"So I found that I had this whole crisis of hypocrisy in my life, and after Shock and Awe, and actually also at that same time hearing about Rachel Corrie's story (Rachel was slain on March 16, 2003), how she went thousands of miles to learn first-hand what was happening in Occupied Palestine and, though I don't believe she thought she would give her life for it, literally stood up for what she believed in, well I took that personally.
"If this young woman, who could have turned a blind eye to what was happening in the world...actually died defending the home of a [Palestinian] family that she had no connection to other than her own humanity, then maybe I should go see my family!"
"So I went for the first time in 2004 for three weeks and then I went again for four months in 2006, and ever since my first trip I wanted to do something for my family. I didn't know what to do so since that time I have been making it up as I go along, but I wanted to try to use privilege as an American born in New York; I have no accent and my family had no voice under the dictator and continues to have no voice under the occupation, so I thought I could open my mouth to try to give expression to their experiences and say what I experienced for my brief time under occupation."
At this point I wanted to touch on a topic with Dahlia that I think was a key driving force in the invasion of Iraq, Islamophobia, so I asked:
Mac: I'm curious. I've always intuitively thought that 9/11 simply unleashed a lot of latent Islamophobia, and a lot of anti-Semitism becaue I realize, and I know you do, that Arabs are part of the Semitic world.
Dahlia: Amen to that!
Mac: And I think that there's just so much of that latent that all it took was that one incident to just unleash it.
Dahlia: Well you know what, we've been primed for decades to think of Arabs and Moslems in general in three categories, and this is from the work done by Jack Shaheen, whose famous book is called "Reel Bad Arabs," showing the history of discrimination and negative stereotypes of Arabs and Moslems in the Western media, basically Hollywood, for decades.
They have been depicted either as camel jockeys, oil sheiks or terrorists - you don't find those booths on career day, but this is how we've been trained.
I've been a victim of the stereotypes as much as the next person, I mean in terms of being trained to think that way. When I hear "Arab" I have been trained to think "terrorist" even though that's my own background, and when I hear the terms Moslem or Islam, I'm trained to think "Fundamentalist". That' what my society taught me, so even for someone like me, even with an Arab background, I still have to fight it every day.
So I remember at the time of the first Gulf War in 1991, there was a 300% increase in hate crimes, documented hate crimes. That's after the first Gulf War, so certainly - I don't know the numbers after September 11, because as you said, that was a tremendous launching of Islamophobia, and really I think it just flows into a general xenophobia - but absolutely, we have been well-primed for directing our hatred toward a particular population. And you're right, after 9/11 anyone who even resembled an Arab or Moslem - if you were a Sikh you could be targeted, if you were Latino you could be targeted, if you fit into the general description of swarthy skin and dark moustache, and God help you if you wear a turbine or cover your hair - anyone with those characteristics could become a target for hatred.
Mac: I've been affiliated with the Sikhs for a long time and I'm aware that some Sikhs were just murdered.
Dahlia: That's absolutely right, absolutely right, so we've got problems, we've got problems!
Indeed so! We did after 9/11, and we do now, although tumultuous events such as the Arab Spring have helped shatter some of these deadly stereotypes, as millions of Westerners have witnessed on TV, in person, or on the Internet the nobility and bravery, under gunfire and club, of millions of Arabian Semitic peoples in their struggles for freedom and dignity.
So now many of us are schizophrenic in our mental constructs, clinging to those destructive Hollywood images of the past that were reinforced by 9/11 and endless propagandizing about what is really a tiny, tiny percentage of the overall Arab and Moslem population, the "sect", if you want to call it that, of al Qaeda, this negative fear stereotype versus the reality of millions of human beings in the Middle East and beyond who, it turns out to be, are just like us, struggling for freedom and justice and the right to have a good job so they can feed and house their families and raise their children.