When it comes to winning arguments of the geo-political sort, liberal concern about a post 9-11 Arab-American backlash is the best thing that's ever happened to me.
Although I get the bulk of my world news from The Daily Show and the news ticker I read in the elevator on my way up to work in the morning, the fact that I know the proper, un-Anglicanized pronunciation of Kabul always tips the scale in my favor.
When attention is turned my way during heated political debates among readers of The Economist and I find myself backed into a corner, woefully misinformed and thinking mostly of where I left my smokes, I know it's time to pull out the trump card.
"My father's from Yemen actually," I'll say softly, as if it's all just too much for me. "He was just a young boy when he left. Yemen's been torn apart by civil war and violence, you know."
My Arabic heritage gives my specious arguments and absurd solutions a legitimacy they would otherwise lack.
She must, you can see them thinking, have the inside track.
They nod vigorously at me, full of empathy for my father's plight and eager to demonstrate their lack of bias against Arab-Americans.
Of course, it's slightly unclear to me whether or not the Yemenese civil war occurred in my father's lifetime. Quite possibly, it's unclear to him too, as he spent the better part of the eighties in a scotch and soda haze.
What I also neglect to tell earnest, impassioned participants in cocktail party political debates is that my father Mohammed was an ardent Bush supporter and despises social welfare programs, leniency towards illegal immigration and "that whole filthy, crazed pig pit," as he calls the Middle East.
"I slaved myself to the bone," he'll scream at the TV during reports of tax cuts for the low-income bracket. "They are lazy, lazy dogs. Soft, lazy dogs. You need the money, you go out. You get the money. You slave the money."
Sometimes when I was younger and angrier and he would be screaming at all the soft, lazy dogs on the six o'clock news, I would remind him that my mother used to accuse him of arms dealing.
He would take the bate every time. Passionately.
"NO dealing of arms! No dealing of arms!" he'd scream wildly, his voice reaching castrato heights in its shrillness and indignation. "I slaved! I slaved like mule! Your mother, she is rass-ist. She is a rass-ist! That whole Colonial family of hers, they are all rass-ist!"
With the zealotry that comes from growing up in a sun-burnt village in Sa'na with eight brothers and six sisters, hungering for the American Dream, my father cherishes a Utopian vision of the good ol' USA that I haven't subscribed to since third grade history class.
Once, in high school, during my de rigeur Che Guevera obsession and seeking some kind of solidarity with a drunk, womanizing "Muslim" father who was the only Arab I knew who referred to Edward Said as "the crazy fool quack," I grilled him about British imperialism in the Middle East.
"Were you in any rebellions?" I asked eagerly, envisioning stories of thirteen-year old-freedom fighters throwing rocks and shouting proud slogans in Arabic.
My father looked at me with disgust.
"You joke. You joke, yes? The British were the best thing that ever happened to that stinking pig pit."
I gaped at him.
"But they tried to decimate your culture, your pride, your way of life," I protested.
"You watch young man get hand chopped off for stealing transistor radio and you see how much you care about pride of culture. The British made a stop to the chopping of the hand."
Still, I continued to hound him.
"But you're the one who always says that the Middle East gave the world algebra and geometry and astronomy and everything and to have these Western imperialists just come in and subjugate you. Didn't it bother you?"
My father flicked an ash from his cigarette into a marble tray and looked at me, annoyed.
"What bother me? What bother me was shitting into small hole in ground. The British gave to us the toilets. And no chopping of the hand. What do you know of these things? I give you everything and all now you can do is make it seem nice that people are left alone to live such a way."
He inhaled on his Camel.
"Everything I have I give you kids. And now Ben-Mohammed, my first born, smash car."
He sighed deeply.
"And Said, he make himself vandal of White Hen Pantry. That boy, he is a psycho."
Wearily, he stubbed out his cigarette.
"We should send Said to Yemen, yes?" said my father. "See how much of vandal he make of himself there, in the crazy pig pit."
He looked at me, grinning.
"He would come home with no hands!" he exclaimed.
We both threw back our heads and laughed.
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