By Najib Aminy
When members of the Social Justice Alliance invited Palestinian poet Remi Kanazi to perform at Stony Brook University, they were worried that the event would turn into an emotional and heated argument between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian supporters.
Last year, the SJA had screened a documentary, Occupation 101, which highlighted the Palestinian plight in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict encited fake fliers and a salient police presence. After the film was shown, supporters from both camps argued that the opposing side was to blame and were biased in their views.
“I was expecting sort of the same thing and was relieved that it didn’t happen,” said Alex Saiu, president of the SJA. “I just wanted everyone to enjoy the show.” As the event winded down, there were no protests, no shouting matches or heated arguments. It ended with a conversation amongst those in attendance about what they had just heard.
“I am relieved,” concluded Saiu.
For roughly one hour, Brooklyn resident Kanazi recited poetry that reflected his American born Palestinian-rooted background and his views on the conflict in the Middle East.
“I was the dark kid, trying to be a white kid acting like a black kid in my middle class economy. But my mom didn’t speak this language perfectly. And I was reminded with certainty, my name wasn’t Ali or Punjabi MC, not Khalid, Rashid, or anyone from Aladdin’s family, I was just me,” recited Kanazi, to a diverse crowd of roughly 40, from his poem, “Palestinian Identity.”
Kanazi, who is bulky and had blown his hair back, was born in Western Massachusetts to Palestinian parents who had immigrated from the region. Straying away from his parents’ wishes to become a doctor or engineer, Kanazi began writing poems after his frustration with the way middle-easterners and south Asians were being treated in the early months and years after 9/11.
“The second that you let people push you into a position where you feel afraid to speak your mind, when this country was founded or was supposed to be founded on civil liberties and freedom of speech and freedom of ideas, is when you become a second class citizen,” Kanazi said.
Since writing his thoughts into lines and stanzas, from topics about his identity as a Palestinian-American to his personal experiences in Palestine, Kanazi has turned it into his profession. He founded “PoeticInjustice,” a blog he updates on matters related to the middle-east conflict and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and has put together a compilation of poems in the book, Poets for Palestine.
“I’m not going to be ashamed and I’m not going to be afraid to speak my mind on this issue in the same regard that I wouldn’t want to silence another community who is going through a similar human rights issue,” said Kanazi, who alleviated the severity of the matter with jokes about his life, common stereotypes and his appearance.
“It was an interesting event that tackled the pathos of the issue and hit home that people aren’t involved in the situation,” said sophomore Dustin Peters, 19, of Auburn, Maine. “He tried to keep it as light hearted as possible because it’s such a serious issue, but during his poetry, it came out, and he was very passionate about the issue,” said Peters, a sociology major and Middle Eastern studies minor.
“But it’s funny being seen. I know, I look like the terrorist in that movie. Yup, the biggest nose in three countries. Yet, I think I figure it out eventually. I’m a Palestinian-American, standing proudly with one foot on democracy, and the other seeking autonomy—while the media tries to rewrite my peoples’ history,” Kanazi said, moving around from one side of the audience to the other.
In the audience was sophomore Noureen Rahman, 19, of Queens, who, like Kanazi, has taken to spoken word and the topic of Palestine. “This is the epitomy of what my life is,” said Rahman, whose parents migrated from Bangladesh. Rahman said she was pro-Palestinain, but after listening to Kanazi, she said that she would reconsider the message in her poems and focus on pro-equality, the message conveyed by Kanazi.
“It’s kind of something we have to grow up, especially our generation, we have to learn how to say things, mean them, defend them, but still understand at the end of the day we’re not supposed to be hostile to each other,” Rahman said. “It’s a friendly environment, it’s just we have different opinions and it should be an open discussion and I feel that’s really hard.”
But Kanazi said attempts to facilitate discussion in a coordinated manner are less effective then intended. “If we are going to meet for a cumbayah, let’s hug it out circle, well most of those events have been a way to mask somebody who is coming from a position of strength from the position of the powerless,” Kanazi said. “I don’t want to meet on Israeli terms or Palestinian terms. I want to meet on equality terms,” he said, adding, “I am not an ethnocentrist, I’m not fighting to free Palestine so they can act like Israel.”
Arslan Rahman, 18, of Brooklyn, had attended last year’s Occupation 101 screening and noticed how much calmer the event was. Arslan, a sophomore majoring in political science with a concentration on international relations, found the event represented the poet’s views and the listener could choose to take it or leave it.
“I think it’s really great this event was done,” Asrlan said. “Palestine is an issue that’s not really talked about a lot and definitely something we should see more of.”
Dressed in inexpensive, casual American clothing, Kanazi defined both who he was and his cause.
“You see these schemes aren’t just a dream. It’s what I say, know, and mean. And one day the truth will be seen with transparency. So I step forward, a part of a team: the true essence of what I believe to be, American Palestinian identity,” Kanazi recited.