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Reading: “Selections from Reading Lolita in Tehran,” by Azar Nafisi; “On Becoming an Arab,” by Leila Ahmed; “Selections from Losing Matt Shepard,” by Beth Loffreda

Reading: “Selections from Reading Lolita in Tehran,” by Azar Nafisi; “On Becoming an Arab,” by Leila Ahmed; “Selections from Losing Matt Shepard,” by Beth Loffreda
In the selection we read from “Losing Matt Shepard,” Loffreda challenges us to think about “the limits of identification” (241).
Using evidence from all the texts we’ve read so far, give an original response to the following question: What are the potential limits of identification, and what
risks or benefits attend those limits?
A successful essay will challenge assumptions, particularly our usual assumptions about identity. You must use all three articles in support of your thesis,
although you do not need to use all of them equally. You should organize your paragraphs around your claims, not the claims of a single author, and then use support
from one, two, or all of the authors to support your claim.
2 L E I L A A H M E D
H •
On Becoming an Arab
I remember the very day that I became colored.
—ZORA NEALE HURSTON
The teacher called on me to read. I started haltingly. She began interrupting me,
correcting me, quiedy at first but gradually, as I stumbled on, with more and more
irritation, leaving her desk now to stand over me and pounce on every mistake I
made. She was an irascible woman, and I had not prepared my homework.
“You’re an Arab!” she finally screamed at me. “An Arab! And you dont
know your own language!” • , . 4
“I am not an Arab!” I said, suddenly fiirious myself. “I am Egyptian. And
anyway we don’t speak like this!” And I banged my book shut.
“Read!”
I sat on stonily, arms folded.
“Read!”
I didn’t move.
She struck me across the face. The moment afi;erward seemed to go on forever,
like something in slow motion.
I was twelve and I’d never been hit before by a teacher and never slapped
across the face by anyone. Miss Nabih, the teacher, was a Palestiman. A refiigee.
The year was 1952, the year of the revolution. What Miss Nabih was doing
to me in class the govemment was doing to us through the media. I remember
how I hated that incessant rhetoric. Al-qawmiyya al-Arabiyya! Al-Uraba! Nahnu al-
Arab! Arab nationalism! Arabness! We the Arabs! Even now, just iremembering
those words, I feel agaia a surge of mingled irritation and resentment. Propaganda
is unpleasant. And one could not escape it. The moment one tumed on
the radio, there it was:, military songs, nationalistic songs, and endless, endless
speeches in that frenetic, crazed voice of exhortation. In public places, in the
street, it fiUed the air, blaring at one firom the grocery, the newsstand, the cafe,
the garage, for it became patriotic to have it on at fiiU volume.
Imagine what it would be like if, say, the British or French were incessantly
told, with nobody allowed to contest, question, or protest, that they were now
European and only European. European! European! European! And endless
songs about it. But for us it was actually worse and certainly more complicated.
Its equivalent would be if the British or French were being told that they were
white. White! White! White! Because the new definition of who we were unsetded
and undercut the old understanding of who we were and silendy excluded
people who had been included in the old definition of Egyptian. Copts,
O N B E C O M I N G A N A R A B 3
for example, were not Arab. In fact, they were Copts precisely because they had
refused to convert to the religion of the Arabs and had refused, unlike us
Muslims, to intermarry with Arabs. As a result, Copts (members of the ancient
Christian church ofEgypt) were the only truly indigenous inhabitants ofEgypt
and as such, in our home anyway and in the notion ofEgypt with which I grew
up, Copts had a very special place in the country. In the new definition of us,
however, they were included as speakers of Arabic but they were not at the heart
of the definition in the way that we were.
But of course the people who were most direcdy, although as yet only implicidy,
being excluded by the redefinition were the Jews ofEgypt, for the whole point
of the revolutionary govemment’s harping insistence that we were Arab, in those
first years following the founding of Israel, and following the takeover of Egypt’s
government by New Men with a new vision and new commitments, was to proclaim
our unequivocal alignments: on the side of the Palestinians and Arabs and
against Israel, against Zionism. Ever since, this issue has been the key issue determining
the different emphases Egypt’s leaders have placed on its identity. If they
have proclaimed insistendy and emphatically (as Nasser did) that we were Arab, it
has meant that we would take a confrontational, unyielding line pn Israel and that
we would “never deal with the Zionists.” If we were Egyptians above all (Sadat),
then we could talk, negotiate.
Our new identity proclaimed openly our opposition to Israel and Zionism—
and proclaimed implicitly our opposition to the “Zionists” in our midst, Egyptian
Jews. For although explicitiy Zionism was distinguished fromjewishness, an undercurrent
meaning “Jewish” was also contained in the word. The word “Arab,”
emerging at this moment to define our identity, silendy carried within ft its polar
opposite—Zionist/Jew—^without which hidden, silent connotation, it actually had
no meaning. For the whole purpose of its emergence now was precisely to tell us of
our new alignments and realignments in relation to both terms, Arab and Jew.
Jews and Copts were not, to me, abstractions. They were people my parents
knew and saw and talked about, and they were my brothers’ friends and my sister’s
and my own, including my best friend, Joyce. I am sure I sensed these insidious,
subterranean shifts and rearrangements of our feelings that this new bludgeoning
propaganda was effecting, or trying to efiect, in us. And I am sure that this, as well
as the sheer hatefulness of being endlessly subjected to propaganda, was part of the
reason I so much di&Uked and resisted the idea that I was an Arab.
Nor was it only through the media that the govemment was pressuring us
into acceptance of its broad political agenda and coercing us into being Arab. For
this was the era, too, of growing political repression and of the proliferation of
Ae mukhabarat, the secret police—the era when political opponents and people
taspected of being disloyal to the revolution were being jailed or disappearing. In
fliis atmosphere, being disloyal to the revolution and to the Arab cause (being, as
It Were, un-Arab) became as charged and dangerous for Egyptians as being un-
Ajuerican was for Americans in the McCarthy era.
The propaganda worked on me and on others. To question our Arabness and
that our Arabness implied became unthinkable. Only despicable, unprincipled
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