Thank you MUM/ Dr. Samar Habib

After a lifetime of selfless service to others and after 7 books, here we are at the very first book launch for a truly prolific author. After 40 years of giving us the fruits of her mind, this is the first public event in which we come together as a community to celebrate her works and to say thank you for what you’ve given us, for how you’ve enriched us. Thank you.
Maybe on the surface we’re celebrating a collection of short stories, but in the realm of the unspoken, we’re actually celebrating the indomitable spirit it takes for someone like Dr. Nejmeh to achieve what she has. 
My mother spent the first 45 years of her life as a refugee – a persona non-grata. She experienced persecution most of us have only seen in movies and she grieved the premature loss of her father in a cruel and meaningless war. 
As an immigrant who came to this country 28 years ago, she had to grin and bear the subtleties of alienation and the escalating discrimination that we have lived through in the last three decades. She captures so vividly and painfully this cultural shift in Australia throughout the stories of Jadati Tafqid al Hulum. In her story “the Dream is better,” for example, Pauline Hanson, John Howard, The Children Overboard Affair and the moral panics about Lebanese Gangs that permeated every corporate TV station and news outlet all get their footnotes, all get their commemoration, because of the impact that had on us as Arab-Australians who were and are the indirect targets of these moral panics. 
And yet, Dr Nejmeh’s collection weaves times, geographical locations and moments in history like they are all an eternal present, an eternal now. Her creator mind takes us out of Australia of the 1990s and into Palestine of the 21st century where for the umpteenth time olive groves are being bulldozed and olive trees are being massacred. Massacred because to those who know, the life in those trees is just as precious as our individual human lives. And It is this tender knowing of land and harvest that Dr Nejmeh captures in her softly spoken, elderly grandmothers. Dr Nejmeh’s work is for all of us, it is our national treasury here in diaspora. It is here to remind us so that we may never forget.
Unlike the grandmother in the title story My Grandmother gives up her dream, I have watched my mother work relentlessly toward her dream, never giving it up, always moving in its direction. Whether in candlelight, between bombs, or between customers in a suburban corner store where she worked 365 days a year as an immigrant in a new country, my mother honed her skills as a thinker, as a researcher and as a writer.  
My mother is the only 73 year old that you give a brand new piece of technology to, leave the room and come back to find her figuring out how to use all of its features. She will not ask you to show her, she will not read the manual, instead she will sit there for however long it takes. She will sit there for hours figuring out things like Facebook and how to make good use of emojis as well. My mother has more engagements on her facebook posts than an entire social media and PR agency could produce. I don’t know how she does it, all I can tell you is that I want to hire her to manage my social media accounts.
I’m telling you this because it’s partly funny but it also shows the determination and the vibrant youth of her mind. My mother’s brain is the brain of a young woman. She has laser focus. And the constancy of a professional athlete. She is the most productive person I know. 
And she works regardless of the results. She never wrote for money or even for recognition, or facebook fame (which she enjoys, much to my admiration and occasional envy). She does it out of a deep abiding love for her Arab civilization, for the love of our culture, for the love of preserving our history, our stories and our struggles. She kept going not only when there was no one around to support her, but when people were actively discouraging her. 
As a scholar myself, I can tell you that the diamonds and treasures created by Dr Nejmeh’s research and fictional writing cannot be underestimated. Their weight will be felt the further we move away in time from this present moment. 
There is an entire generation of students in Palestinian refugee schools in Lebanon who are learning about how we suffered and how we lived, about our dreams and our hopes during the Lebanese civil wars’ most horrendous years, because of her short story collections. Because of what those stories make available. Because of what those stories preserve. 
Dr Nejmeh doesn’t write the history of war heroes or villains, she doesn’t write the history of the great generals or famed politicians, she writes the unseen and unheard history of ordinary men and women in the privacy of their own thoughts, breaking bread moments before an airstrike might end their existence. 
Dr Nejmeh goes into the minds of adult men and adolescent women with such penetrating insight that sometimes it’s difficult for me, as her daughter, to believe that these are actually words written by her. She can inhabit, for example, the erotic imagination of a 40-something year old man with such ease that I am left blushing. And then I remember I must have come from somewhere, and I finally realize that I was not delivered by a stork. 
In this latest collection, Jadati Tafqid al-Hulum, Dr Habib further enshrines something that was barely in existence in 1991 when she came to Australia – and that’s the presence of an arab literary community. A community that can reflect on its diasporic experiences and give us a body of Arab-Australian literature. What you see here today is a pleasure and a privilege that we haven’t enjoyed in this country for very long: an Arab-Australian cultural movement and a community that appreciates and recognizes what this writer and thinker has given us unconditionally and without expectations for almost thirty years. 
It has taken Dr Nejmeh a lifetime to have the pleasure of this community that now recognizes and celebrates what she has been working towards in candlelight, between bombs, between customers, and after fulfilling her familial obligations. So I want to thank you, for being here, physically and online, and for recognizing just what it takes for someone like Dr Nejmeh to achieve what she has achieved as a refugee, as a woman in a patriarchal society, as a Palestinian in Lebanon, as an immigrant in Australia and as a mother of four ungrateful children.
To have your presence here, to share this precious moment with you gives me tremendous joy. Especially in these difficult times where this country of ours sometimes feels like it’s not ours.
I want to invite you today to do something for our future and for the future of Arab-Australian literature that we are building tonight. I want to invite you to buy a copy of this book and to donate it to a library. A book that sits on your shelf gets read once, maybe twice, but a book in a public or university library is a time capsule. It sits waiting for the person from the future who’s looking for the information it provides. So let’s put in the hands of that future Arab-Australian who is searching for how we were in 2019, who is searching for how we built our Arab-Australian literary heritage, let’s put this book in their hands.
Thank you for coming.



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