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American Parents Encounter 'China Ghosts'

Journalist Jeff Gammage and his wife Christine have adopted two daughters from China; now Gammage, a staff writer at The Philadelphia Inquirer, has written a book about the experience. It's called China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood.

21:06

Other segments from the episode on June 27, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 27, 2007: Interview with Jeff Gammage; Interview with Asra Nomani; Review of Balkan Beat Box's album "Nu Med."

Transcript

DATE June 27, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Reporter Jeff Gammage on adopting foreign children
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Because it's so difficult to adopt babies in the US, many would-be parents go
to China to adopt. In fact, in the past 15 years, over 62,000 children,
mostly girls, have been adopted by Americans. Two of those girls were adopted
by my guest, Jeff Gammage, and his wife. Gammage is a reporter for the
Philadelphia Inquirer. He's written a new book called "China Ghosts: My
Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood."

The book also looks at the larger phenomenon of Chinese adoptions. The
phenomenon dates back to China's one-child policy, which was implemented in
the 1980s to control surging birth rates. Because Chinese culture places a
premium on sons, Chinese orphanages were overwhelmed with unwanted girls.
China has loosened its one child policy. If a family's first child is a
daughter, they're now allowed to keep her and to try again for a son.
Recently the Chinese government imposed new regulations on international
adoptions. Single people wanting to adopt are no longer welcome. There are
height, weight, and age restrictions. And you can't be on antidepressants.

A few weeks before my guest, Jeff Gammage, and his wife traveled to China to
meet the girl that would become their daughter, they were given a photo of
her. I asked him about the significance that photo took on.

Mr. JEFF GAMMAGE: It took on vast significance. We'd been imagining our
child for so long, and when we had her picture, it just--we put it up
everywhere and Christine and I, my wife, we had constant conversations. It
was our only source of conversation. It was, `What is our girl like? What is
she doing now? Is she playing with a friend? Is she getting enough to eat?
What is she thinking? Does she know that we're coming?'

GROSS: So what was it like to see her for the first time? After this one
photo was all you knew of her for, you know, for over a year.

Mr. GAMMAGE: Well, for most of that year we didn't even have a photo. I
mean, it wasn't until five weeks before we traveled that we were...

GROSS: Oh, I see.

Mr. GAMMAGE: ...given a photograph and the name of our daughter and a
location of the institute where she was living. When we met her in person, it
was stunning. It was stunning because we had imagined her for so long, it was
like bumping into a celebrity on the street and you sort of--you've always
seen them in your mind or on the movie screen or in pictures in a magazine,
but now you see them in three dimensions and they're real and they're in front
of you and Jin Yu--I immediately saw that she was smaller that we expected.
She was very thin. Her legs were sticks. She had sort of a cut on her
forehead and a mark on her cheek and she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever
seen.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned that when you adopted your oldest daughter Jin Yu
that she had a cut on her forehead and a scar on her cheek. So, what was
going on on her forehead near on her scalp is what really worried you when you
found it. Would you describe what you saw?

Mr. GAMMAGE: When Jin Yu came to us, she was very internal. She was silent
and still, and that's not good. It happens sometimes, but usually when the
girls come to their new family, they're very upset, they cry, they scream,
they act out and that's actually a good thing because it shows that the child
has attached to the caretakers, that the child has the ability to attach and
will attach to the new parent. Jin Yu made no sound. She was very still and
silent and did not respond to us. And then in our hotel room after we
received her, we found that she had--it doesn't do it justice to call it a
scar. It was an injury or a wound on the side of her head that went from her
temple to down behind her ear, and we thought she had suffered some kind of
traumatic head injury, and at that moment we sort of saw all our dreams of
parenthood and all we imagined and wished for this girl just slipping away,
just disintegrating in front of our eyes.

GROSS: Because you thought...

Mr. GAMMAGE: We thought she had some sort of severe head injury, and that
was the reason that she was not speaking or moving or talking.

GROSS: Well, you might have thought at that point, `Oh, we wanted a healthy
daughter. We were told we were getting a healthy daughter, so we're going to
make an exchange.'

