How are you?
How are you?
A question often asked in passing, in an exchange of pleasantries between two people. A question that is almost always answered in the same casual vein in which it was asked. It's as if we've become conditioned to consider deeper discussions about our wellbeing a social faux pa. Time is money in our modern capitalistic society and money cannot be made by talking about "emotions". No wonder we are broken.
How often do we really ask the question intently? How often do we answer it meaningfully? No, I don't mean doing that with the random person on the street but what if we truly took the time to do so with the friend/partner/neighbor/colleague. There is a lot more to the person you interact with and if we don't invest the time in getting to know each other better then we will never heal our societal wounds.
Well, I've decided to do just that. What you’re about to read is an honest answer to the question. I've never done this before and to be honest, I am anxious about how what I'm about to share might be interpreted. No, I'm not worried that you'd judge me. I'm worried that you might get worried about me. So let's establish some simple ground rules.
What you're about to read is not a new development. I have always been in tune with my own thoughts and emotions from a young age. That was never easy and many times I wished that I was not, but I have worked through most of this over the past 25 years or so. I'm comfortable with who I am and I am fully aware of my own thoughts and emotions and what they mean....or at least I like to pretend that I am :)
Also, this is not a cry for help. Rather this is a scream that I hope will get those who read it to stop and think about how we drone on as supposed members of a supposed society without much consideration of our fellow human beings. I hope that by sharing how I truly feel and the thoughts and emotions that I experience, we would stop and reflect for a little while. For in order for us to break the cycle of shallow niceties, which are so fragile that a simple test of what we supposedly stand for as a society has sent our moral compass in a spinning frenzy, we must stop and reflect on our own thoughts and emotions and how we seldom stop and ask about others' emotional wellbeing.
So, here it goes....
How am I?
I'm exhausted. Extremely exhausted.
I am emotionally fatigued, intellectually drained and spiritually bruised.
But not defeated
My name is Ahmed Mahmoud Rajab Ahmed Abdelmageed Elasmar. I am a Palestinian who was born and raised as a refugee in Qatar. I moved to the western world after high school (started in Canada in 96 then US in 2000). I am a Muslim, immigrant, American citizen. I am also the husband of a Michigander that chose Islam as her faith a year before we got married; Father of a girl and two boys and the youngest of five children to now aging parents. My parents who after witnessing the occupation of their homeland and ethnic cleansing of their hometown at the tender ages of 8 and 5, and after living as refugees the majority of their lives in Qatar, are now green card holders living in the United States. I hold two degrees, blessed to work at a higher education institution that respects me and trusts me to help direct a major portion of its curriculum.
Why do I share all this with you?
Because every single part of who I am is under attack.
Who I am is the source of my exhaustion.
Let me repeat that one more time.
Who I am is the source of my exhaustion.
I have to fight every single day to prove my worth in a world that has decided to meet every piece of me with suspicion.
Allow me to explain.
Ahmed the Palestinian Arab
Ever since I can formulate my own thoughts, I became acutely aware of what it means to be a Palestinian. Now granted, I did not live the war nor am I living under the current occupation but I have lived and continue to live its consequences.
If I am to defend the rights of my people, I am labeled an anti-Semite.
If I am to discuss the atrocities of a political regime that has killed, and continues to kill, scores upon scores of my people, I am met with an indifferent "it's complicated" response.
I am to sit and watch media, religious and educational institutions erase me and my people from existence.
To add a ton of salt to this gaping wound, I am to live with the fact that some of my tax money goes right into the hands of the Israeli apartheid, colonialist, expansionist regime that has made me and many of my people a refugee. My western education and migration are means of survival that my parents strove hard to provide me and my siblings.
I am also to sit and watch my greedy government, current and past government, act with callous disregard fueled by arrogance, to the destruction they reek upon anything that may stand in the path of achieving and maintaining a super power presence. Drunk on its power and deluded by its own grandiose sense of democratic superiority, my American government continues a pseudo colonial control and sustains a calculated intentional fragmentation of the Arab world. Of course I am not going to absolve the majority of governments in that Arab world from an equal, if not more, callous disregard to anything that may stand in the way of their sense of authority and control. Puppets in the hands of a master except no one really wanted such a show.
