Janet Abu-Lughod

I have been so busy at work these past three weeks that I haven’t had any time to keep up with anything that’s been going on. Only today did I read Exiting the Vampire Castle, and this is from a month ago (to the very day).

But as you are probably accustomed to by now, this is not what I’m writing about. On the occasion of the death of Janet Abu-Lughod, I have a story to tell.

I went to a small college in Kentucky (which has since grown, and is now a small university). I had recently graduated and was hanging around thinking about what to do next, when Israel invaded Lebanon. This was 1982. I was appalled, and decided I was going to do something about it. I asked a Political Science professor from the school for his ideas, and he told me a cousin of his, who lived in Chicago, had just returned from Beirut. Her name was Janet Abu-Lughod, and she had with her the first photos of the invasion to make it past Israeli censors.

I had no idea who she was. I knew she was married to Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, but only after being told by the Political Science professor, and I didn’t know who he was either! It didn’t matter though. The Israeli army was censoring information of their attack, and we were going to make it public.

He contacted her and she agreed to come down and talk at the college. I arranged with the administration for the use of the auditorium, wrote a press release and invited all the newspapers and television stations within fifty miles, and advertised the event on local radio stations and newspapers.

We had a really good turnout, especially considering that school was not in session. Her talk was mostly about her work with the Palestinian government-in-exile in Beirut, the schools and hospitals and such, everything that existed that was being destroyed by Israeli bombs.

The reporting that evening and the next day was amazing. They really were the first images of the bombing; I think the reporters were probably just as ecstatic. The story was picked up by CBS Morning News and was scheduled to be broadcast the next day. However, during that time, President Reagan announced that the U.S. was considering sending troops, and our story got bumped. At the time, I thought his announcement was designed specifically to kill our story, but all these years later, I’m less certain of that.

So that’s it. That was both the first event that I organized, and my first brush with an academic notable. But I have to say, I was so busy running things that I barely remember her. We didn’t spend much time together, and back at the professor’s house, they talked mostly about family things. I still have the copy of a book she gave me though, that had just been published, a collection of essays titled: Palestinian Rights: Affirmation and Denial.

Two months later, I was on the bus for New York.