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Preparing My Kids for the New America

In 2014, when I moved with my family from Jerusalem to a pleasant Midwestern town, I promised myself that, come what may, I wouldn’t get emotionally involved with America. As a Palestinian who’d lived for years as a minority in West Jerusalem, the city’s Jewish side, I’d grown increasingly fearful for the safety of my family in Israel. I escaped to America in order to find tranquillity in a flat land, surrounded by walls of corn, soy, and bitter cold, and I made a covenant that I would ignore American politics. For almost three years, I did. Driving the children to school, I preferred to listen to the chauvinistic jokes of the “Bob & Tom Show,” rather than to the morning news. I didn’t want to know anything about the country in which we were only guests. I didn’t read newspapers, and in the evening—unlike in Israel, where I never missed the TV news—I started to gape avidly at football games, without understanding the rules.

In recent weeks, though, like so many people in America, I have become addicted to the news. If, until a month ago, I had no desire to familiarize myself with any American politicians, now I’ve started to wake up from dreams in which Stephen Miller morphs into Steve Bannon as they chase leather-bound files. I get up early to see what the new President is up to, and wait in a panic to find out if he’s going to sign another executive order from his magisterial file folder. He has a long signature for a President, lots of rising and falling lines, and he often wears a fierce expression on his face, as if to let us know that life is only going to get harder.

Where in Israel I was a Palestinian, in the United States I’m a Muslim—threats are a matter of geography. But in the past couple of weeks the old, familiar fears have resurfaced. I have to admit that I had felt somewhat unhinged by the (relative) political quiet, and by the absence of the existential threat that had accompanied me all my adult life. I was afraid that the sense of security that seemed to swaddle me in America would affect the quality of my writing, that no longer being exposed to unbridled racism would leave me no choice but to launch a career as the author of romance novels for juveniles. Now I regard these feelings with a bitter irony: at long last, here comes an American President who issues boycott orders against Muslims, refugees, and migrants, restoring hope and holding out promise that I will not lack subject matter for writing. At the end of the day, nothing generates creativity like a healthy sense of threat.

Still, I keep reminding myself, sometimes aloud in order to heighten my inner conviction, there’s no place for comparison: America is not Israel. Here thousands have taken to the streets to demonstrate against the anti-Muslim regulations and in favor of taking in refugees. Here more than a million marched against the President’s policies on the day after his Inauguration. Here there are still media outlets that don’t toe the Administration’s line, and universities that have promised to do their utmost to protect their foreign students. But, even so, I can’t help comparing the conditions in the Jerusalem I left, traumatized, almost three years ago, with what’s happening here in the United States.

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