I lived in Egypt from 2008 to 2015. That put me in the country during the 2011 Revolution.
After the Egyptians flexed their collective muscles, others, including the Americans, were inspired to follow suit. (Everyone remembers the Occupy Wall Street movement, right?) Activists squatted in Zuccotti Park just like the Cairenes had done in Tahrir Square. Then the movement metastasized.
Eventually, though, the occupiers dispersed or underwent a metamorphosis. (Energy of that sort never fully disappears.)
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Zuccotti Park and Tahrir Square. And I’ve gained some insights about what happened in those places. For example, I’ve come to see revolution as a metaphor. It is a kind of human flowering that occurs even during a drought. Actually it occurs because there’s a drought. That makes it very ironic.
Revolution is an ending. It is a beginning too.
It can also be seen as an expression of that which can’t be fully expressed.
I’m scared. It’s mid-October, but my fear has nothing to do with the ghouls and goblins that normally occupy the human imagination this time of year.
Trump, politics, and the upcoming midterm elections have me shaking in my boots. If you’re not scared about what’s happening in these dis-United States of America, you ain’t paying attention. Pull your head out and open your eyes and ears. If you do, you’ll certainly see and hear the rambling and wildly irrational speeches of a demagogue with an impressive comb over. He’ll likely be surrounded by a throng of red-hatted septuagenarians with angrily contorted faces and raised fists. Many who make up such a mob will likely be frothing at the mouth and hurling insults at a variety of scapegoats. Their Great Leader encourages their ire and expertly directs their hatred. He plays them like a musical instrument, but the sound produced lacks all beauty.
These screaming cultists simply need to be given marching orders. The moment he sets them loose on the rest of us is the moment of the lighting of the fuse.
Not long ago, seeing where things were going, I made sure I knew where my passport was located. And because I’m married to a North African émigré who practices the religion of Islam, I very quietly and without causing alarm, put together a Plan B just in case Plan A—staying in America—became, suddenly, unworkable.
I’ve lived in countries where things rapidly unraveled because of politics. What I see happening now, in this “first-world” country, reminds me a lot of what went down in the “third-world” nation-state of Egypt during the run up to the deposing of Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
I know that might sound like hyperbole to many Americans who think IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE. To those who feel this way I would say that IT’S ALREADY HAPPENING HERE.
For folks who are as concerned as I am and want to know what they should be doing to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse, I leave them with this fantastic piece—an oldie but a goodie—by the brilliant Timothy Snyder.
I still find it hard to believe that Anthony Bourdain is gone. On the morning of June 8th—not yet a month ago—I woke up, brewed myself a cup of Joe, looked at my Twitter feed, and saw that he’d used the belt from his bathrobe to hang himself in his hotel room in Kaysersberg, France.
I immediately Googled his name and started reading. I needed to confirm that such a thing had really happened. After looking at the internet for a few minutes, I turned on CNN and a variety of journalists—many of them just hearing about this and now teary-eyed—were talking about Bourdain’s life and his death. Indeed, this horrifying news was true.
Anthony was one of the most decent people I’ve ever known. I wrote “known” without consciously deciding to do so. It is perfectly normal that I wrote it, though. So many of us knew him. He was our brother, our father, our son, our uncle, our best friend, the guy we could see ourselves hanging out with. He was a fellow traveler.
It goes without saying that we are all travelers. We are all on our way. We are all wandering and looking for the right path.
While I was living abroad for nearly two decades—in Poland, the UAE, Turkey, and then Egypt—I only occasionally got to see Tony because I rarely looked at television in those faraway places. But when I came home for vacation during the summertime, I watched, as regularly as the beat of a human heart, No Reservations and then Parts Unknown. In Anthony, I saw myself. He was the famous me. Both of us traveled and explored. His adventures made it to TV while mine didn’t. This meant he spoke for me. I turned on the TV to watch him tell my stories. Thank you, Tony, for telling them even better than I could have.
Tony was an unapologetic internationalist and we will miss him for that too, especially now that so many Americans seem to be proudly proclaiming themselves “America First!” ultra-nationalists. (Every time I hear America first, I can’t help but think “Deutscheland uber alles!”)
