Somebody that I used to know

bullhornI’m writing an author Q&A with Arsalan Iftikhar (The Muslim Guy) on the occasion of the release of his new book, Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms.  In the first paragraphs he write about becoming the Muslim Guy shortly after September 11, 2001.  He writes that:

“…suddenly after 9/11, I immediately became “the Muslim Guy” – one of the go-to pundits that the American media turned to in its fumbling effort to understand the more than one-and-a-half…believers in Islam.”

Of course my resume isn’t comparable to Iftikhar’s, given his esteemed background, education and professional life, but the idea of becoming a “go-to” resource recalled the time when I served in a similar capacity on a local level. When I started doing interfaith work locally I was often invited to serve on panel discussions and at community events.  After a few years, in 2008, I opened Light of Islam, a nonprofit bookstore and educational center, which closed its doors in 2011 but during its brief life I was looked to as someone who could similarly “explain” Islam and Muslims.  After the bookstore closed I went into a kind of social “hiding,” mostly because of my sense of failure, and I have continued to mostly lay low except while working with CAIR, which became the media go-to while I was there.

Since I’ve left CAIR I’ve struggled with that continued feeling of being the person who hides in her office, mute, unproductive, unworthy, procrastinating.  I have been suffering with this feeling for years now and I have to get back to doing what I did for so many years: share a message.

Swimming to Palestine

Syrian boys, whose family fled their home in Idlib, walk to their tent, at a camp for displaced Syrians, in the village of Atmeh, Syria, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012

Rummaging through a wonderful cardboard box full of family memorabilia, I came across a series of letters my grandmother wrote in researching for her brother David Diamond‘s biography, which she never wrote.  I would love to reconstruct what she might have written.  I have a box full of material related to Uncle David and my grandmother.

My book contains a chapter about visiting the Holocaust Museum in Houston and reflecting on my Jewish heritage, such as it is.  I am incorporating the following quote, from a letter written to my grandmother by her cousin Ernestine.  It is especially poignant given the current crisis of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, many of whom have fled war by boat.

Richard and Siegfried died in 1959 in Jerusalem. After Hitler came to Austria, both went to then Palestine illegally with the last illegal liner going there. They could not land and were forced to go back to Cyprus where they and the others were detained for a time. They tried several times in vain to land in Palestine again-until they and the others on the liner who could swim, succeeded in entering Palestine illegally. Richard was cought [sic] by the military and imprisoned (then under English rules), Siegfried was not.