Mr. GAMMAGE: People around us were making noises about an exchange, but
Christine and I felt like this was our daughter. When we were first referred
our child, we were expecting a baby. Everyone was saying the requirements
that we had met--China sort of characterizes you by age and children in the
home and prior marriages--that we were going to get a baby baby, and we got a
two-year-old so the big question was, `Well, can we parent a two-year-old?'
And we said, `Well, yeah, we can.' So that was our point of decision.
Whatever came afterwards in terms of Jin Yu's health or abilities, we felt
like we'd signed on for that and we would just have to do the best we could
for each other.

GROSS: Well, you took her to a Chinese doctor in China. What did the doctor
have to say?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Not a lot. The doctor said--she examined Jin Yu and she looked
at the side of her head and she ran her through some rudimentary tests for
balance and cognition and hand-eye coordination, and she felt that she was OK,
that she'd not suffered a brain injury, that this was an injury on the outside
of her head. And she suggested that it could have come from an infection. In
summer--Hunan is scalding in the summer, and the children sweat. And the
doctor suggested to us that perhaps she got a bug bite and she scratched it
and, as more dirt and sweat came into the wound, it became infected and that
the skin continued to expand and contract and boil and fester and that this is
what caused this scar and this injury. I'm not sure if that's correct. It
certainly didn't make me feel any better.

GROSS: No, because if it's festering like that and they allow it to keep
festering, that would be terrible.

Mr. GAMMAGE: Exactly.

GROSS: So you took her to an American doctor when you got home.

Mr. GAMMAGE: Yes, Leslie...(unintelligible)...a very fine doctor.

GROSS: And what was her diagnosis?

Mr. GAMMAGE: She didn't really have one. Leslie has a Chinese daughter of
her own, two now, and she's highly experienced in what can happen to children
in orphanages, and I felt like Leslie sort of gave me the hard and unvarnished
truth, and what she said was that Jin Yu was fine. She had suffered no
traumatic head injury, but there are things that happen in orphanages to
children, and you're just never going to get the answer, that the information
is simply lost. It's not recorded. You're never going to know what happened
to this child and you're going to have to find a way to live with it.

GROSS: So how well did she heal?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Very slowly. Not completely. That scar will be with Jin Yu
the rest of her life.

GROSS: Does hair grow around it?

Mr. GAMMAGE: It does. She'll be able to cover it when she wishes.

GROSS: And is it traumatic to her?

Mr. GAMMAGE: She has asked about it. She's asked if other children have one
and she's asked how it got there, and like so much of what we say to our
daughter, the answer is, "I don't know."

GROSS: Did it scare you a lot, the thought that you might be taking on
parenting responsibility for a two year old who could have brain damage? You
know, when you thought that that was a possibility. You know, I mean, let's
be honest. A lot of people who get pregnant and have amniocentesis decide to
abort if they find that there's some kind of severe, you know, brain, you
know, malfunction or deficiency. So did you think like, `This is going to
be--this is going to change our lives--this has the potential of changing our
lives in ways we're completely unprepared for and we don't want. We would
never have signed up for this'?

Mr. GAMMAGE: We did think that, but it was scarier in the abstract than it
was in real life. Presented with those facts, `Would you care for a
two-year-old child with traumatic brain injury who you know is going to live
out her life mostly bedridden in your home and you will care for her 24 hours
a day?' The answer is, `I could never do that.' Faced with Jin Yu standing
before us, this child who we had wished and longed for, there was no question
in our mind that whatever came, she was coming home with us.

GROSS: And it turned out she was fine.

Mr. GAMMAGE: And it turns out she was fine.

GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

Mr. GAMMAGE: She sort of slowly emerged. It was almost like she was coming
up from underwater. By the end--I think we were 16 days in China, and by the
end of that, she was not outgoing, but she was at least comfortable. She was
moving. She was talking. She was accepting food from us. She had begun to
blossom.

