Adam is the co-founder, co-director, and spiritual force of The Reciprocity Foundation, a group dedicated to helping homeless teenagers and young adults off the streets into financial stability and sustainable careers in the "Creative Economy." The project is built on the premise that learning about graphic and clothing design, spirituality and philosophy, literary and visual arts, promotion and marketing will enable individuals to use their particular skills to reshape their own lives while reshaping American society.
Bucko, a Polish emigre and former monk, sees the branches of social change rising from the roots of America's most significant resource, its young citizens. Helping young people develop cultural careers, Bucko believes, guides them toward richer existential and spiritual lives and trains them to use market strategies to accomplish political changes while avoiding crass commercialism or consumption. The hope is to plug a significant number of program graduates into the financial and corporate sectors where they can shift the goals of American capitalism toward eco-friendly production and the development of sustainable products. Bucko's students profit from his guidance -- his activism is focused especially on revitalizing the lives of young homeless people and American life in general.
Revitalizing American life is also about teaching American people to readjust the way we think of ourselves in the turbulent, rearranging international reality. In a recent column Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist, argues persuasively that Western impressions of Islamic and Arab womanhood often work to diminish women who wear the chador or practice hijab rather than elevate them out of their perceived oppression in the Arab world. Recalling a performance by the Iranian artist Haleh Anvari about the symbolic power of images of the veil, Eltahawy writes:
The day I saw Anvari's spoken word performance in New York City, she held up a copy of that week's The Economist magazine for proof of her point, as if any were needed. Even intellect-heavy media, it seemed, could not resist illustrating a cover story on Iran with a woman in a black chador.Eltahawy's commentaries are antidotes to stupidity and incoherence. Rather than cheerleading for the West or the Arab/Muslim world, Mona deliberately analyzes the weaknesses of each side's propaganda while proffering proposals for reimagining ourselves as Arabness and Western-ness come closer in their tense co-mingling. Eltahawy strays far from ideology by maintaining her intellectual liminality -- though she knows London, Paris, New York, Jerusalem, and Cairo and speaks Arabic, French, and English, no place is home as such. As an intellectual, Mona maintains an uncomfortable relationship to each metropol (even her hometown, Cairo) and every language (even her mother tongue, Arabic) in order to sustain her "in betweenness." Intellectual liminality does not assume objectivity, some position above the fray. Rather, liminality forces an intellectual like Eltahawy to acknowledge the contingent influences played out in her attitudes and concerns. It strikes me that the liminal position is a spot from which one can spring into action, not a protective fall back zone. Eltahawy performs her activist intellectual role in her recent Washington Post essay about the Fortieth Anniversary of the Six Day War, "What Use Were All The Wars?":
But it gets worse.
What's worse than one side trying to protect your soul as the other tries to rescue it, you ask?
How about a question from an American woman in the audience, who asked if she should wear a chador out of solidarity with Iranian women? It is difficult to outdo such a killer combo of condescension marinated in a deep-seated desire to liberate and rescue Muslim women - a ‘recipe' seasoned with good old ignorance.
Some might call me unkind for ripping into a well-intentioned inquiry about ways to help. But nine years of wearing a headscarf will do that to you. My years in hijab were great lessons in figuring out the saviours from the liberators. The liberators, to be fair, weren't always from the ‘West'. Sometimes they were fellow Egyptian Muslims who didn't like the hijab.
Just as importantly, the headscarf honed my skills at figuring out the honest from the patronizing and there's nothing like being spoken to IN A SLOW AND VERY LOUD VOICE AS IF ONE WERE DEAF to really get the blood boiling and make one want to yell: "I MIGHT COVER MY HAIR BUT I'M NOT STUPID."
