And she exploded:
“Oh yes, yes, we were well off the same in Germany, we were, and you know what? One night they slaughter us. We were fine but one day everything changed. We need a place to flee to, we need a safe place for us if the shit hit the fan…”
She was saying so while shivering, shivering and shivering, her beautiful wide brown eyes gazing at me, her thin lips crawling, her hands, her face, her body. It was such an explosion of fear and anxiety I’ve ever seen before, I knew it was not towards me, but towards a past which was still haunting her.
Minutes earlier, I was telling her how her grandfather was wise to go to the States, not to Israel. I was asking why should she ever be there in that shit? Living in a place where you can have a rocket over your head, or you’re waiting for one, or you live with that heavy moral pain of others who are brutalized in the name of the Jewish State. I just said “What’s wrong with what your grandfather chose?!”
I calmed her, I patted her long brown hair, I apologized and apologized, I said I never meant to upset her, I meant that apology and it seemed she trusted me enough not to wait for one.
It was such a clear night, and like most clear nights, it was really glittering with stars, and was really cold, but I didn’t exactly see the stars or feel the coldness.I and my new friend – let’s call her Wendy – were lodging in her dormitory, so we both missed seeing stars, We were busy conquering coldness and life with alcohol and marijuana. I do not remember who brought Israel up, I really don’t, but you can imagine how a young man who has a soft spot for the left would feel for a state like Israel, not even mentioning my background, being an Egyptian “Muhammad”. Wendy kept telling me that Israel is not evil, she’s just misguided. I contradicted that silently, I won’t call Israel “evil”, I do not believe in such adjectives, but “misguided” sounded too soft for the record Israel has. We continue to smoke and drink, and suddenly that idea about her grandfather hit my lit, tipsy mind.
It was 2010’s Edinburgh, a lovely multiracial, multicultural little city (so little compared to my hometown, gigantic Cairo). Barack Obama had only been in power for two years, promises of a happy new world in the air, even when some were disappointed by the end formula of the Obama Care, it was still high hopes of the new man and the new age. Wendy and I were sort of the same thing: I am a Muslim, a secular one, and she is Jewish. We became, quickly, such close friends.
She was there studying to become a rabbi, and I was there accompanying my ex-, who was studying Arabic language and literature in the famous Edinburgh University’s Islamic department. My ex was a serious pupil, more or less, so while she slept through the nights I’d allow myself to roam the old streets of the “Athens of the North”, meeting friends and getting to know friends. I am a reckless freelance writer who can wake up at 2 pm. Wendy was enjoying her nights too. And since we met together through a mutual friend watching the Super Bowl, we developed a habit of meeting whenever we can.
We kept meeting and talking, months pass and she’s visiting me in Cairo, and all went well as I already told her it would, we continue, till the very moment to message each other, she’s invited me to NY and I will go someday. I left my ex, had another girlfriend, she left Edinburgh returning to the states, married her sweetheart, and life goes on, but sometimes I do remember that night. I blame marijuana for that graphic scene, but still I think it was too much for her to feel like over events she wasn’t even there to witness. Sometimes I felt it was like a ghetto had carved itself inside of her. It was the happy new world, “Yes We Can,” was everywhere, and hey, didn’t we have a great time together after all?! We’re not, and we should not, be imprisoned in such categories and stereotypes. No need to worry, Wendy, no need at all.
Then I saw this lunatic become the president of the United States.
For sure, I saw had seen how we fucked up in Cairo, but seeing that cat-hair head as a president was quite something. I saw my name become so suspicious for real, or by law eventually, if I ever tried to enter the United States. Let’s speak about France for example, but it was “The Bad Side” or “The Exception”, or “We are apologizing for such measures we took…”, no it became the doctrine. I now really hold a grip of what was the feeling of a guy named David walking around Berlin’s Oranienburger street in the end of the thirties.
I was Skyping with Wendy after Trump was elected, and she was stressed, she told me how her mother didn’t see it coming, how she called her at the night of election and said “There’s nothing to worry about”.
Actually, there’s lots to be worried about.
Ironically, “The Misguided Israel” is happy with Trump, while Wendy, and other Jewish Americans are not, and they have all the reasons for this; Mike Pence said something like the Jews are to blame for the Holocaust, or such shit. I thought again of this very cold night in Edinburgh, I thought that how that hatred can be so near, not just for Wendy being Wendy, but for me being Muhammad as well; Muhammad is the new David, like it or not.
You know what, even any Copt or Iraqi Christian is David now, it’s not about your religion as it’s more like your heritage, your features. I do not believe we should have a place to run to, even after that. I do believe that we should live in our lands if we wish to, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Copts. They are the people of the lands they were born in. I say this to you, then I remember that I read that Switzerland did a referendum on whether third generation immigrants should have the same rights as people of Switzerland or not. The third bloody generation, can you believe that?!
Maybe Trump has some good effects as well; after writing this, I felt like sharing it with her, before trying to publish it, it’s her right to see first. Two days and that fascinating e-mail landed in my inbox:
“(..) Seriously though, (reading) this was cathartic (perhaps the wrong word, but I can’t think of a better one) to read. There’s a certain comfort in the idea of a homeland, a safe space — but the question is always “at what cost?” When does the journey to ensure one’s own safety, one’s own sense of belonging, become a darkly tempting rationale for denying others their safety and sense of belonging? We live in a strange, fascinating, and deeply fucked up world, Muhammad.
I think I’ve recently lost some of my old idealism. They say that comes with age, but I was really hoping it wouldn’t — and plus, the age argument seems like an excuse for intellectual and moral laziness. But idealism is exhausting, and the minutiae and anxieties of daily life sometimes cloud the more important things. Idealists can dream of a better world; and without future-facing ideals, we are forced to look to the past for our guiding principles. And then what? And then Trump, ethnic nationalism, and provincialism. An infantile grasping at the very things that will kill us, that have already tried so many times to kill us, all in the name of a false sense of safety and belonging. A hastening of the downfall of your very own erstwhile dream. People are looking to the past for inspiration, and yet they don’t remember. It’s horrifying.”
Wendy should not pack her bags to Israel, and I should not be worried, standing in JFK, waiting to enter The Promised Land.