How to be a Migrant (short story)
Ever since Hossein Malekzadeh turned in his visa application, any knock at the door, any phone call, and any time he heard his name yelled in public made him jump. Were the police after him again? When the IRGC inevitably arrested him, would he be so lucky to get released a second time?
Jim Crow in the USSR
We are all colonized.— marginalia in a library copy of Dominance Without Hegemony by Ranajit Guha, Indian historian The reader of Langston Hughes’s writings on the Soviet experiment is bound to be confused. In the 1930s, during the peak of Stalinist repression, Hughes produced volumes praising the Soviet Union, particularly the Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan where, as he writes in the second volume of his autobiography, I Wonder as I Wander (1956), “the majority of the [Soviet Union’s] colored citizens lived” (123).
How Chekhov Shaped my Love Life
Chekhov was not my first love. More obviously delectable to a college freshman just returned from her first visit to St. Petersburg and discovering Russian literature for the first time were the thick novels of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. Those “great, baggy monsters” (as Henry James called them) buoyed me up through my first marriage, my frantic conversion to Christianity, and my equally hasty divorce. I imbibed Dostoevsky’s entire oeuvre on a reading binge, hoping to drown my tumultuous marriage in his tales of white nights, conniving detectives, and holy fools. Dostoevsky’s tortured heroines perfectly matched my overstrung mind. His philosophical dialogues about the existence (or not) of God were the perfect object of reflection for my theologically conflicted soul. “I return my ticket,” Ivan Karamazov said directly to God (in the person of Alyosha). I won’t pause to consider it, but D.H. Lawrence’s interpretation of this scene (in a new translation of the “Grand Inquisitor” chapter published by the Hogarth Press in 1929) struck me as the silliest piece of literary criticism I had ever read. I was certain I could do better.
Why a Muslim-American dissident read Thoreau
Often associated with nonviolent civil disobedience, Thoreau isn’t the first name that springs to mind when one thinks of violent resistance. Yet Thoreau was among the first names I came across when I began to research Muslim-Americans’ responses to the crackdown on their civil liberties following 9/11. The Egyptian-American Muslim Tarek Mehanna, who since 2012 has been incarcerated in a US Supermax for downloading and translating content deemed by the US government to constitute “material support” for al-Qaeda, cites Thoreau prolifically in his prison writings and drawings. (I have discussed Mehanna’s case in more detail here.)
White Terrorism and Islamophobia
Almost immediately after it emerged that a white supremacist had stabbed three men who were trying to prevent him from attacking Muslim women in a Portland train on 26 May 2017, killing two of them, the police force began to mitigate the brutality of what had happened.
What struck her most about him were his hands. They were long and lanky, like his body. Even more remarkable than their shape was the way he used them. When they first met, he shook her hands boldly and directly, as if it were a perfectly normal thing to do and not a violation of the law in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Taken aback, she forgot to respond. Her hand hung limply in his palm, until he dislodged it.
Palestine is a Litmus Test of Our Capacity to Change the World
The world’s attention has been transfixed by Israel’s most recent attack on Gaza. Palestinian voices and narratives have begun to filter through the mainstream American media channels that have suppressed their voices for decades. When the Israeli military bombed al-Jalaa Tower, which housed the Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices in Gaza on 15 May 2021, it seemed to mark a turning point in wider public opinion. On the day of that bombing, which followed the destruction of two other large residential buildings in Gaza, US Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Cori Bush tweeted a simple yet powerful message: “apartheid states aren’t democracies.”
The Caucasus Beyond the Mythical White Person
High in the mountains running along the border between Azerbaijan and Georgia, in the garrison town of Zaqatala, former outpost of the famed Imam Shamil who in the mid-nineteenth century led the longest resistance to Russian rule, I meet an elderly woman crossing the street.