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Thursday, February 28, 2008

we are all Hussein

I don't know about you but I am sick of Republicans pronouncing Barack Obama's name like it was some sort of cuss word. It is a national embarassment that American political discourse stretches so far to the extremes of xenophobia and puerility that a candidate's name can become an object of propaganda. I'm not worried about the influence of such people. Like Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Republicans will learn that Obama is a bright, shining piece of rubber, and they are the glue. It just disappoints me to no end to hear it on the news day in and day out.

Jon Stewart made a clever joke about it when he reminded the audience at the Oscars of 'the ill-fated 1944 presidential campaign of Gaydolf Titler' (at 8.10 of this clip at YouTube). Shamelessly repeating his name over and over with seven months to go before the election will wear out whatever rhetorical force it might otherwise have in certain quarters. It's also a good example of what I like to call the 8 Mile defense, i.e. claiming one's own possibly vulnerable traits before one's opponent even opens his mouth, as in the Eminem film.

I think we can do even better than that. It's not just people named Hussein who are being insulted by the racist xenophobes among us. It's everyone who respects human dignity and who values things like courtesy and etiquette. There's a tradition on the left of identifying with the targets of injustice by saying, I am [those people you hate]. It shows up in popular culture sometimes disguised as comedy, as in the 1997 Frank Oz film 'In & Out' starring Kevin Kline. When Kline's character, a high school teacher, is fired after being outed as a gay man, his students rise to his defense, one after another, by declaring, 'I am gay.' More recently, and more apt in this case, Le Monde declared in its front-page editorial headline on September 13, 2001, 'Nous sommes tous Américains'.
'Dans ce moment tragique où les mots paraissent si pauvres pour dire le choc que l'on ressent, la première chose qui vient à l'esprit est celle- ci : nous sommes tous Américains ! Nous sommes tous New-Yorkais, aussi sûrement que John Kennedy se déclarait, en 1962 à Berlin, Berlinois. Comment ne pas se sentir en effet, comme dans les moments les plus graves de notre histoire, profondément solidaires de ce peuple et de ce pays, les Etats-Unis, dont nous sommes si proches et à qui nous devons la liberté, et donc notre solidarité.'

It's time for some good old-fashioned solidarité. With that in mind, I am changing my name for the rest of the campaign to Jeff Hussein Strabone, and I will urge others to do the same with their names. Between now and November 4, I will always try to include my new middle name, even when it might be difficult to do so.

In a broader sense, the law-haters have been coming for the Husseins for the past six and a half years. Right now I think we've got the haters on the run, but we can't let up. Many Americans can be proud of their activities in the fight for justice and the rule of law in this decade. If we recall the famous 'First they came' speech of Martin Niemöller, we can say that many among us did speak up and, if nothing else, at least put our money where our mouth was by giving to the ACLU and other groups. What if they came for the Husseins, and everyone was named Hussein?

In the modern era, we have an exaggerated sense of the fixity of names because of the legal exigencies of having definite, unchanging names. It was not, of course, always the case. Just a few centuries ago, people would spell their own names differently with each signature, as is the case with all of William Shakespeare's surviving signatures. If we adopted a more flexible approach to our names, we might be more awake to the possibilities of self-reinvention.

The name Hussein comes from the Arabic noun husn, which the Hans Wehr dictionary translates as 'beauty, handsomeness, prettiness, loveliness; excellence, superiority, perfection' and so on. Reader, do you feel beautiful? I surely do, and I invite you to feel the same way. For the next seven months I hope you'll join me in saying, 'I am Hussein.'

[Update: here are some pro-Obama sites that have reached out since I posted this blog entry. Check them out.

The Obama Minute posts action instructions and news for Obama supporters.

I Am Hussein is a proposal for YouTube videos of people adding Hussein to their names.]

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Blogger darrelplant said...

I Am Hussein

2:21 AM, February 29, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Changing one's name is something that should not be taken lightly. Although changing your name is something I understand and respect. But, I like my name

I am 42.

10:39 AM, February 29, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's a lovely idea! It does go back further than Frank Oz . . . all the way to Spartacus in 70 BC, by way of Kubrick (1960 AD).

"I am Spartacus!"
"No, I am Spartacus!"

But I will stand up next to you and say "I am Hussein!"

6:15 PM, February 29, 2008

Blogger bonsai said...

To make fun of anyone's name on the basis of its perceived religious or ethnic implications has got to be the most un-American thing there is. Thanks for starting this group!