By the way, blessed be the internationalists because they promote a message of peace and mutual respect.
If you ever watched Tony on television, you know he had a really good time when he was out and about, but he also carried an enormous responsibility. He explained other countries and the peoples who live in them to a nation of individuals many of whom don’t own passports. This made him a teacher who didn’t lecture or draw up lesson plans. In other words, he taught without teaching and he preached without preaching. And we all sat raptly listening and learning and were converted.
So, Tony, I end this by simply saying goodbye. I will miss you, and this nation and the world will miss you too, especially now.
I met my wife, Azza, when I was employed by the American University in Cairo as an Instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition, a position I held for seven years.
When Azza and I started going out, she owned a successful catering and food vending business in Cairo. She’d been trained by an Italian chef named Samantha. As soon as Azza became proficient in the kitchen, the two of them started making money together, and eventually Azza went “rogue,” breaking away from her mentor to open Azza’s Italian Kitchen, a one-woman operation that helped her earn some really good dough.
In 2015, I left Egypt, bringing Azza with me to the United States. After a month or so of looking for work, I landed a position in San Antonio, Texas, my birthplace and a city with a cool, international vibe.
Less than a month ago, after scheming and dreaming and filling out scads of paperwork, Azza opened up a home bakery—Zoozoo’s Sweet Treats (and More)—in accordance with the Cottage Food Industry laws of the state of Texas. During the intervening weeks, we have done a few events and have made a pretty good start to her little kitchen enterprise.
Last Saturday, we sold Azza’s baked goods at a first-Saturday-of-every-month farmer’s market that had sprouted up in the parking lot of Marbach Christian Church, located on Marbach Road in southwest San Antonio. We threw our tent up in the middle of a huddle of other tents and then covered a couple of tables with delicious, homemade edibles. Right next to us, Ayse, our Turkish friend and a neighbor, sold some of her paintings and a few lovely ceramics that had come over with her from Istanbul.
During the course of the day, the church’s pastor, a fifty-something fellow named Darnell with a greying beard, came over to welcome us to the market and then chat. He was a loquacious fellow with a bass laugh that came directly from his core. He told us about the halfway house—he pointed at it across the street—that his church was sponsoring. Then he told us about all the other initiatives—for instance, he acquired and repaired old bicycles for those in the area with no other form of transportation—he and his parishioners were involved in.
My wife and Ayse are both practitioners of Islam. Ayse quite conspicuously covers her hair with a hijab, so the pastor, quite surprisingly, greeted her with a “hamdullah,” an Arabic word that means “thank God.” A more appropriate greeting would have been “Salaam Ahlaykum,” but we were all thrilled that he’d even made the attempt and were surprised that he knew as much Arabic as he did.
When I told him that Azza was also Muslim but that she didn’t cover her hair, he seemed a touch baffled. “So why do Muslim women cover their hair anyway?” he wondered. Then he followed that up with, “And why does one woman choose to do so and another one not?”
We explained that it was all personal preference and that the idea that all Muslim women were required to wear the hijab was a misunderstanding of Islam and its precepts. It was an example of a misconception that many have about the religion.
As you might guess from what I wrote earlier, Pastor Darnell is a busy man, so one thing and then another kept pulling him away from our tent; however, after tending to whatever needed looking after, he always came back to where we’d set up shop, and we eventually invited him to pull up a chair and spend the day with us which he ended up doing.
One of my favorite pastimes these past several years has been educating Americans about the Middle East—I lived in the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt for about a decade and a half—and the predominant religion of the region. Given the current climate in America, where fear of “the other” is being used for political purposes, this pastime has become a vital mission.
After learning that I am a published writer and interested in the arts, Darnell started presenting ideas about projects he and I might collaborate on. For example, he wanted to know if I would like to help him organize poetry readings. For another, he asked me if I’d like to help him edit some of his writings.
All these ideas sounded interesting, but they prompted me to make a proposal of my own. I told him that I thought we ought to organize a kind of “mixer” that would bring Muslims and Christians together for the purpose of building interfaith bridges.
