We left off with Dr. Dahlia Wasfi discussing Islamophobia in Part 2 of my series. Now I want to explore what really drove her over the edge of inertia to become a powerful spokeswoman, even as I write, for ending the American occupation in Iraq, and a particularly well-versed one at that. To see my two earlier pieces on her (and Ross Caputi in Part 1 and Part 2.
A Crisis in Identity
We were still eating a leisurely dinner at the Pasha Mezze when I asked Dahlia “What led you to get involved with Iraq after 9/11 and the attack on Iraq?”
Dahlia: Iraq did not become an issue for me until I went to see my family and it was purely personal that I was going to see them. My life was falling apart at that point. I had taken leave from my residency and my full identification was as an MD. Outside of the hospital I had no idea who I was, and I really had become disillusioned, but also very depressed with the state of the world and the lack of control. I felt like I couldn’t control what was going on in my own life; I couldn’t stop the invasion from happening, so really there was a bit of passive suicidality in my first trip to Iraq. “Well, I’ll go see my family,” but in the back of my mind was the thought: “Take me out, because I don’t know what else to do. I don’t see myself going on. I don’t know who I am.”
I was miserable, and there was also Rachel’s (Corrie) experience. I was really bitter at that point, also questioning my sense of God, if there is a higher power. And if there was, I would have [inner] arguments: I saw Rachel, this very fair, blonde, blue-eyed, beautiful young American woman, and she had the guts to go over there, and SHE didn’t get to live anymore, and I thought, “This is ridiculous! I don’t want to be here anymore! Why would you take her?” These were questions I asked in conversations with God in my own head.
“OK, I’m going to go to Iraq! The regime fell. I’ll go see the family,” and a lot of the family members I met, my cousins – this is the first time I’m meeting them because all of them were born after I left in 1977 – it was like those 6 days [the trip overall was a total of 19 days-Mac], those 6 days I had with my cousins in Basra, that was life-changing, sort of a slap in the face, a wake-up call, like there’s something beyond you here! “You’re really being selfish and self-absorbed,” I told myself. I expected them to resent me, wanted them to resent me because I was an American who was living the American dream, and my tax dollars had rained down misery on them, so I expected them to think, “Why would you want to have anything to do with an American?”
But they welcomed me as if they had known me their entire lives, and to know that in my own mind, then if I could just get Americans to see them as real people I could turn this thing around, a little bit naïve, so basically I came back after this trip and I just wanted to put a human face on the people, so I just started showing family photos, and eventually that became much more for me, political talks – I would get more political questions and would have to read a little bit more, and I never consciously said I was going to put my medical career aside and I’m going to be an activist on Iraq. This is where my life has taken me, and like I said, “I’m still making it up as I go along,” but it’s been far more fulfilling, definitely therapeutic. I’m the one who definitely gets the most out of what I do. I get to tell people my story, offer my perspective…..and nothing gets better for anybody else over there. They continue to suffer, unfortunately, but this is my baby Don Quixote-like effort to try to turn the windmills in another direction.
Ashkenazi Jewish Heritage
Lest we forget, for those of you have read my earlier pieces in this series, and to enlighten those of you who haven’t, Dahlia is only Arab, or Arabian, on her father’s side of the family tree. Her mother is Jewish, raised in New York City, and whose own parents and grandfather actually were Ashkenazi Jews who had to flee from Nazi-occupied Austria during Hitler’s Anschluss, emigrating to the United States in 1938.
So Dahlia is in the unique position of having a foot in three, not two worlds: the Arab Middle East, the United States, and the Jewish Diaspora. This enables her to look more closely at Israel’s history as well, as she described to me how her mother’s family barely got into the United States before the Roosevelt Administration began placing quotas on the number of emigrants who could enter the country from Germany and Austria. C
onsequently, as Dahlia pointed out, many Jews were channeled instead to Palestine, the “Anglo-Saxons’ dumping ground” for Jewish refugees, among other actors vying to direct Jews to Palestine, which, as the world knows, would not be without major consequences soon after World War II was over.
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