Posted by on February 07, 2011 in Blog
I started in mid-January with two events in Cleveland (the City Club and the National Arab American Medical Association. Both great audiences. The City Club is a great old Cleveland institution that brings together folks concerned with the policy debates about a range of foreign and domestic policy issues. The questions were smart, especially those coming from some of students who were present. One of the wonderful things I am finding as I travel across the country are the number of students who are engaged: high schoolers in newly created Arabic studies programs (like the group I met in Cleveland), college kids who are making their own programs and finding ways to organize study and travel to Arab countries (that's what I found at Rice and Davidson), and activists forming Palestine solidarity committees (they are everywhere).
The next day I left for the Arab World where I did book events in Saudi Arabia and UAE. These were my first in the region and I was so pleased with the reception. Especially wonderful was the gathering at Abu Dhabi's NYU campus. This is a creative new program that brings a US university and its students to the Arab World, while providing an exchange opportunity for Arab students to spend a year studying in New York. These exchange programs are life changing for both.
One of those little, but memorable moments from this visit occurred at the home of a friend in Saudi Arabia (it mirrored one of the stories I tell in the book). We (about 10 of us) were sitting one night watching the news - the Lebanon crisis had sharpened and Tunisians were still in the streets. These were big stories and the conversation was intense. All of a sudden, my friend's son burst into the room to remind everyone that "Arabs Got Talent" (like "American Idol", but not as structured) was about to begin. It, apparently being everyone's favorite show, meant that the channel was turned and politics took a break - until the show's end!
I came back to Washington for a few days and then on to Florida for three events: two on college campuses (Florida international University and Miami Dade) and an TV interview and luncheon at Newmax.com. The folks at Newsmax are as conservative as I am liberal, but we are in complete agreement that neo-conservatives (and the Democrat's version "neo-con lite") and the religious right have made a mess of our country's policy in the Middle East. They assembled a very thoughtful group for a lunchtime discussion.
Sunday it was back to Chicago for the annual candidates' brunch hosted by the Arab American Democratic Club. A snow storm didn't stop a huge crowd of community members, elected officials (headed by Senator Richard Durbin) and candidates from showing up. Having been there at the beginning (25 years ago) when we first formed the club, I felt so pleased and proud to see what they have accomplished. The club gave copies of "Arab Voices" to every elected official and then hosted a book signing for the community.
Chicago has it all: a large, increasingly successful, dynamic, and political savvy Arab American community, a Mayor and city government that has made significant efforts to deepen ties to the Arab World (multiple "sister city" relationships, hosting a conference of 40+ Arab mayors, expanded Arabic language programs in the schools, and an Arab American Commission in city government).
With Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Lebanon's divide being rubbed raw, and Palestine, though not in the news, still simmering and waiting - there is so much to discuss.
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