He liked the idea a lot and we exchanged telephone numbers. In my mind’s eye, I can even see Azza and I doing a little presentation on Arabs, Islam, and Muslims at his church.
The idea of bringing people together during the Age of Trump excites me and fills me with hope. Speaking of hope, I think everyone should check this out as a way of becoming a bit more informed and enlightened.
I am married to a Muslim woman from Africa. One of my closest friends is a gay man who was born and raised in a small town in flyover country. I am an avowed socialist.
Question: What do I have in common with my wife and good friend? Answer: We are all outliers. There is something about each one of us that is “abnormal.”
I’m not the sort of person who feels comfortable thinking in this way. What, after all, is “normal”? Even using the word, to describe myself and others, is troubling. I don’t think about “normality” when I think of human beings.
Suddenly, though, America is changing. Islamophobia, homophobia, and hatred of “liberals” is on the rise in many quarters. So, even if I don’t like labeling folks, there are plenty of my compatriots who have no problem doing so and then shunning (or worse) those they think of as foreign, deviant, or un-American.
That and the country is certainly more divided than I ever remember it being. I keep hearing pundits say that “tribalism” and “tribal” thinking is on the rise. Actually, tribal thinking is really an oxymoron. Tribalism and primitivism are the ultimate knee-jerks and have almost nothing to do with sober consideration or rationality. Primitivism is a celebration of some mythic past, some simpler time, a time that never truly existed except in the imagination. (When I hear radical Trump supporters say that they “want their country back,” I think I’m hearing a kind of primordial wail by those who believe in fairytales.) I also think of snowflakes and those who suffer from some form of persecution complex.
Trumpism is really an interesting mix of primitivism, nativism, and fascism. Too many pundits use the terms “populism” and “populists” when they describe the movement and its adherents. Populism is a euphemism. Populism sounds innocuous, and the reason many use it is because they are afraid to admit that there is a large fascist movement afoot in America and elsewhere. By referring to fascism as populism, we feel more assured that there is no monster lurking under the bed. The use of populism is us sticking our heads in the sand. It’s our way of whistling past the graveyard.
Not long ago I asked my gay friend if he was ever afraid. His answer went something like this. I used to not be, but now I don’t know.
Could gays ever be scapegoated? Well, we have seen scapegoating in the past, haven’t we? We’ve seen genocide in the past, haven’t we? We’ve seen lynching and cross-burning and bombing. We’ve seen almost everything in the past, haven’t we?
For those who think such horrid things couldn’t happen here, I’d like to remind them that this sort of ugliness has already happened right here. Just Google “lynchings” and then click on the “image” link. It would also help if such skeptics went to the nearest bookstore or library and checked out Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, penned in 1935.
Read the novel and then turn on the TV. Watch for a day or two and then get back to me.
In my last blog I wrote about a Twitter exchanged I had with @SamGipp, a Baptist “preacher” who thinks that it is his Christian duty to hate Muslims, political progressives, gays, lesbians, immigrants, and “perverts”—a catchall phrase he likes to use to describe anyone who doesn’t look like him or live like he does. He would not use this word to describe a president who gets off on stomping on the downtrodden or having sex with porn stars or grabbing women by their pussies or participating in extramarital affairs.
Sam Gipp lives in a very twisted world and practices a very twisted logic. According to his way of thinking, Republicans cannot be perverts, no matter what sort of behavior they engage in. It’s only political progressives who are capable of perversion. If I think about his reasoning for a moment, I see that the idea of perversion is not tied to the sort of acts or behavior a person engages in; instead, it’s about who it is that is acting. If a political conservative engages in sexually predatory behavior, then such behavior is acceptable because of the perpetrator’s political affiliation. As we all know, conservatives are godly people and thus incapable of behaving wrongly. Godliness, therefore, nullifies the predation. This is circular reasoning at its finest.