The Arab in me who always longs for a romanticized image of Arabism made up of poetry and intellectual engagement, has that image shattered by the reality of a toxic geopolitical climate created and maintained to a great extent by my government. Not a single day goes by..... not a single day....without thoughts of remorse over a language and a culture that my children will most likely not get to appreciate as much as I do. Not a single day goes by without a feeling of helplessness as I witness the continued destruction of a beautiful part of the world that many beautiful people call home. Torn between an inability to change or stop this reality, I feel as if I am both a victim and a culprit of such destruction.
Ahmed the Muslim
Ever since I understood and felt what God means, I chose Islam as my faith. I grew up in a predominantly Muslim country however I never fully understood and appreciated my faith until I moved to the western part of the world. My transition period was the most challenging yet the most beneficial thing that ever happened to my beliefs. I went from a Muslim majority country to a world with people from all walks of life on all different paths seeking God. Some don't even believe in God. All this made me question why I believe what I believe in and why I choose Islam as my faith. That transition period went from self-discovery to self-preservation on the 11th of September 2001. On that particular day, the entire world turned and stared at me. From that particular day onward, I became THE representative of the Islamic faith. I now speak for the entirety of Islam and am expected to answer for any and all actions of those who claim it as their faith. On that particular day I understood the full meaning of "other" and from that particular day onward, my failures and my successes became attributed to my "otherness". If I fail, it's surely because of the inferiority of my "otherness". If I succeed, it is because in this politically correct world we need to check off the "other" category on our diversity roster.
Ahmed the parent
For a long time, I gave up on the concept of marriage and having children. I did not want to bring children to a world I thought was ugly. It's funny though how that whole perspective changes when she walks into your life. Now I am the father of three beautiful children and trying my best to balance all the normal things we balance as spouses and parents...but with a few extra added layers.
Beyond the concern about the wellbeing of my wife and my children, the normal paternalistic/materialistic concern that drives someone to work hard to provide for their family, I carry the concern about my wife who proudly displays her faith in public. I am not afforded the luxury of only being concerned about my kids' performance at school and behavior on the playground. I worry about the rising vilification of their faith and parts of their heritage. Will their names turn them into an automatic target? Will the current unbridled islamophobia become mainstream? Do I spend my time at home and watch the world go into such doomed direction or do I engage and try and change the narrative? How do I balance my obligations as a father and my obligations as a civically engaged person? Securing a better future for my kids is not simply about building a good educational foundation for them to grow into their own productive roles within society. Securing a better future for my children means that I sometimes have to take time away from being with them to fight an ugliness that is consuming the world around them. Where do I compromise? How can I compromise? Why should I compromise?
I can add some of the other daily thoughts such as concerns over how academia is currently being viewed, the current attack on science, the rampant sense of nationalism over true patriotism, the divisive/divided/dividing political system, the glaring healthcare disparities, the widening gap between rich and poor, my worries and concerns for my black friends, my immigrant friends, my privileged friends who don't understand their privilege, my students and their success, my students and what role will they play in the society, what change will they introduce to their community and much much more. But I'll stop here for I think I shared enough.
These are not deep philosophical reflections on who I am and what my role in life is. These are daily thoughts, feelings and emotions and I am certain that I am not the only one who has them.
I share with you intimate details of what goes on in my own mind in hopes that we look beyond the label. A label we create for and impose upon those whom we consider "other". So I ask you, if such problems are of our own creation then what is stopping us from creating solutions instead? How are we to have a healthy functioning society if we don't even know what is going on with those we work with, live around or even sometimes call friends? How am I to understand and appreciate the struggles of a black person, or an immigrant or a working class white man/woman if I can't get past the lip service of a shallow nicety that is expected as a show of "civility" but never really used as a means of understanding the person of whom I'm asking the question?
It's in our hands.
Let’s break the cycle.
How about we start a "How are you" campaign?
Text, call, email someone you know. Take them out to lunch, grab a cup of coffee, go for a walk. Have a thoughtful conversation. Go ahead, ask someone how they are doing like you mean it.
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark