This week the New York air is ringing with Arab and Palestinian voices. The omnipresence of articulate representatives of cultures that have been marginalized would seem to reflect a new era in American culture.
Today on Leonard Lopate’s show, Moustafa Bayoumi talked about his new book, This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror. I caught some of the segment, and Bayoumi was thoughtful, funny and supple as he explained the omnipresence of Islamophobia, and Lopate was on the back foot. For instance, Bayoumi said that very few women actually wear the niqab in France or the U.S. And when Lopate said that the niqab must be terribly hot to wear in summer in Arab countries, especially when men are in blue jeans, Bayoumi said simply, Yes, and some of the men are all in white. Then when Lopate asked Bayoumi why he had been accused of sponsoring Islamic radicalism in his last book, about young Arabs in America, How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? , Bayoumi said he had never understood that charge, he had merely tried to chronicle a real social trend.
Steven Salaita is doing three events in New York for his important new book about his firing last year by the University of Illinois, a case that has staggered academia: Uncivil Rites: Palestine and the Limits of Academic Freedom. Salaita had a dialogue with Rashid Khalidi earlier today in the Columbia University neighborhood, and will have another with Joseph Massad at NYU tonight at 7, and a forum on the Palestinian exception to freedom of speech tomorrow at 6, downtown.
And tomorrow at 5:30 at the Linney Theatre on 42nd Street, Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace will be doing an event for their book, Inside/Outside Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora. “The event will include a discussion of the anthology with the book’s editors … as well as selected readings by talented performers to be announced.”
My readers know me to be an enthusiast; but I say we are entering on a period in American life where the Palestinian voice cannot be marginalized. Some of this is obviously generational. But it is exciting whenever outsiders begin to speak to a wide audience, and surely echoes other periods of cultural inclusion and discovery (I think of the Jewish novelists of the 60s and 70s). We’ll be covering some of these events, and will post video of Salaita/Khalidi when it’s available from the indefatigable Edward Briody. And let’s hope that Terry Gross of Fresh Air, Brooke Gladstone, and other establishment tastemakers catch a clue.
I reflect that the last time I saw Moustafa Bayoumi was at a Yousef Munayyer-Peter Beinart debate at New America in June; and the next week at the 92d Street Y, Beinart warned the old-school Zionist horde (Ari Shavit, Abe Foxman, Dan Senor) that plausible Palestinians were now speaking in American accents and an American idiom, of equal rights. Katy bar the door!
P.S. In more-or-less-related events, Lillian Rosengarten gave an anti-Zionist appearance at the Cake Shop on Ludlow Street last night for her book Survival and Conscience, and said that Israel will only be free when Palestinians have equal rights. There were nearly 50 in attendance. Helena Cobban spoke about her book line, Just World Books, and sold copies of Leila Abdelrazaq’s exciting new graphic book about the refugee experience, Baddawi; and quoted Mohammed Omer (whose book was published this summer). I was the moderator in the basement space, and said it felt a little like another chapter in the American battle with slavery, the underground railroad.
Yesterday on the Brian Lehrer show, David Felix Sutcliffe pronounced the FBI efforts against terrorism to be a “farce,” and Lehrer questioned him but did not challenge the idea. And Thursday night, Antony Loewenstein and Jeremy Scahill will be having a conversation about Loewenstein’s new book, Disaster Capitalism.