October 24, 2014
I went to the Islamic Resource Center last night (10/23/2014). The Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition sponsored a “poetry slam down” to promote peace in Gaza. That’s what the advertisement said anyway. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted to check it out. I needed to experience something new.
I got there a little late, but the program hadn’t started yet. A young woman, probably college age, was running the show. Except for the hijab (or perhaps even because of the hijab), she looked chic and confident. People were sitting and chatting in a small classroom/auditorium where the IRC often hosts lectures and meetings. I knew the place well. I had been there before, when I was taking a refresher course in Arabic. Most of the people there were quite young, some still looked like they were high school. I was by far the oldest person there. There were two young man sitting nearby, their hair gelled and appearing to be Muslim hipsters. I sat toward the back and watched.
After welcoming the attendees (the young woman made some remark about everyone there being Muslim; well, not quite everyone), she showed a video of a Palestinian woman, Rafeef Ziadah, speaking at a gathering in London, reciting her poem, “Shades of Anger”. It was a very moving poem, heartfelt and emotional. It was definitely angry. That set the tone for the evening.
A number of young people got up to recite poetry about the suffering in Gaza. Their voices were very honest and very moving. The poems were about injustice and violence, and they cast the Israelis in the role of oppressors. The Palestinians were described purely as victims. There was quite a bit of talk concerning the anguish of the Arabs in Gaza, but nothing at all was mentioned about rockets being launched into Israel. The poets talked about their desire for peace, but mostly in terms of achieving justice. Justice meant, as far as I could see, ending Israeli domination. Peace appeared to be something that would automatically come into existence once the Israelis were no longer an issue.
Another young lady gave a presentation about her college group, Students for Justice in Palestine. There is a chapter of this group on the UWM campus, and the young woman talked about their protests and political activities. Once again, the Palestinians were shown as victims of fate. The Israelis were clearly the problem, according to the speaker. The conflict in Israel/Palestine was presented in stark terms, black and white. There was no nuance, there were no shades of grey.
At that point, the poetry readings stalled out. Nobody really had anything ready. A young man, who was now acting as host, asked people in the room to come up and speak. I raised my hand and asked if the speaker needed to use poetry. The young man said no. Then I asked if the subject needed to be specifically about Gaza, or could it relate in some other way to war and peace. The man told me that was fine, and I told him that I could tell a story, if he liked. He was good with that, so I went up to the stage.
I sat down in a chair and faced the group. I started telling the story of our son, Hans, and how he went to war in Iraq. I told about how, after the war, he didn’t come home at first, and we didn’t understand why that was. I told them about the phone call from Hans in January of 2012, when he told me about shooting an Iraqi in a fire fight. I told them about how I asked Hans if the other man died, and Hans said, “Yeah, I guess so…I must have pumped thirty rounds into him.” I told them that I know nothing about the man that our son killed, except that somewhere somebody grieves for him.
I did not often look at the crowd as I spoke. When I did, I saw them all staring at me, in dead silence. I don’t know what they heard or saw, but they listened.
I finished talking about Hans. I said, “Well, that’s my story.” I got up and left.