After the twin towers collapsed in a collective gasp of Oh My Gods, our telephone started ringing. Seventy percent of the calls were various newsrooms and newspapers desperate for a rent-an-Arab, talking tea-towel head quote from my husband, a Palestinian academic and former peace negotiator and thirty percent were from friends asking if we were all right. They were worried, not that we were in any direct danger, but that being a Palestinian Arab family living in the West we would be feeling under siege. ŅAre the children all right? They asked repeatedly. Frankly, the children are used to it. Despite the fact that I myself am neither Arab Muslim, nor Palestinian, and my children a curious amalgam of Scottish, Arab and American cultures with no religious identity to speak of, you get used to fighting an unpopular corner in a society where Arabs are always HollywoodÕs terrorists. From the Jewish friend who asked to bring a friend to dinner and who then turned up without him saying airily; Ōoh he didnÕt want to eat in the house of a terrorist and baby killerÕ Š despite the fact that my husband has been deeply involved in ways of finding a just and peaceful solution to what we affectionately call, the pal problem Š to my own brother sending me an e-mail asking if my husbandÕs parents, American citizens and Harvard intellectuals, were Ōclose to Bin LadenÕ. Yes, about as close as I am to Hitler. Well if an Irish person had been involved, he protested, naturally youÕd worry that other Irish people would be victimized. But it isnÕt the same thing. Rather, it would be like shaming every other Anglo Saxon protestant in Europe for a Unionist atrocity. During the Gulf War my son, thoughtlessly called of after his great uncle, once prime minister of Jordan, my son Hussein was ridiculed at school as though Saddam was his first cousin. When we were caught in an Israeli air raid in Lebanon, a mother took me aside at school and asked me to tell him to be quiet lest it offend her sonÕs sensibilities because her sister Ōlives in IsraelÕ. With grateful hindsight, IÕm glad we didnÕt call the other son after his equally distinguished scientist uncle Usama.
ItÕs difficult time to be being a young man of a Middle Eastern Appearance. Luckily, London school are full of ethnic minorities, from whom my sons chose most of their friends. In a recent play staged at school about schoolboys transported to Roman times, though all the characters were called Tommy, Hugo and Ernest, and lines spoken in perfect received pronunciation, the actors, a true representative of todayÕs student body, numbered Arjun, Rohan and Adiptia. But there have been ŌjokesÕ about terrorists; graffiti has sprung up outside my younger sonÕs school saying US & Israel kill all Arabs. My youngest daughter was told by a school friend that she didnÕt want to have anything to do with Palestinians. Why not? I asked expecting a political harangue. Oh she said it was just because she hates me. Meanwhile, my eldest daughter at a school at the top of the league tables where the students are presumably well educated, has seen girls wearing the hijab asked to account for the ŌevilÕ of the Koran. Though in all my children's Religious Instruction more emphasise is put on understanding Judaism and Hinduism, than Islam. My daughter asked how many pupils consider themselves Christians and 80 per cent of the hands shot up. How many of you have read the bible? Three hands went up. Thank goodness they are not being asked to justify their own scriptures.
But you do feel forced to be an apologist, for something you have nothing to apologise for. I tell my kids not to be defensive when anyone at school takes their anger out on them. The have nothing to defend. They donÕt have to accept verbal terrorism just because they are the most convenient scapegoat, to defend a religion they have only a secular, cultural knowledge of, or to accept that out of 250 million Arabs worldwide, that Bin Laden represents their beliefs or interests. Who asks every American tourist if they feel guilty for supplying the Taliban with arms when they were the noble muhajadeen fighting off the Soviet threat (and incidentally, not considered terrorists but freedom fighters), of for allowing four of their own citizens to die by gunfire every hour? So I tell them to be proud or their intellectual and cultural heritage. But do they really listen?