Palestinian Diaspora Writers Fight for Their Stories To Be Told on “Code Switch”

In the episode of NPR's podcast, co-hosts Gene Demby and Sandhya Dirks spoke with poet Tariq Luthun, who says that, “just being Palestinian in the world causes controversy, and that's something that existed long, long before October 7.”

Palestinian Diaspora Writers Fight for Their Stories To Be Told on “Code Switch”
On this episode of NPR's podcast "Code Switch," co-hosts hear from two Palestinian American poets who talk about what it's like to be Palestinian American in the U.S.

Recently, two Palestinian American writers joined NPR to discuss what it’s like living in the U.S. as a member of the Palestinian diaspora. NPR’s podcast “Code Switch” invited Fady Joudah and Tariq Luthun, who say the way their stories are told — or, more commonly, aren't told — has contributed to their sense of erasure of their identities, and increasingly, erasure of their humanity.

In the episode — titled “Who Has The ‘Right To A Story?’”“Code Switch” host Gene Demby notes that Palestinian Americans tend to be overlooked until moments like this one, when the western world turns its attention to the bloodshed in the Middle East. “Which is to say [Palestinian Americans] are understood … as adjacent to violence and bloodshed,” says Demby. “They're seen as instigators of that violence or seen as being obliterated by it. It's a kind of thinking that is dehumanizing and has real, material consequences on the personal, human level, but also on a broader political one.”

Along with correspondant Sandhya Dirks, Demby spoke first with the poet Tariq Luthun, who says that, “just being Palestinian in the world causes controversy, and that's something that existed long, long before October 7.” In this segment, Luthun highlights the prevalence of Palestinians engaging in activism, drawing attention to the conference Palestine Writes, which was organized by Palestinian American writers. The festival faced challenges, including attempts to disrupt its virtual run via Zoombombing, and more recently, controversies from the public around including speakers who are critical of Israel. The controversy intensified after the festival, with critics linking it to Hamas attacks in October. The fallout included lost funding and resignations at the University of Pennsylvania. Luthun emphasizes the complexity of affirming Palestinian identity without it being perceived as opposition to another group, emphasizing the diverse and close-knit nature of the Palestinian American community.

Fady Joudah, a physician and award-winning poet, shares his experience as a Palestinian in America, describing the lack of recognition and space for Palestinian stories. He reflects on the constant encounter with necropolitics — “you're only alive when you are dying,” in Joudah’s own words. Joudah discusses the erasure of the Palestinian narrative and expresses hope in history's archives revealing the truth. He relates his family's history of displacement from Gaza due to wars, notably in 1948 and 1967. Joudah also emphasizes the hidden pain and trauma his parents endured, shaping their narrative. The recent Israeli airstrikes have resulted in the loss of many family members for Joudah, and he discusses the historical trauma unfolding in Gaza and the West Bank. Despite the difficulties, Joudah finds comfort in being with his family during these challenging times.

Joudah goes on to point out the subtle dehumanization of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, emphasizing that doubts about their identity or humanity make it easier to justify violence against them. Meanwhile, Joudah highlights the media's focus on portraying grief rather than addressing the underlying issues. He resists being reduced to a grieving Palestinian for public consumption, stressing the difficulty of discussing systemic problems in media spaces.

Joudah and Luthun discuss the challenges Palestinians face in media representation and the persistent question about condemning actions in the Israel-Gaza conflict. Luthun reflects on Palestinian identity beyond conflict, highlighting resilience and communal aspects. Joudah emphasizes the erasure of Palestinian stories amid violence and shares how memory persists through generations. Both guests emphasize the importance of sharing the remainder of lost lives and preserving memory.

“Code Switch” is the fearless conversation about race that you've been waiting for. Hosted by journalists of color, the podcast tackles the subject of race with empathy and humor. They explore how race affects every part of society — from politics and pop culture to history, food and everything in between. This podcast makes all of us part of the conversation — because we're all part of the story. Code Switch was named Apple Podcasts' first-ever Show of the Year in 2020.

You can listen to the full episode of “Code Switch” with Fady Joudah and Tariq Luthun at the link below.

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