GROSS: You adopted a second daughter from China. When you went to China the
second time around, did you do things any differently, and did you go with a
different, you know, emotional mindset than you did the first time around,
because you were experienced the second time around?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Our second trip was very different, mostly because we had been
through a first adoption. We knew it was going to work out. We now had
confidence in the system and its ability to deliver our daughter to us. The
first we were hoping it would work out. The second time we knew it would work
out. The second time we traveled to Lanzhou, China, which is way out west.
It's in Gansu province. It's north of the Tibetan plateau and just south of
the Gobe Desert. It's very remote, and it was fascinating to see that part of
China. But the trip was so easy and Zhao Gu was only 11 months old when she
came to us. She was still a baby. Her period of mourning lasted about 45
minutes, I would say, and then she was completely with the program and eager
to be with us. The second trip was like a vacation with a prize at the end.

GROSS: Would you like your daughters to, at some point, know who their birth
parents were, you know, if it was possible to find that out--and it probably
isn't, but if it was?

Mr. GAMMAGE: I definitely would, if they wondered. This is completely Jin
Yu's decision and Zhao Gu's decision. If they wanted me to help them try to
find their birth parents, I would. I hope they will. I think everybody has
questions about, `Who I am, where did I come from?' I expect my daughters will
have those questions. I think in the future it might become easier. If China
continues to open and change, there's no saying what might happen. There
could be some sort of DNA data bank, where the girls and their parents could
register and they could find each other that way.

I also think a lot about Jin Yu's parents and Zhao Gu's parents, the Chinese
parents, and what they must have gone through and what they go through now.
What it must be like for them, to have to wonder every day about this child
that they've lost. And if I could, I would just like to let them know these
children are fine. They're healthy. They're happy. They're loved. So
whether it's Jin Yu or I or somebody else who brings them that news some day,
I would like for them to get that.

GROSS: My guest is Jeff Gammage. His new book is called "China Ghosts: My
Daughter's Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood."

More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is Jeff Gammage. He and his wife have adopted two daughters
from China. His new book, "China Ghosts," is about adopting their first
daughter.

We should say when you started this adventure, going to China the first time
to adopt this first child, you didn't even particularly want to be a father.

Mr. GAMMAGE: I did not want to be a father at all. I didn't think I'd be a
very good one. It wasn't a job I was interested in.

GROSS: Yeah? Why not? Why didn't you want to be a father?

Mr. GAMMAGE: It's hard to articulate, but I didn't--I felt I was doing
things that I enjoyed, that I had all this free time, that my life was one of
going to Phillies game whenever I wished and Eagles games and movies on the
weekends, and Christine and I could go out to dinner at a moment's notice and
we could travel the world if we liked. We had a very nice life. I did not
see any need to interrupt that life with the demands that I knew a child would
impose.

GROSS: So were you becoming a father basically to please your wife?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Yes. Christine wanted children, and my wife has always done
for me, and I felt that if this is what she really wants then she should have
it. And we attempted to have biological children. We could not, and then we
moved onto to adoption.

GROSS: So what changed your mind about being a father, made you actually
really happy with the idea?

Mr. GAMMAGE: I don't know that I was really happy with the idea until we got
Jin Yu. I was accepting of the idea and willing to give it a go, but until we
got Jin Yu and I could see her and see how funny she is and how good she is
and how smart and what a joy she is and see how lucky I am to have her in my
life and her sister in my life, that's when I really felt that I could be a
dad and I could maybe be a good one.

GROSS: You write in your book, "It's disorienting to discover that the thing
I never wanted, a child, is actually what makes me happiest." Why do you find
that disorienting?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Because it makes me question everything else, all the other
opinions that I so firmly hold. If I could be wrong about something as
crucial as this, I could be wrong about anything. So it just made me
re-evaluate sort of all the decisions I've made and maybe I really don't like
the Phillies. Maybe I'm really a Mets fan.

GROSS: Do your children ever ask about their birth parents?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Jin Yu has started asking recently. She, for a long time,
would tell us that she was born from one of her nannies, that she was carried
in the belly of one of her nannies, and we would gently correct her and say,
`No, you were born to a woman in China, and we don't know where she is but
that's how you were born.' She started asking again more recently. She asked
us where. She said, `Where is the woman who gave birth to me?' And the only
answer is, `I don't know.' We tell her about circumstances in China and the
one-child policy, but she's not asking for a dissertation on China's birth
planning policy. She just wants to know her story and, unfortunately, I don't
have a lot of good answers to give her.