On the other hand, if a progressive acts predatorily, then no one should be surprised because liberals are just inherently sinful people. In other words, political conservatives can do no wrong because they are children of god, and even if they do stray away from the straight and narrow, it’s just because the devil made them do so. Progressives, on the other hand, can do no right because they are devils themselves. Because liberals are inherently evil, everything they do becomes sinful.
Politicized evangelicals of Sam Gipp’s sort have really shown, in a multitude of ways, that the Bible has become subordinate to the Gospel of Conservatism. And in the age of Trump, the Gospel of Conservativism looks frightening like the Gospel of Authoritarianism or The Gospel of Fascism.
By the way, Madeleine Albright, a woman who knows something about politics, international relations, and fascism, has just written a Book entitled Fascism: A Warning. When asked, in a recent televised interview who she was trying to warn, she spoke up very clearly and said, “Americans.”
Gipp, the asshole, has been tweeting again and he’s really got my dander up this time. He sent out an obnoxious and hateful tweet about Muslims. The gist of his posting is there is no such thing as a peaceful Muslim and that they should be wiped off the face of the earth.
Does he really think that Jesus would be in favor of his followers committing genocide? I’d like to ask Gipp where, in “The Good Book,” genocide is advocated.
Being married to an extraordinarily kind Muslim and having lived among them for approximately fifteen years, I responded to Gipp by tweeting, in effect, that his hatefulness would help him find his way to the front of the line of those being ushered into hell.
I know this was harsh, but sometimes harshness must be met with harshness.
He then responded by telling me that unless I had nail holes in my hands and feet, I had no business telling him who would, and who would not, be going to hell.
I responded by asking him to show me his nail holes—I actually asked him to post photos of them. I said that since he always seemed to pass judgment on others and thus enjoyed playing at being god, he surely had the marks of Christ on his body.
It’s been two days now and he hasn’t responded. I think it’s because the cat’s got his tongue.
I really want to remain civil. I really do. I try hard. But in this age of Trump, an era when so many celebrate irrationality, it’s hard to be patient and humane.
I am on Twitter. I like tweeting but probably not as much as your average sparrow does on a typical day. I certainly don’t tweet as much as America’s douchebag president does. (By the way, that’s probably a first for me; I don’t ever remember using the word “douchebag” in anything I’ve ever written.) I do have one rule of thumb while on Twitter: I try to send out things that are not stupid or nonsensical. This puts me automatically at odds with Trump. He seemingly prefers to tweet dumb and absurd things. I recently heard Eugene Robinson, well-known columnist at The Washington Post, say that Trump is certainly venal and probably senile. That sounds about right.
Lately, I’ve gotten my back up against the evangelicals. Many claim to be supporters of an immoral and sadistic president while simultaneously (and piously) referring to themselves as “children of God” or Christians. At least they’ve got the “child” part right. Many are childish, and they see Trump as their “daddy,” the one who’s going to protect them against everything and anything that’s scary (think caravans of scary foreigners coming to America). The question is, who’s going to guard them against daddy. Being children, it’s likely they haven’t gotten that far in their thinking.
When I was a boy and going to church, I naively thought that a person was automatically good because he or she would spend a few hours each week warming a pew in some house of worship. Now that I’m a man, I realize that some of the very worst people warm pews on Sundays.
All this has been a roundabout way to mention that I recently ran across this Baptist preacher who tweets some of the most bigoted, ludicrous, and dishonest stuff you can imagine. His Twitter handle is @SamGipp. In a recent tweet he misquoted George Washington as saying, “When government takes away citizens’ right to bear arms, it becomes citizens’ duty to take away government’s right to govern.” I thought that sounded weird—like some kind of NRA slogan—so I looked it up and found that the authenticity of the quote had been disproved. I pointed this out to Gipp, and after doing so, even more people who’d seen his tweet began to like and retweet it.
This is just plain old weirdness of the weirdest sort. It’s odd that adults, when presented with evidence that contradicts something they believe in, would continue to cling to that which was clearly shown to be crap.
Perhaps it’s a new form of derangement, some kind of Trump Syndrome?
Last Saturday I met Charles Bukowski at a Starbucks in a Barnes and Noble bookstore in San Antonio, Texas. He was arriving just as my wife and I had finished up our coffees and were gathering our belongings to leave.
