'America is murdering the values it taught us," my former fellow classmate from the American University of Beirut (AUB) cried out when I visited her in Amman this spring.
Salma's words echoed the pain my family and I had been living with for 22 years, since two unidentified gunmen assassinated my husband on the campus of the American University of Beirut – pain that is reinforced with each day of bombing in Lebanon and Israel and underscored by the many recent deaths in Qana and elsewhere, as well as the insubstantial cease-fire.
"Oh, how I miss Malcolm," Salma said to me, referring to my husband. She was implying that he was an American in a position of influence whom she could trust and who could interpret the Muslim world to the West. "Islam is so distorted and misunderstood – it makes me feel more Muslim than I ever felt before. I feel cornered – drawn inward, mistrusted, and plotted against. American politics is anti-Arab." This came from a woman, now in her 70s, whose early goals in life had been fulfilled when she graduated from AUB and eventually earned her PhD at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Those who shot Malcolm killed not just a man but a set of values he embodied as the president of the American University of Beirut, an institution that had brought ideals of open inquiry and tolerance to the Middle East for more than a hundred years – and had in turn been enriched by the students and professors from the entire region who came to learn and teach there. But American policy in the region was increasingly contradicting American values symbolized by AUB.
Like me, my classmates know how values can fall victim to mindless acts of violence. Soon after the assassination, an anony-mous caller to Agence France Presse claimed responsibility in the name of Islamic Jihad. "How could an Arab have killed Malcolm?" my friends mur-mured at Malcolm's memorial service on the university campus in 1984. "He was a scholar of the Middle East who was born here and loved this country." In those chaotic days of the Lebanese civil war, we had only just begun to hear the name Hizbullah.