Umm al-Fahm is dear to my heart. This courageous city has produced a wealth of Arab leaders and prominent figures in the fields of science, literature, law and the arts. The city has been a kind of front line of the struggle against government injustice since the dark days of the military administration.
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By the same token, it is also the front line against the repeated provocations by generations of right-wing crazies, from the failed confrontational visit by Meir Kahane in the early 1980s, when thousands of Jews and Arabs alike stood as one to rebuff the fascists, to today, when Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman calls every Monday and Thursday to transfer the city to the Palestinian Authority territory that his colleagues have divided and fenced off.
The Umm al-Fahm municipality, whose leaders I admire, erred when they issued a call to boycott Maysaloun Hamoud’s film “In Between.” After all, the enemies of Umm al-Fahm try to portray it as a closed, regressive place that rejects progress and freedom of expression. Moreover, in today’s times, when everyone has a mobile cinema in his pocket, could such a call really stop anyone from seeing the movie?
Going further, even if the film’s producers would remove the film from theaters, would the idea behind it be uprooted from their minds? Or would the opposite happen, with more and more ideas bursting through like groundwater in rocky soil that quickly finds its way out?
Given the exalted declarations by some of the Arab community’s leading opinion makers in favor of pluralism, which they then deny when put to the test, one can state that for them, freedom of expression is wonderful on condition that it stays underground.
In an article I wrote recently in the Teachers Union publication Hed Hahinukh, I told of a world war that almost broke out, akin to the Cuban missile crisis of the 1960s. There was a living room in which a grandfather said pleasantly that one must maintain the man’s slight advantage over the woman, and from his hand motion you could see that he only meant a small, one-centimeter advantage. His granddaughter (my daughter), who only yesterday came out of her shell (she will soon be 13), looked like a lioness about to pounce. In addition to refusing to accept her grandfather’s learned words, she also (she told me later) wanted to demand that he make his own sandwich, rather than letting Grandma make it.
I don’t have enough room here to describe how that horrific incident ended. I was especially amazed by the proof of the fact that young people not only have opinions, they are willing to fight for them.
I called my article, “A person is his opinion.” A person without an opinion is not himself, but a pale copy of others. We know that everyone has a unique fingerprint. There are those who think fingerprints are useful only in the police forensic department, to find criminals. But the truth is that a fingerprint offers clear evidence of the uniqueness of an individual among the 7.5 billion individuals around us. A society in which the individual cannot express himself is a stagnant society.
Arab society desperately needs Maysaloun Hamoud. The Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm wrote, “Let the words mill about how they want / Let our country live in the light / throw the word into the belly of darkness / Salma will conceive and bring forth light.”
But from where will the light come without the contributions of our young men and women? If we order Hamoud to sit quietly, Salma won’t remain here. Either she will find a place where she can give free rein to her opinions, or she will sulk to herself. Alienation will increase and the society that looks in the mirror won’t recognize itself.
Everyone has the right to praise or criticize the content of the film, its production values and its message, but there is no place to call for boycotts and silencing, certainly not among people who suffer from these assaults because of their ethnic background.