Elise in NH


10:22 AM, March 03, 2008

Blogger BARACK STAR 08 - Barack Obama t-shirts and blog said...

Hey! This is great! I just saw that you were mentioned in the New York Times. I make the Barack Star t-shirts and for this very reason, for making awareness of Barack's beautiful name, I created a shirt called "My Middle Name Is Hussein". It was inspired by the many people who changed their names on the barackobama.com blog. You can see it at http://barackstar08.com

Let's keep the positive messages going!
barackstar08.com and die-hard Obama supporter!

9:12 PM, June 28, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

although I will not adopt the name myself, I respect those who do! There is nothing wrong with having a Muslim name, or being Muslim (although Obama is not a Muslim. As a Jewish American I deplore bigotry. Obama should be judged by his words & actions. I am 100% for him!!

10:49 AM, June 29, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Hussein as well. I changed it on the obama site awhile ago.
it was nice to see that it's starting to get traction and news.
Just saw Jeff on MSNBC right now and had to come and post.
I like that you posted something from France as I am half french.
On the obama site I am vw hussein cat
We must all gather around Obama and say we are all Hussein.
VW Hussein Cat

10:02 AM, June 30, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am unborn child...I think it is so hypocritical that you liberals think you are so enlightened when you do somthing like this, all the while you think killing unborn babies is acceptable. Why don't most of you go get hacked up like unborn children...

11:31 AM, June 30, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very noble action.
Congratulations from Europe.

2:27 PM, July 01, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

I appreciate the kind words, but I hope we've not reached the point where saying no to bigotry can be called noble. Standing up for civility should be a common, everyday occurrence. It actually is, but who ever reports on civility?

8:35 PM, July 01, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous from June 29, just a quick comment about the origins of the name - Hussein is technically an Arabic name first. You can be a Christian Arab for example, and called Hussein. But I agree with the rest of your comment!

4:38 PM, July 02, 2008

Blogger sanskritg said...

My blog has followed your lead.

9:20 PM, July 02, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote from http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2004/01/284723.html


Propaganda is used by those who want to communicate in ways that engage the emotions, and downplay rationality, in an attempt to promote a certain message. To effectively present Israel to the public, and to counter anti-Israel messages, it is necessary to understand propaganda devices.

This article applies a list of seven propaganda devices to the Israeli situation, and by doing so allows an understanding of some of the ways in which public opinion is fought for in the International arena.

Name Calling

Through the careful choice of words, the name calling technique links a person or an idea to a negative symbol. Creating negative connotations by name calling is done to try and get the audience to reject a person or idea on the basis of negative associations, without allowing a real examination of that person or idea. The most obvious example is name calling - "they are a neo-Nazi group" tends to sound pretty negative to most people. More subtly, name calling works by selecting words with subtle negative meanings for some listeners. For example, describing demonstrators as "youths" creates a different impression from calling them "children".

For the Israel activist, it is important to be aware of the subtly different meanings that well chosen words give.
Call 'demonstrations' "riots", many Palestinian political organizations "terror organizations", and so on.

Name calling is hard to counter. Don't allow opponents the opportunity to engage in point scoring."

I think your initiative is exactly what can counter this insidious propaganda technique.

Congratulations Hussein, your idea is brilliant.
I am also Hussein

12:30 PM, July 05, 2008

Blogger Jeff Strabone said...

Libération, the French paper, has picked up the Hussein story:

According to the article, I am 'un blogueur de Brooklyn'. I had not been aware that there was a French word for 'blogger', but I quite like it.

8:00 PM, July 06, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

dizi izle

Kurtlar vadisi pusu

5:52 PM, September 29, 2008

Blogger They say it's a cold world said...

Richard Hussein Fleming

6:38 PM, October 13, 2008

Blogger They say it's a cold world said...

By the way, I consider myself a proud member of the Obama terrorist cell, a group of moderate agitators for change, which I believe numbers in the 150 million plus range here in the good old United States of America.

12:22 AM, October 14, 2008

Blogger Rev. Adam Carl said...

It seems that great minds think alike. For those of you who would like to show your solidarity, we just happen to have a facebook group called "Today We Are All Hussein" and have been encouraging facebook members to change their online middle names to Hussein through the election.

If you're on facebook... join us!

Adam Hussein Carl

7:44 PM, October 14, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm Supporting u...

i'm Hussein(ians) ;)

6:04 PM, September 01, 2009


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