In our August 16, 2010 article Ahlam Mohsen Rocks! we wrote about Ahlam’s bravery throwing a pie at the Zionist Senator Carl Levin. Among her many supporters is her 8th Grade teacher who says Ahlam began to show her leadership skills at a young age. Ikhras recently had the good fortune of hearing from Mechelle Schneider. In this exclusive interview, Ikhras asks Mechelle Schneider about the young Field Arab who stood up for justice.
Please introduce yourself. Where do you teach? Which subjects? For how long?
English teacher Coldwater Community Schools 30th year; Baker College Adjunct English instructor 5 years.
How did you come to know Ahlam? You’d mentioned in a comment on ikhras.com that Ms. Mohsen was an “intelligent, dedicated student” in your class and had “strong convictions”. Could you give us more insight about her personality and activism?
Ahlam was my student in CCS in 8th grade. She moved from regular English to an Honors English class where she was an excellent student. She was also our student council president. I was her student council advisor. During Ahlam’s presidency, our student council was awarded the Michigan Association of Student Council’s Award of Excellence. We attended several leadership conferences that year. It was also the year of 9/11. A very emotional time for us all. Ahlam had family scheduled to fly that day out of Detroit (that flight was canceled). With our Arabic population in Coldwater there was concern about the community reaction to what happened. Our student council arranged a moment of silence in our school in which every student and staff member joined hands making a huge circle of 900 (approx.) people. Our purpose was to promote peace and understanding, tolerance in our community etc. A month or so later, on a Saturday, I took Ahlam and two other Arabic girls to a seminar sponsored by the United Methodist Church in Battle Creek. At this seminar we were addressed by an Albion College professor who had an expertise in Afghanistan, a religion professor (also from Albion College), and an Imam from Dearborn. The discussion was about what should a religious person’s reaction be to the events of 9/11. The United States had not yet invaded Iraq at that time. All three girls listened, took in much, and had many questions that day. I believe that year she was already clearly showing her leadership skills and dedication to activism. I know later she was involved in a protest of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the earlier episode of the sit in at Carl Levin’s office.
You say Ahlam showed leadership skills early on, did you also notice an interest in politics from her early on?
Definitely so. In writing, she selected serious topics. After 8th grade she visited Yemen, her homeland. That visit also had a serious impact on her perspective and world view.
Would you say Ahlam was politically aware at a young age?
Again yes. A student is not as intensely involved in organizations such as student council and not have an interest in politics. I know we discussed George W. Bush at times. She was not a supporter of Bush. Interestingly, I remembered being censored that year for making the comment that Bush did not seem to have the level of intelligence that some of our U.S. presidents have had. I was told not to say anything negative about Bush by the administration.
You feel strongly enough about Ms. Mohsen to write to Senator Carl Levin to request that the charges be dismissed. Why do you feel her action deserves support?
I wrote to Levin because I believe her actions were being twisted. People can easily dismiss her as a “terrorist” or other nonsense. I think her Arabic heritage could easily be held against her. I think she is a sincere person of peace. I believe throwing a pie was a mistake, a serious risk for her. I would hope that her future protests remain more peaceful, but I believe she is still today essentially the person I saw ten or eleven years ago.
Do you think Ahlam has set an example for your students? What would you tell your students about Ahlam? Have you discussed her with your current students?
Yes, I do think Ahlam has set an example. I did write to her this week to caution her about becoming infamous and not famous! What would I tell people about Ahlam? I would tell them that she is sincere, believes deeply in her convictions, and voices those convictions. I have not discussed her with my students (school is still in recess), but under the right circumstances, I might. I also will defend her when her situation is talked about!
We have seen many other politicians pied, or had tomatoes thrown at them. In Ahlams’ case there is talk of felony charges, do you think Ahlam is being treated more harshly? If so, why?
Carl Levin is a well known senator with a long career in politics. I actually vote for Levin, but I am a consistent Democrat. In Ahlam’s case, I do believe that her Arabic heritage is type casting her. Levin’s heritage and Ahlam’s heritage are part of the clash. Many people are unaware that Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have their roots in the same God. I believe we need to focus on our common ground and not accentuate differences or use those differences against people. You are right; the conduct at Tea parties is often more suspect or threatening than I can believe of Ahlam.