. I applaud Abulhawa for not staying silent in the face of such cultural misrepresentation.
It’s my belief that Muslims should avoid using the N-word except when discussing it within an academic setting to instruct people as to its origins of subjugation and dehumanization of enslaved Africans and their descendants and to highlight its current racist usage. American Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir wrote a thorough commentary on this a few years ago entitled “Should Muslims Use the N-Word,” which I concur with. I wish, however, to add on a few additional thoughts from my vantage point addressing Blackamerican Muslims then non-Blackamerican Muslims.
“Nigger” and “nigga” are the same word. Nigger, which comes from negro meaning black in Spanish, is a term that was used to mentally enslave Africans. Prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a Black man was referred to as Morisco (Moor), hence the popular saying in that region during the Middle Ages of “black as a Moor.” Negro was used to describe inanimate or non-human subjects due to the word deriving from the Latin root necro, which means dead. Clearly the roots of “nigga” are based in an outlook that Blacks are inhuman and socially unintelligent corpses.
So I know how words can evolve semantically and the argument that reclaiming words empower people. Some words are so vile and evil in their origin, however, that there can never be a justifiable and positive spin on them. For instance, no matter how much anyone tries to redefine words such as Lucifer, gip and kike, these words are beyond redemption. The same holds true for the N-word in its different forms. Even the name Prophet Lut (AS) is hardly ever given to Muslim boys at birth due to the association with Qawm Lut, the People of Lot.
Too many of our people were traumatized by the N-word for it to be used jokingly or in the form of artistic expression. My mom went to segregated schools and was called “nigger.” I’m one such person who was viciously beaten as a boy in Virginia by two much older white males who called me “nigger.” A White female friend of mine in high school was bullied and called “nigga lover” because she showed outward interest in a Black schoolmate. “Nigga” is “nigger,” and nigger” hurts.
To Muslim brothers and sisters who are not Blackamericans, please consider the points made above. In addition, I advise you that your Black friends and associates to rappers should not be the sole litmus test as to the acceptability of using the N-word just as your family members should not be the measurement for using racially insensitive terms like “abeed” (slaves in Arabic to describe Blacks), “kallu” (blackey in South Asian languages), “adoon” (slave in Somali to describe non-Somali blacks), etc. The measurement is that what offends people in a group that is unnecessary to be stated which is not categorically true or establishes truth should be avoided. Using “nigga” is not fundamental to Black people nor to your identity. This is the general Islamic standard of avoiding terms or phrases which are viewed as insulting names, per a command in the Qur’an. This is a command by Allah (SWT), which is non-negotiable.
Again, Jay Z to your Muslim friend who is Black that listens to songs with “nigga” or says “nigga” isn’t the Islamic standard. Just yesterday, I mentioned this privately to one of the sisters in the “Mipsterz (Muslim Hipsters)” video, which uses a Jay Z song saying “nigga,” which was later edited out of the song.
Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) said, “Surely Al-Islam began as a stranger, it shall return as it began, so blessed be the strangers.” We live in the times where there are many Muslims, yet simple teachings of the deen seem strange to many Muslims. Muslims seem to want to be accepted into all social trends of pop culture and seek to look cool to be accepted. There is nothing cool about “nigga.” Many people died behind “nigga,” people still get dehumanized by “nigga,” so I’m encouraging you along with Imam Zaid Shakir and other Islamic leaders to stop using that term.
Dec 3, 2013, 12:15 pm
Dawud Walid: Nelson Mandela and the need for restorative justice
- By Dawud Walid
American cinemas will be filled this weekend with audiences watching “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” about the iconic South African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. While I’m anticipating going to see this movie, the struggle of Mandela and his people also reminds me of the need for societies to celebrate such personalities while also keeping in mind that true justice is restorative in nature.
Mandela, who served 27 years in prison for resisting racist apartheid, was not seen as a hero by many in our society.
Former President Ronald Reagan considered him to be a terrorist, and there were many in Congress, including Dick Cheney, who opposed legislation to hold South Africa accountable for its deeply institutionalized racism. Later, Mandela was hailed as a hero throughout America during his 1990 Freedom Tour, which included Detroit. He rose to become South Africa’s first indigenous president and was later awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush in 2002.
Despite greater political access for indigenous people, South Africa is very far away from having a just society. Due to white Afrikaners’ continued control of natural resources, means of distribution of goods and the legacy of mass accumulation of wealth and property, the majority black population has advanced little after two decades in terms of economic opportunities and standard of living.
America has a similar, though perhaps less pronounced, dilemma as South Africa. We just celebrated a national holiday of Thanksgiving, which has some mythology attached to it while ignoring the ethnic cleansing that Native Americans suffered shortly after pilgrims traveled here on the Mayflower. Despite some Native American reservations that generate casino revenue, Native Americans suffer the highest percent of poverty in America followed by the descendants of enslaved Africans.
Socioeconomic problems and depravity among marginalized groups didn’t magically pop up in vacuums. They have are historical roots and contemporary negative effects on groups of people.
Restorative justice is not simply about getting laws on the books that provide equality on paper, but active governmental involvement on the state and federal levels to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the same public education and economic opportunities. It’s about offering a level playing field, not based upon the legacy of privilege. If the playing field is not level, then there can be no real justice, only the further solidification of structural inequality. The playing field in America is still far from level.
So as we look at movies like “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and celebrate similar personalities, let’s not treat them and their stories like warm and fuzzy Santa Klaus types that make us feel like we have gotten past the legacy of racism. Rather, reflection on such heroes should challenge all of us to think about how we can reach the ultimate destination that they strove for and what can we and our government due to assist in making America become truly the land of “liberty and justice for all.”
Yesterday’s radio show was on 900 AM WURD Philadelphia about anti-Black racism and tribalism within the American Muslim community. Also on the show was Arab-American Association of New York Director Linda Sarsour and Palestinian American writer and activist Susan Abulhawa.