GROSS: How important is it to you that your daughters learn about Chinese
culture?

Mr. GAMMAGE: It's crucial. And it's OK with me if later on they decide
they're not interested. As a parent, I'm always trying to think of what I'm
going to be blamed for and what I can live with. Because I figure when she's
16 Jin Yu is going to say, `You dragged me to every Chinese cultural event
and, boy, I hated that.' Or she's going to say, `You never took me to any
Chinese cultural events, and why didn't you?' And I would rather be blamed for
the former than the latter. I would rather try to do my best to give her
whatever culture and connection I can than to give her none at all. But the
other thing that worries me is that I may be connecting her to a vanished
culture. That historical China is not modern China. Being Chinese in China
is not being Chinese-American in this country.

GROSS: Do your daughters speak any Chinese languages?

Mr. GAMMAGE: Very little. Jin Yu, when she came to us, was babbling in
Chinese, and at night she would sing herself to sleep with these little
lullabies that someone must have sung to her in the orphanage, just beautiful
little songs in Chinese, and that's gone now. When she first came to us, we
tried to keep that language up, but it was difficult for us because we didn't
know the language so we could not reinforce what she was learning effectively.
But also it began to feel too much like work, like another day of school for
her, and she was sort of being pushed into this class and made to learn this
language, so I'm hoping she'll go back to it. For right now we're more
concentrating on sort of cultural information...

GROSS: Mm-hmm..

Mr. GAMMAGE: ...and then historical and family information.

GROSS: When you came home with your first daughter after adopting her in
China, you were angry about a lot of things. Tell us about some of the things
that made you angriest and about what you did with all that anger.

Mr. GAMMAGE: I found having two daughters from China is a very curious place
to live your life because when we came home from China, I felt that I had been
fundamentally changed as a person. Certainly my daughter had changed and been
changed, but I felt that I had changed too. And that while I was aware of
only this, no one else was aware of it at all. I was angry that my daughter
had spent two years in an orphanage. I was angry that she had lost her
biological family. I was angry that a system of orphanages had become
normalized in China.

And at the same time, I was so deeply and eternally grateful to the Chinese
for allowing me to have this child. They didn't have to do that. They could
have kept Jin Yu for themselves and they didn't. They trusted me to raise
this child. So I felt I was in sort of this strange place between being very
angry at the people to whom I was also extremely grateful to. And I find that
that really hasn't subsided, but sometimes the longer we have Jin Yu and the
more she blossoms, the angrier I get about what she was forced to endure as a
child and the more grateful I am to China for allowing me to have my children.

GROSS: Thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. GAMMAGE: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: Jeff Gammage is the author of "China Ghosts: My Daughter's Journey to
America, My Passage to Fatherhood." He's a reporter for the Philadelphia
Inquirer.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Asra Nomani, friend of Daniel Pearl, on "A Mighty
Heart" and the true events it's based on
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Asra Nomani, is one of the people depicted in the new movie "A
Mighty Heart." Through her work as a Wall Street Journal reporter, she became
friends with journalist Daniel Pearl. He and his wife Mariane were staying at
Nomani's house in Pakistan when he was kidnapped. Nomani was born in Indian
and grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, where she now lives. She's Muslim,
but she's also a feminist and has advocated for women's equality inside and
outside the mosques. She's the author of the memoir "Standing Alone: An
American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam." She'll be a professor of
journalism next semester at the Georgetown University's School of Continuing
Studies.

Let's start with a scene from the film "A Mighty Heart." Nomani and Mariane
Pearl are trying to find Danny Pearl, who was kidnapped after setting off for
an interview with a radical sheik. They're talking to a man who knows the
contact that helped Danny set up the interview. Asra Nomani is played by
Archie Panjabi. Mariane Pearl is played by Angelina Jolie.