Because he could see that we were getting ready to take off, he walked right up to us and asked, “Are you finished here?”
“Yes,” I answered as I stared at his acne-scarred face and misshapen nose—the bulbous proboscis of a wino.
“I ask because you’re at my favorite table, and I want to claim it if you are leaving.”
“You can put your stuff here if you’d like while we get ready to head out. By the way, has anyone ever told you that you look exactly like Charles Bukowski?”
“Charles who?” he asked gruffly.
In fact, he was a spitting image of the renegade poet-madman-drunkard.
Because we’d bought books and had to put on coats and scarves to gird ourselves against the cold, it took us awhile to get our stuff together. During this period, a conversation began to blossom. “So you come here often?” I asked him.
“Every Saturday. You see, I’m retired, but I give private lessons on the side to people who want to learn English. Right now, I’m working with three young girls from Djibouti. I always teach them at this particular table.” After saying this, he leaned in to me and whispered, “Their English is very weak.”
Azza, my wife who speaks Arabic as her mother tongue, is not really a shy person, but she sometimes has a hard time inserting herself into a conversation between Americans when they are speaking a hundred miles an hour.
“I bet they’ll learn very fast, though,” I told him. “They will probably be better at learning our language than we would be at learning theirs.”
“Maybe. But who would want to learn whatever it is that they speak?”
“Ask them to speak their language to you and really listen to what they say. I bet what you hear will sound beautiful if you open your ears and mind. It’s my opinion that more Americans should learn a second language.”
He kind of frowned and then said, “So many people from crap countries want to come here. They are just flooding in. They have to learn English because it’s the lingua franca.”
I could feel the hair stand up on my neck. Only days earlier, Donny Trump, the Hairpiece, had called African countries “shitholes.” I had the feeling this old fart was likely a Trumper, and a part of me wanted to snarl.
“By the way, I’d like to introduce you to my wife, Azza. She’s from Africa. Her country and the people who call it home are beautiful in many ways.”
“I’m sure it is and that they are,” he said a touch snarkily.
“I think Americans should be a little more careful about judging others. Don’t you think this country has its share of problems?” I asked him.
“Compared to other places, America is el paradiso,” he said, suddenly shifting to a foreign language. “By the way, where, in Africa, is your wife from?”
“Egypt,” she said, finally asserting herself.
The man’s face suddenly changed and he started speaking Arabic to her. As it turns out, he was born in Egypt and lived there as a child. He asked her where, in “Misr,” she was from, and she said Cairo. He, as it turns out, had been born in Alexandria.
From that point forward, I faded into the background because the language shifted to Arabic. At one point, he asked her what her religion was and she said Islam. He then called himself a “Yehudi,” which means “Jew,” and explained that this fact had played an important role in why his family left North Africa. He shared some stories about how they had been victims of religious persecution under President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Hearing these personal accounts saddened my wife.
We ended up talking until his three students showed up. They were sweet girls. Before they arrived, we found plenty to laugh about—the irony of an Egyptian Muslim and Jew meeting at the same table in a Starbucks at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in San Antonio. We were reminded how small the world really is and how big it is too. And how much we have in common despite our superficial differences.
I have a tendency to go on and on when I blog, but I want to be short and to the point on this one. I am an American man who couldn’t be prouder to be married to an émigré from Egypt, an African country and one of those places the “President”—I don’t find him one bit presidential so I’m required to use quotation marks—recently besmirched by referring to them as “shitholes.”
I am proud because my wife is kind, honest, hardworking, creative, and generous, just to name a few of her positive attributes. I find it ironic that a day after the “President” belittled those who’ve come here from other places, my wife completed the paperwork needed to start her own sole proprietorship, a home baker business she’s calling “ZooZoo’s Sweet Treats.” She owned and operated such an enterprise in Egypt and did very well, mostly because she is an artist in the kitchen and a skilled entrepreneur. I expect that she’ll be a smash here as well.
By the way, has the “President” seen this country in its entirety? There are places in these United States that could use a little enrichment and beautification.
