By Sayed Kashua, Feb 04, 2017 4:23 PM
At long last, after two-and-a-half years, I’m finally starting to feel at home here. Of course, it’s not the real deal yet, far from it, but it’s definitely a good start, and gradually, with God’s help, amateur racism will morph into professional racism and our acclimatization process here will be complete.
I was really afraid of losing the feeling of being persecuted, and was truly apprehensive that the disappearance of my political paranoia would play havoc with my writing. But, praise the Lord, everything is starting to work out. These days, when I wake up in the morning I’m less inclined to check what our leaders in the Holy Land have wrought, and instead start my routine with the local newscasts, eager to learn about the latest executive order from the elected president, may God increase his days.
For two-and-a-half years, I took only passing interest in American politics, avoiding the news in favor of sports broadcasts and sitcom reruns. Instead of MSNBC, I watched the History Channel, and could stare for hours at the vendors in antique stores who bargained with clients over swords from some world war and baseball cards from the last century. Instead of Fox News, I watched two “American pickers” who travel to remote towns in a van looking for antiques in family attics and in the storage rooms of oddball collectors.
Recently I feel that life has restarted, that there’s a reason to get up in the morning and find out how the horror is developing. I’m starting to recognize the names of politicians and to mark the local Bibis, the Erdans and the Ayoub Karas. It’s still new, this story, so I still need points of reference from Israel to organize my thoughts, but my feeling is that I’ll quickly be able to forgo the comparisons and the need for Israeli equivalents.
At first I complained that I just didn’t feel alive, that in contrast to Israel there were no figures here that really frightened me – no politicians or media people that I hated and regarded as the personification of human evil. I started off by looking for drivers on the road or parents from the kids’ schools whom I could fear, hate and accuse of racism, but nothing happened. They’re not even capable of cutting across lanes in this drowsy town in order to earn a juicy curse.
But now I have at least two Steves (Bannon and Miller) whom I can’t stand, and there’s Kellyanne Conway, who fills the void that the absence of Miri Regev created in my soul. I have the powerhouse Rachel Maddow of MSNBC to replace Israel Radio’s Keren Neubach, and Chris Hayes, who will fill in for… umm, I’m not sure who’s considered a left-wing television presenter in Israel – it’s been a while, you know.
And Sean Hannity in place of Israel Radio’s Arel Segal, and Bill O’Reilly instead of… well, any TV presenter in Israel, even if he calls himself left-wing.
Then there are the Muslims, of course, those who go on television or radio and in amazing English express their fears of the new regime. They call themselves Americans and say they are raising their children according to the American “spirit,” adding that they are proud of the country and think the American people are the greatest nation in the universe.
There are the unfortunates who tend to believe that everything will be fine, after all there’s a constitution. Wow, they talk so much about the Constitution here, and how to interpret it, going to such lengths that I’m starting to be glad that Israel doesn’t have one. There are those who believe in the concept of citizenship and still think that America can accommodate everyone. They remind me of someone from Israel – errr, maybe me?
There are also the Muslims who support Trump – the conservative pro-life TV stations prefer interviewing Muslim women in this case – and talk about the need to uncover the truth about repressive Islam, and say that it’s wrong to go on hiding under the shelter of political correctness. They’ll use words like “fundamentalism,” “terror” and “patriarchal,” thinking that will give them immunity when the time comes.
There are many things that remind me of the warm and the familiar, but still, this is a devil I don’t yet know well. I will make use of the same survival methods of helplessness and self-respect. For the kids, I will refresh the procedures of deployment and identity camouflage. I will check that the instincts that were acquired over the years to identify dangers based on having the wrong origins haven’t been eroded by the illusion of universality, which can confuse you in the United States, and that the skills of faking an accent and of adopting other religions and ethnic and national origins as the situation requires are still sharp.
But sometimes I’m apprehensive that what somehow worked in Israel might not be enough. I’m concerned mainly about those who have never experienced persecution, about pure, uncompromising whiteness. I’m afraid when I see just how little screen time is devoted to the massacre in a mosque in Canada, not to mention the brevity of reports, if there are any at all, of mosque burnings and harassment of minorities and Muslims across the United States.
I’m afraid when the most liberal programs on radio and television, the ones that oppose the government of Bibi – or whatever they call the leader here – in the coverage of a commando raid in Yemen, focus on the American killed in the operation, adopt the army’s version of events and ignore the killing of women and children. I’m afraid of those who think that America is the most moral nation in the world, even as the killing of millions in Iraq is reduced to little more than a domestic debate revolving around the question of who was for and who against.
I’m afraid of a country that brought about the killing of four million Vietnamese, but where what’s been burned into the public consciousness are a few movies according to which U.S. Marines were the only victims. A country that supported Middle East dictators due to calculations involving self-interest, and that stood and stands behind every Israeli government.
I know, by heaven I know: America is not Israel, you mustn’t compare and you mustn’t project. After all, clear, strong and courageous voices are heard here all the time, those of Democrats and even from a few Republicans, asserting that the banning edicts of the new administration are contrary to everything that this country stands for, and conflict with the underlying essence of the United States of America.
All that’s left is for me is to understand what the essence they’re talking about is. And until I grasp it, I’m going to hide within the house, memorize the national anthem, and if asked, will reply that the American people are absolutely marvelous and that America is the greatest nation in the world.
Painting Head of an Arab, by Horace Vernet circa 1819. http://www.arthermitage.org/Horace-Vernet/Head-of-an-Arab.html