(Soundbite of "A Mighty Heart")

Unidentified Actor: (In character) I will tell you about
Danny...(unintelligible)

Ms. ANGELINA JOLIE: (As Mariane Pearl) No. Can you tell us what you know?

Actor: (In character) Danny wanted to meet Gilani.

Ms. JOLIE: (As Mariane Pearl) Mm.

Actor: (In character) He went with Arif, and he spoke with
Bashib...(unintelligible).

Ms. ARCHIE PANJABI: (As Asra Nomani) Who's Arif?

Actor: I don't know.

Ms. PANJABI: (As Asra Nomani) What do you mean you don't know? How did you
meet him?

Actor: (In character) I got his number from a friend of mine...

Ms. PANJABI: (As Asra Nomani) OK. So who's the friend?

Actor: (In character) I can't tell you.

Ms. PANJABI: (As Asra Nomani) He can't tell us.

Actor: (In character) That's right.

Ms. PANJABI: (As Asra Nomani) Why is that? Is that because they paid you for
Danny? How much did they pay you for Danny?

Actor: (In character) I'll do my job helping Danny.

Ms. JOLIE: (As Mariane Pearl) I don't think you understand how serious this
is, eh? We need that man to find Danny. Danny is missing. You may be able to
help me find him, OK? I need the name.

Actor: (In character) I promised him not to give his name.

Ms. PANJABI: (As Asra Nomani) Do you understand? Do you understand that maybe
you can make the difference of helping Danny or nobody finds him?

(End of soundbite)

GROSS: Asra Nomani, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with what you think of
the movie "A Mighty Heart."

Ms. ASRA NOMANI: Well, Terry, it was really hard for me to see. It was a
really difficult movie because I felt as if Danny had a cameo in his own
murder. He, you know, was the reason why the movie could be made and yet, he
didn't come to life on screen. You know, I don't have any fantasies that we
were going to get Danny back on the big screen or anything like that, but the
friend that I knew in this lifetime wasn't visible up there on the screen and
I just felt like it was such a tragedy.

GROSS: Now, Daniel and Mariane Pearl were reporting from Pakistan when he was
kidnapped and they had just come to visit you. They were staying at your
house when he was kidnapped. So your home became the center of activities for
the search to find him. Did you trust the Pakistani police and intelligence
agents who were in your home trying to find out what happened to Danny Pearl?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, you know, I've always been a journalist all my adult life.
I have the same kind of skepticism that any journalist would have of anybody
in a position of authority. I didn't fully trust them, but I knew that we
needed them, and so there was a cooperation that I've never experienced
before, and journalists rarely do with anybody who's in law enforcement. With
the intelligence agents, that was particularly difficult, because they were
particularly dodgy, nefarious kind of personality. And I felt like, you know,
they were playing as many games as helping us, and so that was always, like,
an issue where you felt like you were kind of playing chess.

GROSS: There's an incredible part of what was happening in your life while
Danny Pearl was missing that the movie doesn't touch on at all, which is that
while he was missing you found out that you were pregnant and...

Ms. NOMANI: Yeah, I...

GROSS: Yeah, go ahead.

Ms. NOMANI: I didn't know it, but the day that Danny disappeared I was a
week pregnant, probably, and I discovered I was pregnant into the third week
of Danny's absence.

GROSS: Who is the father of your baby, your son?

Ms. NOMANI: Yeah. He was a Muslim man that I fell in love with on the banks
of the Arabian Sea in Karachi. He was part of the Karachi elite working in
Karachi, living there, and I thought that this was for real and so the day
that Danny disappeared, you know, I found out the truth in terms of his
ability to take the risks that were going to be necessary to stick around.

GROSS: Was he scared off by the police?

Ms. NOMANI: He was. I mean, the Pakistani intelligence, he told me, came to
visit him immediately the day that Danny was reported missing. I had put his
phone number and his name as my contact when I picked up the account for my
mobile phone in Karachi, and so doing their research and investigation into
me, they found him, visited him, and asked him to spy on me and what was
happening in the house. And he came over then that first day and he told me,
`I cannot come around anymore.' And I told him, `You have a choice, you know.
You can stick with us. You can stay with us and help us, or you can leave and
run away.' And he said, `I've made my choice. I must go.' And I was mad. I
wept quietly, you know, in a corner of my house and had to wipe away the tears
to continue to try to find Danny.

