A great role model for an Arab woman expatriate, who has dedicated her life to serve the interests of the nation by building bridges of understanding between East and West; through lectures she gives in various parts of the United States, and through her radio show, as well as her published articles – providing a clear and realistic picture of Arab culture overseas, in efforts to correct the misconceptions provided by the Western media about the Arab world.
She is Samar Dahmash Jarrah, the Palestinian/American writer and media personnel, AWM chose her as an inspirational woman in this issue.
My father died when I was a child, my mother found herself alone to take care of four children, the eldest was thirteenth and the youngest was a year old. She was still a young thirty-eight year old woman, she bore the responsibility firmly and patiently, we drew our strength from her. It was not easy for any woman to move four children between various Arab capitals, especially with the complexity of not having passports back then, as we were a Palestinian family forced to emigrate from their home. In spite of the difficulties my mother never complained from her burdens and never searched for a man to help in our upbringing, she was both mother and father, the tenderness and firmness together; this brought us up to handle responsibility and respect women. We were raised with the understanding that morality comes from within and that not falling in the wrong is the result of well-established principles of absolute faith and not fear of the authority of a man or a scrutinizing society.
We moved from Lebanon to Riyadh and Cairo, where I completed my High school education and my university, I graduated from the American University in Middle Eastern Studies and Political Science.
Tell us about your career and your relocation to the United States? And how it was a turning point in your life?
I worked in the Jordanian television and in the media, I moved to the United States after my marriage. After the events of September 11 my life and the lives of Arab Americans changed; it became a necessity to work hard and show Americans who we are and what our religion is all about, especially that the media conveys a flawed misperception that is far from reality.
Tell us about your publications, the inspiration and purpose behind each book.
It was a duty to build bridges of communication between East and West, I always asked in my lectures about how Arab nations think? And what their opinions are on many things? I collected these questions and went looking for answers in the Arab world; I chose Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan to publish my first book in English: “Arab Voices Speak To American Hearts” as the first book of its kind, clarifying to Americans things they want to know about us Arabs.
The second book – Between the East and the West is Another world – aims to illustrate life in the US for Arabs, based on personal experiences and that of others as well, reflecting things I went through when I moved to live in the US; the aim behind it is to clarify the American mentality to the Arab reader to make it easier to relate and communicate and convince him of just issues.
The aim of both books is to facilitate understanding of the other, and to clarify the differences in visions, as well as understanding where others are coming from, it’s a very important factor, especially when trying to convince them with our issues that many times are miss-portrayed by the media.
The third book to be issued soon, a “Monday in America”, is a combination of many articles that summarize a year and a half of my life in the United States, I describe in it how one event might be sufficient to change the course of your life forever, and this is exactly what happened to me on Monday, where I was celebrating my birthday with my friends, to be surprised by a phone call that made it clear to me that there are forces at work with great might and power to distort our image as Arabs and Muslims, this phone call was a turning point in my life, I was faced with only two options: either to forget that phone call ever happened and continue my birthday celebration and live my life for myself only, or either cancel the celebration immediately and make this cause the issue that I live for, and defend and fight for our presence in the United States. Me along with others stand against such forces we are always on the lookout, and this is what happened.
Does the Arab woman overseas play her part in raising awareness and portraying the true image of Arabs and Muslims as it should be?
Often Arab women fail in America in raising such awareness; the lack of familiarity with the English language sometimes, and not knowing how to engage with the American mentality at other times, and this is normal coming from different cultures, so through the lectures I present I teach women how to respond to certain questions that they might come across. I find such challenges are less evident with new generations that grew up and lived in the United States, that enjoy the strength of character and language proficiency and understanding of the surrounding community, we need this new generation to find their voice in the media to influence the community, and this requires giving up some traditional notions on the parents part, such as the need for their children’s to learn only medicine or engineering for example.
Who is the man that shows support in the life of Samar Dahmash Jarrah?
My husband, a surgeon, never hesitates to support me in every way, his continued encouragement and always being by my side, and bearing the burdens of my travels has the biggest impact on me. It is necessary that the man stands next to his woman and back her up, if we are to progress and advance in our societies.
For original interview in Arabic