I Love My Name
By Jihad Bazzi [from Assafir 12 September 2002, translated by Sara Fageer]
Any charm for Americans that could possibly be invested in a name like Jihad, vanished instantly on 11 September 2001. A Detroit-based university student from Lebanon, Jihad Bazzi, like everyone else was sent reeling by the news of the horrific event and by the prospects of what dire fate might befall Arab Americans in consequence. To write a piece called “I love my name” on the first anniversary of the event, without giving dangerous offence is difficult to conceive. It’s a tribute to Bazzi’s skill and sensitivity that he managed it.
A note on his name: Jihad is a well known name in Arabic for both Muslims and Christians. My father named me after his nephew whom he was very fond of, but four years ago Jihad died in a heart attack. Jihad as a name is not meant to be Islamic. In Arabic, Jihad means working hard to accomplish something.
From the first moment, the 11th became like a bad song fixed in the head of an Arab dazed after a night of disturbed sleep.
The United States of America is hit by the event, and it is an exploding country knowing how to direct its screams and its keenings.
The sky separates from the sacred flag; small as a button on a shirt, big the air almost cannot move it. It stirs slowly, as if in a gesture of sadness. The eagle has stitched his forehead. He has grown violently angry. The American eagle is authentic. In the photos the eagle appears to be a European migrant, white. The African eagle is not angry.
Arab Americans receive the first pages of the local newspapers in Detroit. They are sad, broken. They can see some of their brothers in the blood of New York. America under attack, America unites. America rises from under the ashes. God bless America, and don’t be distracted from other societies that need your blessing.
How stupid this man seems as he tightens his lips and narrows the wideness of his eyes. The eagle of chance. He has to appear an eagle in front of the lens.
God bless the President.
And don’t forget to bless my brother who came to America 24 years ago. My brother who in a faint of fright did not warn his modern brother, new to the States, that he has Arabic features that cannot be hidden to the eye.
God bless America. And don’t neglect the escapees of Lebanon’s dark tomorrow to a better tomorrow.
God bless America if He wishes. And bless the Arabs of Detroit who lifted their hands together at the instant of the 11th and implored You that “please God let those who did it not be Arabs.”
God bless the firemen of New York, and don’t forget, Oh God, those who carry in their speech the shame of the accent. They also love you and need you in the foreign land, and bless, my God, my brother in Lebanon, because he dreams of coming to America, modelling himself on his brothers and most of his companions at university. My brother whom I have missed, bless him Oh Lord. God bless the stranger.
In the street, which is without an escape, the house number 14662 lies in a strange calm. The white old neighbour walks every morning. The old neighbour from South Lebanon does not walk every morning; she sits on her chair and perhaps retrieves her memories. The sound of the old white woman’s voice shrills loudly at us with the English greeting, and the neighbour from South Lebanon calls to us in her own dialect. She invites us to speak to her; she tempts us with Arabic dishes from her kitchen, which distances us if only for a short time from our scrappy meals. She returns us to our native homes before the street retrieves us once more. Sing Fairoz, my love.
God bless Fairoz because she has given birth.
And bless a light-skinned child with a scarf on her head singing the American National Anthem with abandon, tunelessly without an accent. And don’t forget a woman walking around the Stock Exchange, the flag covering her hair. And bless O God, the Red Indian and the ancient slaves; and the old woman from Southern Lebanon who has never known how to address her American neighbour, a nice old woman in spite of her noisy voice.
“Where are you going?”
“Come back, all the universities have closed.”
“And don’t speak long on the religious house telephone. America is watching us all, and listens in on our conversations in Arabic. Don’t mention the cursed son of the cursed (bin laden), don’t say ‘hisb allah”. Our conversations are connected to computers sensitive to certain words and don’t speak those words until the machines recording our conversations are switched off.”
My Lebanese friend feels happy and rejoices. She scorns her housemates at the university dorm. An American closed her door against her and spent the 11th crying. My Lebanese friend has not forgotten Qana.
Everyone says unoriginal jokes involving my name, and searches among American names for a name, which separates me from the accusation of the original name. I don’t like any of the names. I love my name. And I won’t change it because someone else misunderstands it.
God bless my name. And don’t allow me to one day forget my name, because one of the worst things in the world is for a person to forget their name.
The man insists that Israel is the perpetrator. The university teacher, Anana, insists that it is the Americans: we accuse others at random. Our bad habit government and its hypers. The announcer screams “Let us not accuse the Arabs, let us not accuse the Arabs.”
The hero is committing suicide in the first scene. It is not wise to omit the suspense and obscurity in a film in its first scene.
The university assignment says that you must carry out an interview with someone else not of your culture or background. Laura and I exchange interviews. Our conversation extends over two hours during which Laura discovers that Lebanon is not a desert, that our women go to university and that I have never seen a camel in my life.
And I discover that Laura knows who Noam Chomsky is.
Laura writes in her paper that I have caused her to question what her country’s foreign policy has done, as well as sending planes into orbit. And I write in my paper that Laura has crazed the traditional picture I have of the entirely ignorant American.
Has Laura benefited?
Have I benefited?
Has the university assignment benefited?
God bless America about whom we knew nothing before, during and after 11th of September.