It is Valentine's Day as The Observer writes this, the day of chocolates and lacy underthings past for you, but still the present for Yours Truly. Such is the nature and curse of a reporter, to always live in everybody else's yesterday, a day early and a dollar short.
The Observer has long been lucky in love, having found our way youngish to Spouse, the pretty girl who let us borrow her "History of the English Language" textbook one day when we left ours at home. The rest, as they say, is alternative history, 22 years removed now from the moment we turned away from that still and loveless country where The Observer feared we might live out the rest of our days. Through thick and thin, brothers and sisters, she has steered our Love Boat away from the rocks to safe harbor, more times than we can count by now. She remains the best thing that ever happened to us, bar none, even including that time we kicked over a clod and found a hunnert-dollar bill on the way home from school in the fifth grade, then used it to buy a bushel basket full of Snickers bars and a remote control boat our brother promptly sank in a jealous rage. She is herself a dowry, as Shakespeare said of dear, doomed Cordelia in "King Lear." How many of you out there have a lass like that? If so, here's hoping you do as well at keeping her as we have.
Speaking of Shakespeare, we reached out to our old friend Dr. Mohja Kahf the other day, asking for her insight on recent events in Trumplandia. A University of Arkansas comparative literature professor, she was born in Damascus, Syria, and is one of the most brilliant people with whom we've ever had a conversation. That's saying something. We met her a few years back when someone dropped us a tip about a Muslim sex-advice columnist living in Fayetteville. In reality, she turned out to be so much more: a kind of philosophical freedom fighter, plugged into both the heart of America and the Islamic world, uniquely fearless. We met her at the Fayetteville Public Library and adjourned to a balcony with plentiful No Smoking signs. There, she pulled out a long cigarette holder, fired up, and proceeded to blow our everlovin' mind on the subject of women in Islam. It was one of the best interviews of our career. That, too, is saying something.
The good Dr. Kahf has plenty to say on the subject of the screwball comedy in which we find ourselves, including the fact that injustice and racism isn't something that came to America the day Donnie Trump backed his U-Haul up to the White House. Trump's travel ban, she said in an email, is crude, parochial, and targets the wrong people, solely by affiliation. "Opposing it has nothing to do with what some will call political correctness," she said. "It's not about political correctness: It just Does Not Work. Does not make us Safer. Does not make the country Greater — because it has no way of targeting the actual criminal activity but lumps huge groups of people to keep out innovative physicians and spelling bee winners and Oscar nominees and other greater-types and contributors to greatness."
Then, because Mohja is Mohja, she channeled Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and wrote us a heartbreakingly lovely sonnet that makes her point even more elegantly. We print it here with her permission.
How unwelcome am I? Let me count the ways
Unwelcome with a visa or without
Unwelcome as a refugee no doubt
Unwelcome poor, unwelcome straight or gay
Unwelcome to the depth and breadth and height
Of executive (soon legislative?) reach
Whether I come to learn, or heal, or teach
Unwelcome whether black or brown or light
Unwelcome si hablamos espanol
Unwelcome iza mnihki arabi
Though our kids mostly win the spelling bee
Unwelcome but I love you, so just know
That when you kill the lamp and close the door
You lock yourselves in darkness with your fear