Najla Said Explores Her Identity

Actress and playwright Najla Said says that while growing up in New York—despite being the daughter of Palestinian-American literary theorist Edward Said—she never really identified as Arab-American. "I didn’t seem to understand how I fit in with the vision of an Arab that I saw on TV and in the news and in movies," she says. "And then again, I didn’t feel like I had any identification with what was I was being told was an Arab-American. ... So I didn’t really understand what this idea of being either, I wasn’t Arab, and I wasn’t fully American, but I somehow didn’t feel like I was Arab-American."

In her recent Big Think interview, Said talks at length about her one-woman show "Palestine," which debuted earlier this year Off Broadway. The coming-of-age story filters the issues of the Mideast conflict through her own memories from growing up—including her battle with anorexia and the death of her father. Said says her time on stage, and practicing for the play, was a kind of therapy, allowing her to revisit places from her past. "I think what happened ultimately was that I began to feel like my father was on stage with me for the duration of the performance," she said.

Said also describes how her background has given her a desire to see people's identities as more than just their religion. "I really, really try to maintain a humanist perspective and just, each person who interacts with me is a human being and they are the sum of all of the things that they represent," she says. "You know, that their country, their religion, their... you know, their mother’s hair color, whatever it is, they represent many, many different things, not one."

And the playwright says she doesn't think the Mideast conflict between Israel and Palestine is an issue over religion or land—rather it's simply an issue of human rights. "It’s not about Arabs hating Jews and Jews hating Arabs, and Muslims hating Jews and Jews hating Muslims," she says, "it’s about the struggle for equality in human rights, that’s it, that's what it’s about. What the solution is? I’m not really sure."


Said ended the interview by performing a scene from her one-woman show "Palestine."

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less