A friend of mine who summers in the shadow of Mount Monadnock says that she always experiences an illumed moment when she crosses Pack Monadnock: she knows she has returned home. Home, the place where she finds solace and peace — where she writes, gardens, makes pesto, bakes pies — and plays wicked good golf.
Home is an idea. Home is refuge and opportunity. Home shelters love and conflict. Home is where we feel we belong.
My world doesn’t have a real Pack Monadnock — my passages vary, inspired by life-long passions and fleeting curiosities. I live on the Seacoast, visit friends in the “interior provinces” and inhabit a world defined by my loves, my art, by my American, Arab, and Muslim “Otherness.”
I write columns my daughter describes as sermons, my critics occasionally describe as incendiary and that my friends recognize as my voice, sometimes over-the-top, speaking for, embracing “The Other.”
I take photographs, write, garden and make baklava using rose water and clarified butter — no honey. Home is sometimes my column, where I try to challenge privilege and try (oh, it’s so hard) to embrace beauty, quiet fears and encounter the Beloved.
Today, I offer no sermon. I am the itinerant traveler, the unknown visitor knocking on your door, he who arrives bearing a letter of introduction promising to provoke, please, anger, amuse and love.
In “The Alphabet of Grace,” Frederick Buechner wrote that after confession and tears, there would be the healing of “Great Laughter.”
Let me into your home. Respond to my challenges, read my confessions, taste the salt of my tears.
Benjamin Franklin wrote, in his autobiography, that he wanted a meeting hall in Philadelphia so inclusive “… that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”
From my pulpit I argue to anyone who cares about fairness and social justice that the Palestinians deserve a state along the pre-war 1967 borders. I argue that America’s founders were progressives who embraced a revolutionary worldview of social justice, of equality, liberty and freedom. Further, I argue that America’s Public Square needs us Muslims: that embracing pluralism and diversity is our common path to salvation.
I argue that America’s security depends not on drones and warships but on finding the straight path to peace: that being willing to negotiate with our enemies is a sign of strength, not weakness.
I will not preach “Mohammedanism.”
I will confess that American “Exceptionalism” is not about maintaining white privilege, power and authority through force and intimidation but about maintaining the promise of the American Dream; about faith and mindfulness, about embracing the belief that all men and women “are created equal.”
As your guest I won’t ask you for agreement; I’ll ask only that you’ll respect my voice. Think about the issues I raise: we breathe the same air, you and I; we till the same soil. On issues of social justice we’ll find common ground — that is what defines us.
Together we’ll bear witness.
Once, while visiting a church, sitting alone in a back pew, I heard the priest speak of “Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac…” My head snapped up and everything was still: tears welled in my eyes.
I, the only Muslim in that sacred space, was not apart, not The Other: together, we were Abraham’s children.
Such are my confessions. Such are the spirits that inspire dialogue and great laughter. Within such moments memories form, desires stir, love prevails.
“Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly,” Edward Albee wrote in A Zoo Story.
This week, on the 65th anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly vote that split the British Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Arab, 138 UN members voted to grant Palestine nonmember observer state status — a step towards Palestinian independence: 9 opposed, including the United States; 41 abstained.
A pathway Home.
To be just is to know what The Other is suffering: to want to know what The Other is suffering. And, once we know The Other, we become accountable. If we don’t act on our accountability, we become complicit with the oppressors.
America’s, Israel’s, Palestine’s: honor everyone’s birth-story.
If we honor each other’s stories, we are empowered.
Our journey starts here.
Together, we’ll share Great Laughter.
This column appeared originally in the Keene Sentinel.
Editor’s note: Today the Sentinel introduces a new New Hampshire voice. Robert Azzi, a columnist from Exeter, is a photojournalist who has worked in the Middle East and is a former fellow of the The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.