arabic newspaper

I Googled My Mother’s Maiden Name and Discovered My Family’s Violent Secret

I blame Who Do You Think You Are? Before that show existed, I was perfectly content not knowing a damn thing about my family history. But then Jim Parsons found out he was related to a famous French architect who served Louis XIV and Sarah Jessica Parker found out one of her ancestors was tried as a witch in Salem, and then suddenly I was like, “OMIGOD I BETCHA I’M RELATED TO CLEOPATRA OR SOMETHING.”

I thought the most logical place to start was with my great-grandfather, a man who had died 20 years before I was born. His name was Michael Zarbatany and he emigrated to Montreal from Damascus in 1906. In Syria he had sold shirts on the market, but in Montreal, he was a different man altogether. He started the first Arabic newspaper in Canada, called Ash-Shehab ("The Brilliant Star”), and also founded St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church, which still exists to this day on Rue de Castelnau in Montreal. So last month, I visited the church, which I hadn’t seen since I was baptized. I spoke to the current priest, and also to members of the congregation, but no one could tell me anything I didn’t already know. Yes, he was a good man, and a kind man, and an honest man, and blah blah fucking blah. What a horribly pedantic episode of Who Do You Think You Are? this would be.


Arab newspapers from around the world have drawn their own satirical cartoons condemning the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of the Muslim community are peaceful, intelligent, caring people just like the rest of us. They are hurting just like us, but their cries are drowned out under the terrible actions of these extremist radicals. No matter the religion, what most of us want is not to spread hatred, but peace.