A species of which I know nothing

BY AMER G. ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published July 15, 2001

Having your opinion in print can be a dangerous thing. You can"t really take things back and can"t claim to have been misquoted. It"s a risky business, precisely why I am going to be extremely careful in this very column. I have written about Palestine, Israeli policies, literary censorship, the depiction of Muslims, secretary of state war criminals, race, political activism, ethnic and social identity all topics I feel secure speaking about. But this week, due to some recent and upcoming events in my life, I have decided to write about a topic of which I have come to realize I know very little about: Arab women.

Paul Wong
Amer G. Zahr

Now I am not going to talk about the status of Arab women, sexism, their roles, their achievements or their often-oppressed status. No, I am simply going to talk about my utter and immense and confusion as it relates to them. Sure, I could talk about those other things in an academic and intellectual way (I hope), but I have been told I write too many political columns, so I"m taking a one-column respite from all that, but keep your eyes open, I"ll be returning to my old ways.

Last night, I attended the wedding of someone whom I attended college with. I have another college friend getting married soon, and most of my childhood friends have gotten married as well. So, marriage has lately been a theme in my life. Not my own marriage, that of others. But now as I ready myself for a trip to the Middle East, I shudder to imagine what kinds of questions will come about as I visit relatives and friends who will all be wondering the same thing. Don"t get me wrong I don"t shy away from the prospect. I am not against marriage by any stretch of the imagination. But I"m uncomfortable with the constant stress that is put upon it.

Unfortunately, it translates into making platonic relationships very difficult. This recently hit home for me, as my attempts to simply get to know someone whom I liked (not like liked, just liked) were misinterpreted as an attempt to pursue her. It"s not really the fault of anyone as it is a clear function of an Arab-American culture that tells young people that when twenty-somethings start talking, only one of two results are possible: Marriage or no further contact. There"s no gray area.

This gets to the point that when you unsuccessfully try to get in touch with someone enough times in order to innocently grab dinner or coffee, you open yourself up to a response like, "I don"t think this is working out." I don"t think this is working out? There was no "this." There"s no "this" to not work out. But unbeknownst to me, there was a "this," a kind of lingering "this." We never made it. It was there before I ever picked up a phone. The "this" was assumed. "This," of course, was to be my attempt to woo and pursue. Now once I get onto a plane, land in Palestine, start visiting all kinds of people, "this" will be even more apparent than ever, following me everywhere.

It"s unfortunate, because "this" is messing up attempts to get to know cool people. "This" is ruining my life. Anyway, I can"t understand it. Sometimes, cool Arab guys just want to hang out with cool Arab girls, have dinner, talk about stuff and joke about nuances in our culture like the inability of our parents to pronounce v"s and p"s, the way our parents can sometimes just freak out, whose mom"s hummus is better, how my dad used to say "good eye" when I struck out at little league baseball games, how our moms always ask if our laundry is done (even if we live 500 miles away, like me), how our dads walked uphill to school and uphill back home (it confuses me too), how we are all pre-med until we enter college and finally, if all goes well, we can sit around, sip our coffee, laugh and discuss how "this" is destroying all our fun.

Well, I welcome input. I am confused. Please tell me "this" does not need to dominate my social life. I don"t know, maybe it"s me. Maybe it"s just me

Amer Zahr"s column runs every other Monday. He can be reached via e-mail at zahrag@umich.edu.