If turning 40 isn't challenging enough, try preparing for this milestone when you're as old as one of the worst defeats Arab armies ever suffered at Israeli hands. Wars mark time and generations in the Middle East, so it's difficult not to take the humiliation personally.Interestingly, both Eltahawy and Bucko ask us to move on along routes that require us to re-identify ourselves individually and collectively. Bucko suggests that we can create space for the spirits to breathe and grow by rearranging our relationships to consumption. Our guides on the road to new understandings of commerce and trade are, ironically, formerly homeless young people, the very folks unequally traumatized by the old ideas of American capitalism. This path is linked to the redesigned political landscape, an America (and a West) that fosters legitimate partnerships with those in the world who have been continually traumatized by Western diplomatic policies and economic strictures. It is not a unilateral shift however; Eltahawy argues that the Arab/Muslim world must also reinvent itself, providing spaces for multiple identities to breathe and grow. Adam and Mona give us plans for mutually beneficial reinvention: programs for letting newness enter the world while allowing the integrity of our cultures and identities to prosper and multiply rather than dissolve under the grind of capitalism and war.
My birth at the end of July 1967 makes me a child of the naksa, or setback, as the Arab defeat during the June 1967 war is euphemistically known in Arabic. There was no Summer of Love for us in 1967. We Children of the Naksa were born not only on the cusp of loss but also of the kind of disillusionment that whets the appetite of religious zealots.
My parents' generation grew up high on the Arab nationalism that Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser brandished in the 1950s. By 1967, humiliation was decisively stepping into pride's large, empty shoes.
As the region marks the 40th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli war, it's been a relief to be watching from another country, one where the stain of wars and defeat have marked several generations. But no relief or distance can silence this question: Is this what we fought all those wars with Israel for?
My country, Egypt, fought four wars against Israel between 1948, when the Jewish state was created, and 1979, when Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Two of my uncles were rocket engineers during the 1973 war, the last conflict between the two countries.
Watching the Palestinians' whiplash descent into civil war in Gaza this summer, it is difficult not to question the past. Israel's occupation of Palestinian land has caused no end of misery, poverty and frustration for the Palestinians. It has even scarred the Israeli people's conscience. But occupation doesn't explain the reckless and often corrupt leadership that seems to be the curse of the Palestinians.
You might think society would have evolved differently in the two countries that have peace treaties with Israel -- Egypt and Jordan -- or that their treaties have rendered conflict out of the question. Think again.
Has Egypt or Jordan logged better records on human rights or political freedoms because of those treaties? Has development or progress taken the place of war? Ask the thousands of political prisoners and the silenced dissidents of both countries.
Egypt has been at peace with Israel for 28 years. For the past 25 years, we have had the same president, who has never visited Israel -- just the tip of the iceberg known as the "cold peace" between the two countries, which Egyptian officials usually blame on negative public opinion of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.
We have subsumed so much into the Palestinian cause, channeling efforts that should have gone into development into a near obsession with Palestine, for little apparent good. Egypt boasts that it can talk to both the Israelis and the Palestinians, but even that has done little for its influence in halting intra-Palestinian fighting in Gaza.
I visited Israel for the first time in September 1997. Soon after, I moved to Jerusalem as a correspondent for Reuters. I wanted to see things for myself and not have to rely on the "official" narrative given by our media.
To this day I remain under the suspicion of my country's security services. When I returned to Egypt after my year in Israel, a state security officer -- whose nom de guerre was Omar Sharif -- held up a thick file that he said was full of orders to have me followed and my phone tapped.
My generation, sadly, might be lost to defeat and humiliation. If so, the best gift we can offer those coming behind us is clear advice: Don't walk in our footsteps, and know that the best way you can help Palestinians is to help your own countries.
The Arab leaders of the 1967 era are gone, replaced in Jordan and Syria by their sons; preparations for a similar handover are underway in Egypt. The Palestinians are led by the dangerously impotent combination of a weak president and a prime minister who is a religious zealot.
And still there is no Palestine.
Why has time stood still for the Arab world? The Syrian town of Quneitra is exactly as it was when it was destroyed after the 1967 war with Israel, untouched so that we never forget. Yet how many German cities, almost leveled during World War II, have been rebuilt and are thriving again?
The 1967 war was one of the many conflicts with Israel that bookend our ages. Looking around the Arab world today, we must ask: What were they all for? It's time to move on.