Thursday, April 02, 2009

My Debate with that guy

So I had a long day yesterday. I woke up late, but I had a deep sleep. During the day, I was preserving my voice. I had these Halls drops and would avoid talking on the phone. The few times I spoke on the phone, I had to say that I was preserving my voice for the debate. And at one point yesterday, Amer asked me about preparation. I had to say: that this is a job that I have been preparing for all my life. Two days ago, I jotted down some notes here in bed, and I had to throw the notebook after a few minutes because I got mad. Usually, when I have to deal with a debate of this kind, I remind myself of the massacres that Israel committed against our people: one after the other. I know the sources and the facts, so I only write down an outline of what I am about to say. I arrive there and I get pissed early on--which is a good thing for my debate performance. I learned there that originally one professor was going to invite the Israeli Consul General by himself, until somebody else suggested that maybe somebody else with a different point of view should be invited. I go there and I notice heavy security and police presence. I then meet the professor who was going to moderate the debate. We go to the hall and I notice that there are two chairs and two name signs: for me and for him (the Israeli representative of the usurping entity). I did not like the arrangement. So I tell her: I don't want to sit next to him. I would like you as a moderator to sit between us. She asked me whether I was kidding. I said: do you see me in a joking mode? Do you see me kidding with you? You think that this is a joking matter for me? She realized--let me just say--that Angry Arab was not kidding. She said that she was planning to make her remarks and sit in the audience. I said: that is easy: instead of sitting here, we can move your chair to separate between me and him. I also was told that she (or the university) was planning to host a reception for the two guests before somebody who knew about me told them: I can assure you that As`ad will not agree to a reception with the Israeli diplomat. So the reception was scrapped. I then told the host that I will not be recognizing or talking with the Israeli guest. She looked baffled but nervous. She asked me why do I have these positions? I said you will understand after you hear my remarks. She was getting more nervous, I could tell, by the minute. She then upset me more by saying something about "academic" environment or collegiality and then added something about "us" getting along. I was more angry at that. I got more angry (but that was a good preparation for my debate) and said: this is no joke or a game or schtick for me. This is about killing 400 Palestinian children in Gaza in three weeks. I don't "get along" and I don't want to "get along." The security and the police only got more visible and more extensive. The moderator then remarked that the security was required for "his safety" in reference to the Israeli speaker. I was here more pissed (all that getting angry before the debate was preparation as far as I was concerned). I said: what about my safety? Did that enter into the picture? or do Arabs don't deserve safety? They were searching backpacks and I was told that he notified police and various security agencies. I sat there and I was happy before the debate to see my students from California State University, Stanislaus. I had to warn them: You will see a different side to me from the one you see in the classroom, I said. I then met a Palestinain student from the University of San Francisco: probably the only one on campus. I also saw a student of mine from 7 years ago or more. While I was seated in my place (with the moderator now seated in the middle), I see the shadow of a man (because I made a point of not looking) come in front of me and extend his hand and say: Nice to meet you, professor. Hi Professor. I kept looking straight, as if there was no one in front of me. He repeated that a few times: and I kept totally ignoring him completely. He then gave up (finally) and took his seat. I can really tell you that I debated a man yesterday but I don't know what he looked like. I did not look at him or address him once. I have no idea what he looked like. And during the talk, he at one point asked me to look him, but I of course ignored him. He then looked at the audience and said that I have not looked at him and that I didn't shake his hands and that I refuse to humanize him. I muttered into the microphone: that I see them the way they see the children of Gaza. During dinner with Amer and Riad both commented to me that they would have had difficulting ignoring him the way I did but Amer added that me being so lacking in shyness, timidity, or the need to be polite helps me in those situations. It is so easy for me to be socially rude, when I want to. I had to tell them: are you kidding? These are my favorite moments when I ignore an Israeli who is trying to greet me or shake my hand. The president of the University came personally to greet...the Israeli guest. One university administrator noticed that and expressed his displeasure to me. The moderator did not even flip a coin or ask about who would speak first, but simply gave him the opporutnity to speak first. Of course, she did not know that I always prefer to go second because I get to say what I want and then respond to what was said before me. We also had five minutes to respond after the presentations. Now here you must understand that I cant evaluate my own performance or say how I did. I will leave that to witnesses or your own opinions when you watch it on video. Yes, I am told it was taped and will provide you with further information. As soon as it was my turn, I felt a rush. My voice was back in full force and I could sing Fayruz at that point. There was a woman who came with the diplomat and she was sitting in the front raw and after two minutes of my talk, I could see her squirm and look with sympathy at her Israeli colleague. I could not read her face but felt that she was telling him that "we did not expect this would happen." But it happened, and As`ad was on a roll. I can't tell you how I did but I can tell you that I really enjoyed the task and would do it at the drop of a hat, and would waive my speaking fee for it. When I came to the US and I used to watch debates between Israeli and Arab speakers, and I always found myself being critical of style and substance. I had no excuse: when I am debating, I can say what I want. So I can do it my way, and I did it my way last night. I explained to the audience about my policy: I said that I want you all to know that my pariticpation was at the invitation of the University of San Francisco and that I strictly adhere to the boycott of Israel and I call on them all to boycott Israel at all levels. I told them that I met I(armed) Israelis first under occuapation in South Lebanon in 1982, and I resolved then that I would meet them only on my terms. I explained to them that I am strict against terrorists and terrorism: that I am opposed to any deal or negotiations with Al-Qa`idah or with Bin Laden and accordingly, I am opposed to any deal or compromise with the state that pioneered the practice of terrorism in the region. And I went on. The moderator was clearly nervous. I told her that later: she was getting nervous as soon as I spoke. She told me that she never gets nervous. I said: well, I saw you nervous many times today. The audience was largely sympathetic to the Palestinian view and most were very knowledgeable of the issues and many had been to Palestine which put the Israeli speaker in a difficult position--not that I felt sorry for him. There was a British visiting professor at Stanford (who has a teaching job in France) who kept yelling at the Israeli speaker. He was so furious. Amer, and Riad and I later commented that it is rare to see an American professor venting such anger at an Israeli speaker. By the time I finished my first 20 minutes presentation, I was relieved. I felt that I did my job although I said more later. But I felt that I was pleased with how things went. I will let you know when the video will be uploaded (I am told that the first 20 minutes (the presentation of the Israeli speakr) is mysterisly missing from the university taping. Oh, and during the talk, I did criticize the moderator. At one point in the Q and A, I was making a point, and the moderator started to interrupt me. I said: look. I can tell that you have been nervous regarding my attitude since I started talking. I said that it was clear that you were not expecting this: it is clear that you were expecing an Arab who would hold hands with the Isareli speaker, and that I was disappionting you but that I would say what I want and in my own way. On the way driving back at night, they called me from AlJazeera Arabic to offer some remarks about US reactions to Lieberman's remarks. I agreed: they called me and I started yelling in my cellphone but my voice was weak by that point. It was a long day: statisfying (for me) but long. But lest we lose sight of the realities, I told Amer and Riad that no matter who won the debate, they still occupy the lands and they still kill our people.