Obama is speaking in Cairo, even quoting verses from the Qur'an, glad-handing Arab leaders, and no doubt settling down for intimate talks with King Abdullah II over a pot of Turkish coffee and some sticky pastries loaded with pistachios. And here's Hillary Clinton, touring the Middle East wearing a headscarf.
I suggest we follow our leaders and go respectfully mingle with our nearest Muslim neighbors, who tend to congregate in a Plantation strip mall on Friday nights for a bit of kibbeh and foul medames.
This thriving commercial strip at Plantation Crossroads caters largely
to Middle Eastern immigrants. A grocery sells hookahs, honey, and
hummus, along with many varieties of olives, finely ground coffee,
nuts, packaged phyllo dough, and long shelves of spices. The coffee
shop next door stays open late so the gents can socialize, serving the
same function as a corner bar for this crowd of teetotalers. A travel
agent arranges flights home, and the calligraphic signs on a handful of
other businesses keep them impenetrable to us. On a Friday night, the
whole area is bustling with extended families, the ladies veiled or
not, wearing long skirts and headscarves fringed in gold, the younger
girls in jeans and tank tops, a few Western couples thrown into the
mix, perhaps an Indian woman in a sari with her Arab husband and a
passel of kids.
The distinctive, lilting music of the Middle
East is piped through the sound system; pop videos and commercials
beamed via satellite from Cairo play on the TVs mounted high on the
restaurant walls -- videos that get progressively more libidinous as
pious mothers herd their broods home and the exhausted male staff kicks
back with cups of coffee and sandwiches. Glowing red figures in a
gilt-framed digital clock keep the date and time in Beirut and Tikrit
and Cairo and Riyadh.
The bustle and energy of the place would
be enough to draw you even if the food weren't so delicious. The menu
at the anchor tenant here, Al-Salam Middle Eastern Restaurant,
is halal, meaning it's prepared according to the standards of Muslim
law. And I'm still dreaming about my last dinner at Al-Salam, still
wondering how they achieved the texture of that labneh, a very thick
salted yogurt spread, sometimes described as a cheese, drizzled with
olive oil and sprinkled with dried mint or other spices.
a second visit, I'll write a full review of Al-Salam for the next issue of
New Times. If my first visit is any indication, I'll be back many
times. Now that we've got a president whose father was Muslim, it's
time for us all to cultivate détente with our Islamic neighbors. You'd
be hard-pressed to hold on to any enmity or misunderstanding over a
plate of Al-Salam's baba gannouj. When it comes to kebabs, we're all
in this together.