September 2, 2008

I had another interesting conversation in the Weider Gym today with the Captain and some of his friends. I had been trying to hide my water-drinking from them out of respect for the Muslim Holy Month of Ramadan, which began last Monday, and during which Muslims fast during the day, among other things.

I asked the Captain and his friends how they are able to lift weights without drinking any water, and he responded by saying “because Islam is strong.” “Good answer,” I thought to myself. They then preceded to speak in Arabic (Egyptian dialect, or “amiyya” to be exact) which I am supposed to be able to understand, but since these guys are not the most educated of sorts their Arabic is hard to comprehend, especially when they are speaking fast, and not to me. I picked up that they were continuing their discussion of the topic and I heard “American” and “Israel” in the mix. I asked what they were discussing and one of them responded by asking “Why is America always with Israel (these are loose translations, mind you)?” I responded by saying (and yes this is not a direct answer) by saying that America is with Israel just like it is with the Palestinians and other Arabs (and yes, there is a difference, but you will see where I took it in a minute). I said that the US gives Israel money, yes, but it gives Palestinians and other Arab countries like Egypt plenty of money as well. And I did not even go into the Saudi thing.

The Captain’s friend said that the Egyptian people do not see any of this money, and that they don’t need it and don’t want it. There wasn’t much I can say to this because frankly, he was right. I asked him, “whose fault is it that Egyptians don’t see any of this money? Isn’t it because of the Egyptian government?” He responded yes, and because of America, too. Fair enough.

I asked the Captain that if the Israelis and Palestinians make an agreement that they both think is fair, would that be acceptable in his opinion? He pretty much said that the problem will never end and it will never be acceptable, and that Israel really has to go. I asked him why Israel has to go. He said “Do you like blood?” I responded “no,” and he said “then Israel has to go.” That doesn’t make much sense to me.

The conversation continued with another gym goer who told me that one of the problems with Israel is that it was built on a Palestinian state. Yes, he used the term “dawla,” so in my mind that means “state.” I corrected by telling him that there has never been a Palestinian state and that the Palestinians historically considered themselves to be part of what was called “Greater Syria,” which includes what is now Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and the Palestinian Territories. For the record, this to me does not mean that Palestinians are not a unique people with a shared identity and do not deserve to have a state. However, Palestinian Arab nationalism is a relatively new concept and should not be treated as if it has been around since the beginning of time. So I understand his argument (and have heard it before and I think that it is a valid one,. Yes, there were Arab Palestinians living in what is now Israel and the Territories before Israel was created, and yes, there were more of them living there than there were Jews) but I reminded him that the UN did vote to create a State of Israel and a Palestinian state (which the Arabs, as a whole, rejected) and that although the situation was unfortunate for the Palestinians and should be reconciled in some way, no one is ever going to be 100% pleased.

I asked him who was in Egypt before the Muslims and the Arabs, and he said with a smile, “the Ancient Egyptians,” and I added “and the Copts (who are still here and who have had some issues, to say the least, with the Muslim population. A movie called “Hassan and Marqos starring two of the most famous Egyptian actors, Omar Shariff and Adel Imam, talks about Christian-Muslim tensions in Egypt). After that, he turned around and said “who started this discussion anyway?” and walked away, which I thought was funny. Actually, he said literally in Arabic “who opened this topic?”

So there is me engaging with Egyptians on salient political issues.