Why, one wonders, did Trump choose the term shitholes? He could have referred to locales in Africa and such as “beautiful places,” but he didn’t. He used such a descriptor because he thinks of large swaths of everywhere else as the “Third World” which equates to “third-rate.” (Unfortunately, this whole “first-world-versus-third-world way of thinking is widely held in America.) Those from the Third World are thought to be third-rate because they are poor and backward, which says a lot about what Americans put value on. Such a way of looking at the world fails to take into account the fact that many in the Third World are actually first-rate when it comes to their spiritual development and the like.
I have this friend named B*** S******. We got to know each other while we were both teaching at The American University in Cairo. I returned to the US in 2015 and he did so a year later.
When I came back, I got a pretty lucrative education and training job with the Department of Defense as a private contractor. I was hired to work with foreign military personal—both enlisted and officers. I had students from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Djibouti, Jordan, Mauritania, Togo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Georgia, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, Mongolia, South Korea, and Indonesia. I might have left out a country or two, and I apologize if that’s the case. Then, student enrollment declined, beginning in the springtime, and I got laid off exactly one year after hiring on, making me collateral damage which sounds a lot better than a bullet-riddled corpse that had been mutilated beyond all recognition. It was the first layoff of my life and it came at the worst time imaginable. In fact, it’s left me with ugly scars and something akin to PTSD.
B*** came back and got a job at a community college in some Podunk in the Midwest, an area sometimes called “flyover country,” and for good reason, because to land there puts one at risk of contracting a deadly form of ignorance, the sort that turns the brain to mush, making someone like Donald Trump look like a reasonable human being who might make a good president.
I might be giving my friend’s current place of abode away by saying it garnered national news a while back when the police arrested three scraggly, lily-white, neo-Nazi-looking guys who were in the midst of plotting to blow up a building inhabited by Somali refugees who had committed the heinous crime of leaving their troubled homeland to start life anew. I’ll go back and look at the reports again, but I believe one Donald Trump, the fellow who froths at the mouth like a rabid skunk when you suggest he’s opened up Pandora’s Box of hate in the country, had been the rednecks’ primary inspiration.
To quote one of my favorite writers of the 20th century, a kinky headed dude named Kurt Vonnegut: “And so it goes.”
B*** and I talk about politics on the phone from time to time. During one of our pre-election conversations, I said, “There might be a silver lining to the election of DT if it happens.”
“What the hell would that be?” B*** asked incredulously.
“Well, in the short run, I agree it would be catastrophic, but in the longer term, it would likely be a powerful impetus to kick start a truly robust progressive movement the likes of which American has maybe never seen before.”
Do I see such a coming together of progressives happening now that we are living in the alternative universe known as Trump Reality? Quick answer: Hell yes.
The last time we talked—about two weeks after that very flawed presidential election—B*** was terrified. (I could hear him quaking in his boots through the phone.) His fear was that we were entering a phase where the fascist brutes, aligned with law enforcement, would just start rounding people up or mowing them down—whatever was most cost-effective and convenient. I advised my buddy to get on Twitter and just have a look around at the pushback that was taking place against the Chief Nihilist of the US and his fascist minions. If he did so, I exhorted him, he’d feel a lot better.
I have always felt that STEP ONE in the resistance of despotism can only come after millions of people have linked arms—this linking can start virtually, on places like Twitter—become comrades, and have declared a common goal. This is happening as I write this. If you’re feeling alone, hopeless, and isolated, reach out to others who are your political brothers and sisters. Once you do this, you will begin to feel a part of something that is much bigger than yourself. This will embolden and inspire you. You’ll see that lots and lots of people have your back.
You will also discover resistance movements and find out about street protests and planned acts of resistance and civil disobedience. Join one and become an activist. Use your feet to move through the streets. As your feet carry you along, your voices will rise up to say “No!”
My feeling is the fascists are really mostly bluster. (It is no accident that the most obnoxious ones hide behind fake Twitter handles, afraid to show their true identities.) Stand up to them. Get in their faces. And they will ultimately slink away.