A few years ago I wrote an article for the Jordanian English weekly newspaper, The Star, entitled "The Head Beneath the Towel." Thinking back to when I wrote the article, I remember the light in my eyes and how the tip of my tongue would stick out (much like that of a kindergartener's while he or she attempts to use scissors) as I scribbled nationalistic and ideological fantasies of Arabian revival, of calling upon the youth of Arabia to wake up and smell the "green tea with mint!"
I would address my fellow Middle-Eastern — "middle to whom anyway?!" — readers to stand in the face of all the accusations and misconceptions they might be facing and I would remind them that their nation produced the likes of mathematician Mohammed Al Khawarizmi, scholar and explorer Ibn Batuta, Nobel genius Ahmad Zueil and many more great people. "The trademark coffee jug and little cups [of our culture]" are an eternal symbol for genuine hospitality, I would plead. I whole-heartedly anticipated a miniature revolution in the aftermath of my article, replete with a catchy slogan, perhaps, or even custom-made flags, if time allowed of course.
About a year after my Ayrab-ian climax, I wanted to bash my once-glorified "Head" against a brick wall: "How naive of you, Farah," I thought to myself, "oh, how we grow up over time."
I was quite ashamed of having published such ideological crap with a capital letter ‘C' (excuse my French) and that no slogans, no flags, not even a monkey with cymbals made noise over my adolescent fervor — unless you count the predictable comment made by an indifferent aunt in a usually awkward family gathering, about how I am following my father's footsteps followed by a "coutchy-koo" type cheek pinch.
It has been about 10 weeks since I first transferred to Georgetown, a place where people are all about "getting" Muslims and unveiling the Middle East. I just love asking people where they're from in a cheap attempt to get them to ask me the same question back. "Jordan," I say casually, knowing that I have intrigued them and have ignited some diplomatic, Georgetown-ian trait within them to react the same way as if had I said something like "I'm from Gibbsboro, N.J."
Today, in the Promised Land that is America, I find myself almost the same Farah that got cheek-pinched once upon a time in a house in the suburbs of Amman. I realize that the article I wrote as an overly excited teenager brought about one special notion that I keep in mind more so today than ever before: My people are not an Arab people or an Islamic people for they are more amazing than to be dubbed a single identity.
I applaud many a Georgetown students' attempt to learn Arabic and to read the Penguin edition of the Koran, but I cannot help but perceive an underlying deficiency in all of this.
In my Middle East Civilization class, Jane Hoya says things such as, "Like it seems to me, like Islam is like stuck in the past unlike like Judaism or Christianity." In Arabic classes today you will find the diligent Joe Hoya asking about how to say "carry-on luggage" in Arabic. "Haqayba? Haqeeba?" he asks. And he writes in his little pocket notebook with that light in his eyes and the tip of the tongue out.
Joe Hoya will look back at the notebook a few years into the future, sitting behind his huge mahogany desk in a Homeland Security building somewhere in Washington, D.C. Images of slogans, flags and monkeys crashing cymbals wildly into the night yelling: "Way to go, Joe! You've earned yourself a degree from Georgetown with Arabic proficiency!" Now you're defiantly all about interfaith, tolerance, understanding and what not. Sporting your adorable tasseled fez, a portable hookah in one pocket and some sand in the other, you're all set for the future. Congratulations, dude.
Farah El-Sharif is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.