And now, so many years later, away from that sense of betrayal and anger, I
understand. I understand that in Pakistan you can disappear, your family can
suffer for years, and your entire life can be turned upside down if you get
too involved in an issue of controversy.

GROSS: You've said the two defining moments that shaped your relationship
with your religion, Islam, were the murder of Daniel Pearl and the birth of
your son Shibli. About the murder of Daniel Pearl, you wrote, "The men who
plotted the kidnapping of my friend did the five daily
prayers...(unintelligible)...five pillars of my religion, and the men who
killed my friend did so in the name of my religion." How did having your son
affect your sense of Islam?

Ms. NOMANI: You know, when I learned that I was pregnant, I was afraid. I
knew that, according to the most puritanical and strictest interpretation of
Islamic law, I was a criminal because I had had sex without a wedding ring on
my finger. I knew that my son could be used as evidence of my crime. In
Pakistan they had put into place laws called...(unintelligible)...laws, which
literally represent, you know, a moral crime. And in Pakistan it is a crime
to have sex out of marriage, not much unlike Western culture years ago.

So what I was confronting at that time and during my pregnancy was this
question of whether I would even bring my son into this world. I had to
contemplate having an abortion so that I could be a good girl, you know,
according to this definition of Islam. It was during my pregnancy when my
parents told me very clearly than they loved me and that they loved the life
within me that they guided me to a place of kindness and compassion and love
that I think is the best expression of any religion.

And then when I came back to West Virginia to have my son, I was told very
clearly by a midwife here that I had to prepare for only one thing, and that
was my son's delivery. So when I went into the delivery room, I didn't know
how I would respond. And when I was told that his heart rate was dropping and
that we had a difficult situation there, all I did was turn to my prayers of
protection that I had learned in Islam. I turned to faith. Just as I had
when I had learned that Danny had been killed, I turned to those same prayers
for protection, and I said, `Allahu, Allahu,' which is an expression of the
divine outside and inside. I was trying to bring life to my son, and when he
emerged, then I knew what I felt was the best in the expression of divinity in
seeing his face, and he brought me new life.

GROSS: My guest is Asra Nomani. We'll talk more after a break. This is
FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: My guest is journalist Asra Nomani. She was born in India and grew up
in Morgantown, West Virginia. It was while making the Hajj, the pilgrimage to
Mecca, that she learned about the historic importance of women in Islam and
started thinking of herself as a feminist.

When you returned home to Morgantown, West Virginia, you were really unhappy
with the restrictions on women in the local mosque. What were the
restrictions?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, when I came back from Mecca, I was really excited about
the place that I could have in my faith. And so a new mosque opened up. My
father had been one of the founders of our mosque in Morgantown, and I was
really excited about becoming a participant. I walked up to the front door of
our mosque and an elder stood in front of me and said, `Sister, take the back
door,' and he was expecting me to take this wooden stairwell on the side of
the mosque to the back door and go through a back staircase into a balcony,
where I would then sit and stare at a wall with the preacher down below in the
main hall. And so, as women, we were basically told to sit in the back, take
the back door, and stay quiet.

GROSS: And like, what was your approach to protesting this second-class
status?

Ms. NOMANI: Oh, that first night I walked through the front door because
that's where I was headed, but I didn't go into the main hall, and for 10 days
I sat in the balcony and it was in the balcony of my mosque in Morgantown that
I became a feminist, and then I talked to my family and so finally one morning
we went as a family at the dawn prayer time, and we walked into the main
prayer hall and prayed. I mean, it was that simple. We just took a place
behind the men and prayed and, after that, all hell basically broke loose.

GROSS: Were you threatened?

