Few documents have so consumed my mind than my personal statement for law school. I spent hours writing, rewriting, editing, scratching drafts, returning to writing, editing, ignoring the writing departments critique, arguing semantics, and investing more of my energy, mind, and heart than the admissions councils will ever know. Thought I would share the finished product with y’all. Here it is!
My name is Sara. Or maybe it is سارة? Perhaps the answer depends entirely on which of my parents you ask, which passport you consult. To my father, I am the latter. To him, my name is pronounced with the first ‘a’ as in ‘tall’, a strong roll on the ‘r’. I am Libyan. I am Muslim. I am Arab. My mother would give you another story. She sees me as Sara, the liberal college student raised in suburbia Colorado who is strong willed, “and just a little too much like her father at times.” The truth lies somewhere in the middle. Throughout my undergraduate studies I have spent significant time analyzing myself in attempt to understand what it means to be an Arab, and more specifically an Arab-American, in the post 9-11 United States. In studying law and politics, I have constantly been faced with challenges that force me to redefine and analyze my identities. My encounters have helped ground me as a person and make me a determined and self aware law student.
I have had the privilege of spending several months in three different Arab nations; Libya, Jordan, and Palestine. While I was studying in Jordan I travelled across the border to Palestine three times. Each time, I had many confrontations which often sparked internal conflictions.
“What is your father’s name?”
I had arrived at the border between Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank. My interrogator was an Israeli soldier, two years younger than myself. Most of the young soldiers stationed at the border were women completing their state-mandated military service. Her green uniform evoked the power of one of the strongest militaries in the world which was contradicted by her delicate appearance. Underneath her carefully curled hair and behind the intricately applied makeup, her eyes scanned me, eagerly awaiting my answer.
My father always says his name with pride. A traditional Libyan name, it means “Pride of the religion”, and true to this, I have never seen him shy away from his Arab-Libyan heritage or his Islamic roots. As I stood facing the soldier, I tried to declare his name, and through it my Arab heritage, with the same pride my father showed.
“What is his father’s name?” She followed up her initial inquiry.
My grandfather shares his name with millions of Muslims around the world. I knew, upon stating his name, that she would have deduced two crucial elements of my heritage. Arab and Muslim.
“Mohammed” She asked me to sit on a near bench and disappeared with my passport.
Her questions only regarded my paternal lineage. Arab and Muslim, alone could not explain my internal struggle to comprehend who I was, what I was. Crossing the border into Palestine was my next step to internalizing a more complete identity than the one that her interrogation had reduced to two words. The direct answers she received created an incomplete portrayal of my internal being. The culture that came with my US passport, which currently sat in the border patrol’s possession awaiting an entrance stamp, included a deep pride in my individuality. I felt the need to elaborate for her. I wanted to volunteer additional elements that made me much more complex.
I would spend the next 5 hours waiting, and digesting the interaction that had taken place.
The politics of the border I was crossing, literally, had been the intent of my visit. Entwined with my Arab heritage had come an early introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Consumed by its intricacies and implications, I have always devoured new perspectives and information regarding the conflict with an insatiable hunger. While the border I was crossing and the lands I was entering have been a consistent focus of international law over the last 50 years, it has also been its greatest failure. Through my unique cultural lens I have recognized the need for passionate engaged individuals within the realm of international law. I have a definite investment in its improvement and success, as many of the places I hold dear, Libya and Palestine specifically, are at the mercy of organs such as the United Nations.
When asked the question by the guard I realized that I had arrived at another, more familiar, border. The hazy spectrum between the culture clashes of my ethnic makeup. The Identity labels with which we brand certain individuals are human made constructions meant to divide and categorize. In the Arab world I am an Ijanib (foreigner) and in the US I will always be Arab, yet the hyphenated line between Arab and American is a socially constructed fiction like the identities it separates and like the line that divides Jordan from Palestine. I am incapable of existing exclusively within either. I can no more isolate a single portion of my identity, than you can break the continuity of the land between the two nations with a man made border.
After hours of waiting, I was permitted to cross through and continue my journey; however I have never really left the border. As I passed beyond the literal border I was stopped at I was confronted with my own border; the line that I had drawn between the Arab and the American me. It is that border that I can never truly leave. My travels within the Arab world have allowed me to become more comfortable in my own indefinition. In addition to expanding my understanding of the dimension and complication of one of the most pivotal and debated conflicts in modern international law, I grew as an individual and had the opportunity to confront my own internal conflictions.