Dear Shakira,

Since your trip to Israel this week was ostensibly one of “good will” and humanity, and since in your speech to the Israeli Presidential Conference you stated that you are “convinced…that investing in education is the best strategy for peace and global stability,” I am going to give you an education. In humanity and solidarity.

Let me start by saying that I was a fan of yours before your mainstream American commercial success. I loved your Spanish albums, and I loved you for seeming like a rebellious little punk who dyed her hair funny colors and sang melodiously along to crunchy “rock ‘n’ roll” guitar riffs about how messed up you were over a boy. You reminded me of the Spanish Alanis Morrissette. When you released your first English language album, I was a little sad that the whole world would know about you, but I was also excited for them to, because you loved to talk about being Lebanese. So even though your English lyrics were laughable and you dyed your hair blonde and became a Britney Spears clone like they all do, you were still you, shaking your hips and banging your drums and telling the world that belly dancing was in your blood, because you are Lebanese. And when Wyclef Jean said, “Let me see you move like you come from Colombia,” as you did your famous hip gyrations, a few of us who are also Lebanese cringed, but we got over it because we were proud of you.

Don’t get me wrong, Shaki, I don’t want you to go back to being your younger self. I am glad that you, like Alanis, grew up and discovered love, peace and happiness, but you might have thought a bit about what it means to be educated before you spoke publicly about how important it is. I don’t expect you to be “political.” I know you are an entertainer and it’s not your job to “be political.” But you made yourself political from day one by showing off your Lebanese-ness.

Here is the thing about being Lebanese or Arab; you kind of have to love us for who we are and what we feel as much as you love us for our hummus and our belly dancing because for the first time in a long time we are proud of where we are from and are able to speak out about injustices that have been committed against us and our loved ones for decades. And here you are, making us feel shitty and hurt. You weren’t an Orientalist before because you seemed to be one of us, but now, my love, you are.

The modern state of Israel shares geography, but nothing more, with the “Abrahamic” religions that may have originated there.

As a UN goodwill ambassador, you maybe should have thought about the hundred or so (give or take) UN resolutions that the State of Israel has defied before hugging their President, Shimon Peres. You might have thought of visiting Gaza instead of one of the rare schools in Israel proper, where Israeli and Arab children, who are fortunate enough to be allowed citizenship, learn together. In 2006, you spoke out against the Israeli war on Lebanon, and called for an end to the fighting. In your statement, you said, “We do not need leaders who create dispute, anger and hate, but rather leaders who care about the people and their needs.” Well, your lips lied on that one, honey. Again, I need only to point to your ridiculous love fest with Peres at the Israeli Presidential Conference yesterday to prove my point. People who actually believe in peace and goodwill do not ignore half the people in the equation when they set out to perform acts of peace and good will. They don’t hug former military leaders (even ones who have a Nobel Peace Prize), and they don’t say things like this:

“I am very happy to be in Israel, because I believe this is the perfect place to talk about how urgent it is to make education a priority. Israel has been a great melting pot of cultures for so many centuries. It will continue to be. In my song ‘Waka Waka,’ I sang how we are all Africa. Today I want to say that as part of western civilization we are all the inheritors of an Abrahamic culture and a soul that has been forged here; therefore, we are all Israel, too.”

We are not all Israel, Shakira, and that’s the point. The modern State of Israel shares geography, but nothing more, with the “Abrahamic” religions that may have originated there. Some of us are Palestinian and cannot be Israeli. Some of us are from Gaza and cannot even go to Israel. Some of us are Lebanese and have been bombed by Israel. Some of us are Jewish and don’t believe in what Israel says and does. That doesn’t mean it has no right to exist; it does, but so do we.

And since you spoke of children and education, I’d like to leave you with something that Alice Walker said the other day about her decision to ride on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. It sums up everything I am trying to say much more beautifully than I ever could:

“I see children, all children, as humanity’s most precious resource, because it will be to them that the care of the planet will always be left. One child must never be set above another, even in casual conversation, not to mention in speeches that circle the globe.

As adults, we must affirm, constantly, that the Arab child, the Muslim child, the Palestinian child, the African child, the Jewish child, the Christian child, the American child, the Chinese child, the Israeli child, the Native American child, etc., is equal to all others on the planet. We must do everything in our power to cease the behavior that makes children everywhere feel afraid.”

Thank you for your time, Miss Mubarak (Hey, come to think of it, are you related to the dude who ran Egypt for a really long time? Because that would explain EVERYTHING!).



Najla Said

Najla Said is an award-winning actress and writer. As an actress, she has appeared Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally, as well as in film and television. She is a founding member of Nibras Theatre Collective and one of New York Theatre Workshop’s “Usual Suspects.” Her newest play, Palestine, is a one-woman show that debuted Off-Broadway in February 2010. It is a coming-of-age story about Said’s journey to become an Arab-American on her own terms. In 2010, Najla was named one of the “top 40” feminists “under 40” by the Feminist Press. She is currently working on a memoir that will be published by Riverhead Books in the next year. Najla is a graduate of Princeton University.

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4 Comments on “An Open Letter to Shakira: We Are Not All Israel

  1. Amusing that you would quote Alice Walker talking about how much she cares about children since the woman hasn’t talked to her own daughter in years and refuses to see her granddaughter.

  2. Najla, thank you for speaking out on the schizoid behaviour that so many Americans and Americanized people demonstrate. I cringe at the way we seem to pander to Israel whilst we demonize the “other” occupants that have lived in that region as long as or longer than the ruling party. Shakira should be better informed about the systematic refusal of the state of Israel to abide by UN resolutions if she is to BE involved with the UN, unless it’s just a grand facade for the press. The recent conflict calls into question their behaviour and actions that border on war crimes. The early comment on Alice Walker goes to show: we see the trees but miss the forest. Bravo!

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