Ms. NOMANI: Yes. You know, that morning we were told very clearly, `Sister,
it's better for you upstairs.' That night I returned, and a gang of men
surrounded me to tell me to go into the balcony. As I decided to take a
public stand about this, I realized that we'd struck a raw nerve in our
community that depends on women having second-class status. And death threats
came in and, you know, every tactic of intimidation that all people have known
on any issue, and, you know, we stopped getting invited to the potluck dinners
in our local Muslim community.

GROSS: So did things finally change at your mosque?

Ms. NOMANI: Yes. You know, we had for the first time, then, women elected
to position. Women started coming more regularly. I ended up with my mother
most days, just her and me alone in the main hall because the message was sent
loud and clear through the community that good Muslim women did not go into
the main hall, and so it was a pretty lonely experience, and has continued to
be in our local community. But globally we've had significant change. All of
the major Muslim organizations have come out now defending and protecting the
right of women to go into the main halls. In San Francisco, the mosque
leaders at one place tore down the wall behind which women were expected to
sit, and so what we've had is an incredible shift in our, you know, position
about where women fit in mosques in our Muslim world.

GROSS: You're about to start teaching journalism at the Georgetown University
School of Continuing Studies, and you're going to start there something that
you're calling the Daniel Pearl Project. What's the project?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, for five years since we learned that Danny had been
killed, I've wanted to know the truth. I mean, everybody who is part of his
life--his family, his friends--they recognize that we don't know the full
truth, we don't know who the people were that murdered Danny. We don't know
why they killed him. We don't know who paid for the plot in which he was
kidnapped. And we have to find that truth, I think, if we're going to
understand this moment that has become iconoclastic in world history. And so
what we're going to do in the Pearl Project is have 20 students, 10
undergraduate and 10 graduate students, working together to try to solve this
mystery and also draw a lesson from it because, at the end of the day, I don't
think Danny would want this just to be about him.

GROSS: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has kind of claimed responsibility for
masterminding the Danny Pearl kidnap plot. Do you not believe that he was
behind it?

Ms. NOMANI: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has confessed to actually being the
person who killed Danny, and so we now have Condoleeza Rice, Alberto Gonzales,
President Musharraf, all putting that story out there, and none of the
investigators who worked on the search to find Danny and who have tracked his
killing have found any convincing evidence to link Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to
Danny's murder. It could be true, but at the end of the day, so far, it's a
story that's been put out there by politicians to, I think, give us closure.
Khalid Shaihk Mohammed may have his own agenda in making this confession. The
governments involved may want this just to go away, but at the end of the day,
we really don't know whether he was the man who killed Danny.

GROSS: When you knew Danny Pearl--I mean, he's Jewish, but I think he was,
you know, kind of nonpracticing, am I right about that?

Ms. NOMANI: Well, Danny was definitely Jewish and definitely, you know, like
a lot of us, cultural in our practice.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Ms. NOMANI: He took me to a synagogue once for Yom Kippur and then we left
early because it wasn't that interesting.

GROSS: And you were struggling about whether you wanted to be a Muslim--stay
in the faith or leave the faith. Did you talk about religion a lot with him?

Ms. NOMANI: We never talked about religion, and I think--you know, that's
telling in itself. Because we were in a place as journalists where we were
passionate about making the world a better place and using journalism as our
vehicle for that, but we also spent a lot of time talking about our really
pathetic love lives and the fact that, you know, we were both striking out
miserably in the dating scene in Washington, DC. When he met Mariane, he sent
me, you know, this list of 100 activities that he planned for this weekend
trip with her, and I helped him whittle it down to 10, and that's what we
spent our time talking about and how we were going to basically, you know, get
stories past our editors at The Wall Street Journal that we, you know, stories
that we really cared about.

GROSS: Did you ever think that you and he would be in Afghanistan after
September 11th and in Pakistan after that?

Ms. NOMANI: When September 11th happened, I immediately e-mailed Danny, and
we both knew that we were going to head to Pakistan. I was on book leave from
The Wall Street Journal and went over there for Salon magazine. Danny went
over there for the Journal. And I think that, you know, that same quality
that brought us together as friends, you know, two kids of immigrants who came
from very, very different roots, is exactly what brought us both to Pakistan.

