by Len Lear
Chivvis Moore, 74, who lived in Mt. Airy in the 1980s, has earned her living as a journalist, carpenter, general building contractor, editor and teacher. She is a lesbian and feminist who lived for 16 years in the Arab world, including 11 years in the Palestinian West Bank, controlled by Israel. Most of us would assume that an avowed lesbian and feminist could not possibly survive intact while living for so many years in the Arab world, but Moore did survive and thrive. She recently authored the book, “First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God: An American Feminist in the Middle East.” Here is part of our interview with her:
• We tend to think of Middle Eastern countries as being repressive, autocratic, puritanical, male-dominated, anti-Semitic, anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-Christian, still fighting the Crusades, somewhat sympathetic to terrorists, etc. How much of this would you say is legitimate? How much is false?
Yes, many Middle Eastern governments are repressive, and interestingly, these are among the governments that receive most U.S. support. Saudi Arabia, Egypt for decades under Mubarak, Jordan, Iraq under Saddam Hussein as he fought Iran; all these are among the most repressive governments in the region.
The fact that Americans criticize Middle Eastern governments for being repressive yet arm and uphold these dictators shows a certain lack of concern for values we claim to uphold. And if puritanical involves a mindset that does not favor shorts or tight pants on men or women, miniskirts, apparel showing cleavage, adultery, sex outside marriage or homosexuality, then Middle Easterners are puritanical, just like many Christians in the U.S. This does not mean people go out and kill those who don’t agree, and foreigners are not expected to abide by cultural norms. Muslims pray.
The Qur’an plainly approves of all of the “people of the book” – Christians and Jews, and I have not found Middle Easterners to be against either. When I first appeared in the West Bank, I was assumed to be Jewish and greeted with the Hebrew “Shalom.” Middle Easterners certainly have no use for the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian people or for U.S. support of it, but they are not anti-Semitic.
As for being “anti-Western/still fighting the Crusades/ somewhat sympathetic to terrorists,” George Bush is the only Crusader in recent times. Those who fought the European crusaders were defending their homeland from Christian invaders. Democracy, freedom of information, tolerance of political difference, freedom of religion – all these are seen as characteristic of most Western countries, and all these are admired. Colonialism, old-style or neo-liberal, is of course not popular among the colonized; and sometimes, when an Arab leader like Saddam Hussein or Hafez al-Assad stands up to Western or Western-backed military aggression, he is cheered in the moment, although not admired for his repressive behavior toward his own people.
As for being male-dominated, Arab society, like our own, is patriarchal, and women are working in every Arab and Muslim country for equality, just as women are in the West. When you are simply trying to survive, it’s hard to free up time for such activity, so Western nations are somewhat ahead in this.
• How much responsibility does the U.S. bear for the death and destruction caused by ISIS, al Qaeda, local dictators, etc.?
ISIS is generally understood to have been created from the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Members of the Baathist government and army, destroyed and disbanded by the U.S., initiated ISIS. Al Qaeda just means “base” in Arabic. They were a small group that grew out of the Afghan factions the U.S. armed and financed in our proxy war against Russia. They remained a small group until the U.S. invaded Afghanistan after the attack on the U.S. by a group of Saudi Arabians. The U.S. labeled the group Al Qaeda, and the group began to attract others and to grow.
Now ISIS, having bested Al Qaeda, is doing the same, and is being joined by disaffected Arab and Muslim youth who are not welcomed as equals in European countries. The U.S. bears some responsibility for all the dictators we have supported and continue to support throughout the world.
• If you could wave a magic wand and make major changes in the Middle East, what would you do?
Ending Western military adventure in the region would be a first priority. I would also make Israel a friend to Arab nations, end the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and withdraw to the Green Line, replace all Arab kings and dictators with true democracies and remove all weapons (from the rest of the world also, while I was at it). I would end poverty and all forms of exploitation, both foreign and domestic. I would remove racism and sexism and patriarchal governments. I would put in place excellent schools and plenty of food and water and housing for everyone, remove settler roads from Palestinian land. I would waft tolerance and creativity through the region.
• You have been very critical of Israeli occupation. Israel is surrounded by countries that are hostile to them and think they are illegitimate, including many individuals who would like nothing more than to see all Israelis killed. Many Israelis are survivors of the Holocaust, and they see many Arabs as potential mass murderers of Jews, given the region’s history since 1948 and even before that. Do you have any sympathy or empathy for their views?
I definitely have empathy for the Jews murdered in World War II and for the generations of Jews who have been traumatized since then by the Holocaust. I think this trauma will take a long time, if ever, to ease. But I do not respect the cynical use of the Holocaust by the Israeli government to justify occupying Palestinian land and oppressing the Palestinian people in all the ways I describe in my book. The Israeli government only began using the Holocaust in this way after it occupied the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights in 1967.
Palestinians were not involved in the cruel treatment of Jews in Europe, and there is no reason they should pay the price. Balfour and the early Zionists did not have the right to plan for an Israeli state in Palestine. Jews were granted, by Western powers, land that belonged to Arabs; a state was carved from another people’s homelands. How could this not provoke hostility and a view of Israel as illegitimate?
Arab countries understandably resent the contrast between the treatment Israel receives at the hands of the powerful countries of the West and the way Iraq, for instance, was treated after its invasion and attempted occupation of Kuwait. Israel’s human rights record is deplorable, and yet the country’s behavior is defended by the U.S., despite dozens of U.N. resolutions adopted by most of the countries of the world calling for fair and humane policies toward Palestinians.
• Why did you come back to live in the states after so many years?
My mother was elderly; I had always known I would return to be with her when she needed me. I stayed because I fell in love with a woman who, for health reasons, could not live outside the U.S.
• What has been the greatest culture shock since your return?
How little U.S. citizens know or care about other countries in the world.
• What is the best advice you ever received?
• What is your most impressive characteristic?
I doubt I have one.
You can find more information on purchasing “First Tie Your Camel” on the North Loop Books website.