#53: "Why 'Don’t talk about politics' is impossible for me"

A guest piece by Jenan Matari, plus recommendations

Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a fortnightly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Alternately, there’ll be some thoughts from me, or a guest piece, along with recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.

Ever since I was little, I was taught to view politics and religion as personal subjects – off limits during friendly gatherings and dinner parties. It was equally as rude as it was uncomfortable to bring either topic up. So, the notion of “don’t talk about politics” replays in the back of my mind, making me hesitate (which I do less and less of these days) when either subject comes up.

For some, it’s easy to avoid. Politics and religion do not influence their daily lives. I feel both envious and sad for those people. Envious because I wonder as to the simplicity of life without the raging emotions about happenings in the world, and sad because as much as it eats away at my soul, I am a more empathetic, curious person because of this curse/blessing, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Religion finds its way into my daily social interactions less frequently than politics do. Aside from the occasional, “Can I get this without bacon, please?” when out to dinner with a group of people unaware of my dietary restrictions and then having to explain “why in God’s name” I don’t eat pork products, me being Muslim doesn’t typically make its way into conversation. Politics, however, are an entirely different story. It makes its way into nearly every thought and conversation I have – every day of my life. And it is 110% because of my identity.

Starting with the most obvious – I am a woman. Granted, I am fully aware that I have it much better than women who came before me and, thanks to a variety of privileges, than even a large majority of women today. And also, in every aspect of my life I – just like every other woman ever born on this earth – have experienced some sort of blatant misogyny and sexism.

Be it something as “small” as catcalling or as large as assault and rape, to losing a job to a male counterpart (even though you’re equally, if not more, qualified) or getting a smaller pay-check when you do get the job, sexism against women is real and it happens every day. In the workplace, at home, on the street, in schools, in pharmacies and convenience stores, and in our governmental system (RE: Pink Tax.).

As a woman, my rights – specifically those having to do with what I choose to do with my body – are at risk every day. As a woman, the rapidly changing political climate matters to me. It’s something that I have to keep up-to-date with every day because my rights to live freely and make decisions for myself and my body are being threatened. I cannot not talk about politics.

The next not-so-obvious reason that makes being non-political impossible for me, is my Palestinian identity. In elementary school in the late 90s/early 2000s no one – literally no one – knew what Palestine was. Especially in a hometown like mine, where a significant percentage of the population participated in “birthright”. Palestine didn’t actually “exist” to those who did know what I was talking about. So, a place in existence since early Biblical times, where my maternal history dates back to the early 1600s, had, in my childhood, nearly been erased from modern-day history.

No one truly knows what it’s like to be of Palestinian descent living in the west besides Palestinians ourselves. Where every inkling of American politics is grossly intertwined with Israel’s oppression and occupation of Palestine and her people. From electing presidents that promise to further the well-being and wealth of the Israeli government, to major corporations aiding in the funding of the Israeli military and settlement building – America and Israel are one in the same. This means that, being an American and living in the United States, I am directly contributing to the slow, violent and deadly expulsion of my own people.

In simple terms, the United States provides the Israeli Defense Force with tanks, guns, drones, bombs, etc. to be used on Palestinian civilians. American tanks are turning Palestinian homes that have stood for centuries, into rubble. American drones and weapons are turning Palestinian children into casualty statistics, every day. My money, that I work roughly 60 hours a week for, contributes to that. And I am conflicted every day knowing that as much as I protest in favor of Palestinian rights and freedom – I am still contributing to her oppression just by simply existing as a working American.

American politics affect both my domestic and international self and family. It affects my right to live freely as a woman, what I choose to do with my body, what will happen to my family overseas – furthering their oppression, and even what will happen to my family here. You didn’t forget about the #MuslimBan, did you? It’s to a point where it even affects the type of shampoo I choose to wash my hair with (#FuckGarnier).

I am not perfect and there are some companies that would make life/my livelihood impossible if boycotted (like my cell phone, computer, etc.). But that’s my point. The United States and Israel are so connected that support for the illegal occupation of Palestinians is ingrained in our daily lives as Americans. Every aspect of my life is political – down to the $7 hair and makeup products I [choose not to] buy.

Even if I didn’t have all of these identities tied to my person, politics would still affect me. Because as someone occupying space in this world, it’s a responsibility of mine to care for those who are directly affected by politics.

It’s my responsibility as an American to care about the children being ripped from their mothers’ arms while seeking asylum at the border of a place that once promised the safety of a fresh start, free of abuse and other dangers.

It is my responsibility as an American to care about the mental well-being of veterans who fought for this country and are now experiencing homelessness in addition to illnesses like PTSD and substance abuse because we discarded them like a broken toy when they were no longer fit to serve. It is my responsibility as an American to care about the education of children in this country – to make sure they receive a GREAT one, and a SAFE one, and march alongside them against the too easily accessible guns that have taken over their schools.

It is my responsibility as an American to care about the safety of my Black brothers and sisters the same way I care about my own – to care about the ability to love and start a family for my LGBTQ neighbors, the same way I care about loving and starting a family with my own husband. And it is my responsibility as an American to care about the physical and mental well-being of fellow citizens – to care about their right to affordable health care. Because my ability to generate more income than my “neighbor” does not equate to my life and health being of greater importance than theirs. Everyone should have the right to live happily and healthily, and to learn.

For these reasons – no – I cannot stop discussing politics. No, I cannot keep my political (re: humanistic) views to myself. No, I cannot separate politics from my personal life. Because politics control my personal life. And they control this world whether or not you want to believe it.

Staying away from politics, and keeping quiet about my political views and the rights I demand will only advance a political agenda that isn’t in my or your (or the majority’s) favor. So, whether or not you are directly affected by any of the above mentioned (and anything not mentioned) – politics control your life, too. Maybe not as obviously as it does for others, but never doubt that it’s pulling your strings, too.

It’s time to rid ourselves of the idea that talking about politics is rude and only a private matter. That is how politics and politicians keep us divided. They don’t want us talking about political issues and fighting for our rights, especially not as a united front fighting for the rights of others who are different from ourselves. That’s when political agendas lose their power. So, start talking about politics – because you can bet your bottom dollar that politics are talking about you.

Jenan Matari is founder & Editor in Chief of @MissMuslimNYC. Follow Jenan on Twitter and InstagramThis piece originally appeared on MissMuslim in 2018. It has been lightly edited.

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  • There are two new episodes of my podcast Talk of Shame. For episode 6, I spoke with Mna and Hager of the Yalla Bye pod on the shame third-culture kids can feel around being “both and neither”.

  • For episode 7, I spoke with Egyptian actor Sarrah Abdelrahman on the role representation and storytelling has in dictating (and changing) societies ideals, the impact seeing / not seeing ourselves represented has on our sense of self, and sense of shame, and more.

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