You know, in our friendship, we belied this concept of the clash of
civilizations, and in our reporting we were so trying to bring some kind of
understanding between the Muslim world and the West. Danny had known the
Muslim world very well through his reporting. I knew it through my life. And
we knew it was much more complicated than the story that people were trying to
spin, and so when we both ended up there, it was, I think, just a complete
natural extension of the people that we are and were and the kind of work that
we wanted to do.

GROSS: Well, Asra Nomani, thank you very much.

Ms. NOMANI: Oh, thank you.

GROSS: Asra Nomani is a professor of journalism at the Georgetown University
School of Continuing Studies. Her memoir is called "Standing Alone: An
American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam."

Coming up, Balkan fusion music. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Milo Miles on Balkan fusion music
TERRY GROSS, host:

Gypsy dance groups, Turkish wedding bands and Klezmer ensembles may be
unlikely models for a pop movement in the 21st century, but critic Milo Miles
says that these older styles have been taken up by a new wave of young bands
who enjoy mixing the old ways with the latest rock, funk and hip-hop.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES reporting:

Back in the mid-'60s, there was an "American Bandstand" spin-off called "Where
the Action Is," which went around the country filming teen scenes that were
hot. It seemed to me, ever since then, that if you listened widely and
diligently you could tell "where the action is" in pop music, and right now I
think it's in Gypsy fusion bands.

This is a wildly eclectic style that began with the Klezmer revival of the
'80s, picked up steam when Eastern European Gypsy wedding bands finally began
to tour the United States, and really took off a few years ago when deejay
Eugene Hutz formed Goggle Bordello. That and like-minded groups voraciously
blend punk, hip-hop and techno as well as folk styles from all over North
Africa, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Two of the finest performers are Golem, whose debut "Fresh Off Boat" came out
late last year, and Balkan Beat Box, whose second album "Nu Med" just came
out. They invite everyone in from a track "Hermetico."

(Soundbite of "Hermetico")

MILES: Golem offers a more cabaret storytelling style of Gypsy fusion and is
fronted by singer and accordionist Annette Ezekiel. Balkan Beat Box goes to
the all-out worldwide rave up mode and is founded by drummer Tamir Muskat and
saxophonist Ori Kaplan. Most important though, both groups feature wildman
vocalists who seem to be members of the extended Borat family, that is guys
who are sometimes crazy like a fox and sometimes crazy as a loon. Aaron
Diskin does this duty for Golem. Deejay Tomer Yosef rouses the rabble for
Balkan Beat Box. Yosef has an edge because the hip-hop element in the group
allows him to get into flat-out rapping. And you have to love a guy you
starts a show by cueing a rooster crow and saying, `There is only one rule:
When you hear the chicken, make some noise.'

(Soundbite of Balkan Beat Box)

MILES: Balkan Beat Box delivers a dance blowout with taste as broad and
boundless as the Internet. One number, they suggest a mutant Turkish wedding
band thick with horns; the next, a Bulgarian women's choir come down with the
case of the funk beats. On "Nu Med," the quick changes always feel road
tested at live shows, and Balkan Beat Box never forgets a pop verity. If you
do politics and protest and party, make sure the party comes first--and not
the communist one, either.

As opposed to the in-this-moment Balkan Beat Box, almost all of Golem's
material is from folk sources, though you would never know it, not just
because the players attack the music with punky joy, particularly Alicia Jo
Rabins on violin and Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, but because singers
Ezekiel and Diskin bring a certain oversexed neurosis and big city angst to
their performance. The message is that the music is from the old world, but
they're not.

A refreshing quality shared by Golem and Balkan Beat Box and the Gypsy
fusionists in general is that they don't have the tense relationship with
traditional music that many early eclectic pop groups had. What to do, uphold
tradition, expand tradition, trash tradition? The Gypsy fusionists suggest
the best answer is to make your own.

GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Boston. He reviewed "Fresh Off Boat" By Golem and
"Nu Med" by Balkan Beat Box, both on the Jdub label.

(Soundbite of song)

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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