Last Week Tillie and Phoebe Shamed Mankind

In a brief and edifyingly touching report, last week Huffington Post’s Hilary Hanson’s News Editor wrote a moving report about Tillie and Phoebe’s devotion to each other. An Irish setter, Tillie’s act of kindness and dedication to her basset hound friend, Phoebe, is a modern day parable worthy of emulation by a depraved humanity.

Basset hound Phoebe wandered off into the woods and fell into a neighboring shallow cistern from which she could not emerge. Trapped for a week, Phoebe’s companion would not desert her friend. According to Hanson, neighboring property owners saw the “reddish” Tillie repeatedly appear on the scene and then disappear back into the ravine. A week later someone reported these sightings to a local animal rescue center whereupon Phoebe, thanks only to the steadfast vigilance and loyalty of her friend, was saved.

This inspiring story and news about his Holiness Pope Francis’ visits to Cuba and America were the uplifting highlights of an otherwise sorrowful week during which a string of events unmasked some of the worst depraved xenophobic, bigoted, and apathetic actions of the week both abroad and at home. In Europe human misery kept pounding ghostlike figures and human corpses ashore. In Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan death prevailed, and in the U.S. the scab of xenophobia was once again scraped to reveal the deep racial, political, and social fault lines and divides.

The week of September 13-19 began with yet more images of the flight of tens of thousands of destitute Afghani, Iraqi, Kurdish, and Syrian refugees seeking refuge from regional wars perpetrated by the U.S. and its subservient European allies. By week’s end many, including a five year old girl, drowned. Unfortunately for them there were no photos to prick the world’s conscience and, of course, living in great comfort with less than $2 per gallon gasoline, Americans have become desensitized to the plight of the tsunami of human rejects washing up on European shores. Obama’s decided (if he could only convince Congress) to admit 100,000 refugees to Germany’s 850,000; and NY Congressman Peter King would admit hundreds, and only after they are thoroughly “vetted,” lest these Muslim hordes show up in his district. No such rhetoric or restrictions were imposed on the tens (if not hundreds of thousands) of Jewish immigrants from Russia under the 1974 Jackson/Vanik Amendment. While Germany has opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees and other countries are helping out, albeit nominally, Slovenia and Hungary’s xenophobic responses are a reminder that “Never Again” has become “Again and Again.” The policy of Britain’s Cameron has lifted the veil on England’s long-standing condescension towards immigrants from the British Empire’s vast 19th century real estate holdings in its former Asian and African colonies.

On the home front, on September 15, 2015, ten white men on an Alabama jury voted to acquit policeman Eric Parker for his attack on Sureshbhai Patel, a Sikh Indian grandfather on a family visit to the U.S. Caught on camera, Parker’s attack hospitalized and paralyzed the elderly man. Was parker’s brutality racially motivated? His flimsy excuse of self-defense is negated by the video. And on September 14, 2015, a fourteen-year old Irving, Texas Muslim student was arrested and interrogated (no parents or lawyer present) for three hours – all because he shared a brilliant invention with his teacher. You’d think that, instead of judging the exceptionally gifted young student by his Moslem name, religion, and color of his skin, the teacher would have showered praises on him and held him up as a model student, one to be admired and praised for his intellectual curiosity. Really, now, how many teenagers spend their time studying robotics and daring to think beyond social media, sports, guns, hunting, fishing, trucks, and all terrain bikes? And just because young Mohamed ain’t no southern bible-totin’ Baptist bubba doesn’t mean that school officials should have jumped to rash conclusions. When brought to the office, his conspicuously Moslem name and his pigmentation prompted a school cop to have immediately concluded that Yup! Thought so ‘bout this ferner kid.

Support and encouragement flooded in: Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and a retired Canadian astronaut buttressed Mohamed’s intellectual curiosity; MIT’s Chandra Prescod-Weinstein invited the budding physicist to consider her school’s astrophysics program; the Austin, Texas Telescope center and Alabama-based Space Camp likewise extended invitations to the 14 year old lad who, ironically, was clad in a NASA t-shirt at the time of his arrest.

True to their anti-intellectual mentalities, right wingers pounced on the gifted inventor. Fox News’s Andrea Tantarus defended his suspension from school and was critical of Obama’s support. Huffington Post’s Julia Craven reported that “Sara Palin called initial media reports of Mohamed’s arrest ‘fishy’ and said that school officials were totally justified in thinking that his clock, made out of a pencil box, was a bomb.” Added the former governor: “ ‘Yep, believing that’s a clock in a school pencil box is like believing Barack Obama is ruling over the most transparent administration in history,’ she wrote in a Facebook post in which she shared pictures of her kids’ pencil boxes. ‘Right. That’s a clock, and I’m the Queen of England.’ ”

Even daughter Bristol Palin joined the chorus on her blog, criticizing Obama’s invitation to Mohamed to visit the White House. Like her mother, she is loose with her thoughts and facts:

“ ‘By the way, President Obama’s practice of jumping in cases prematurely to interject himself as the cool savior, wanting so badly to attach himself to the issue-of-the-day, got old years ago,’ she wrote. ‘Remember him accusing police officers doing their job as ‘acting stupid’; claiming if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin; claiming he needed to know who was a fault in an industrial accident so he’d ‘know who’s a** to kick’; etc., etc. Those actions are about as presidential as his selfie stick.”

“Childish games like this from our president have divided our country … even more today than when he was elected.” (The Hill)

The last sentence sums up the frozen world in which mother Palin has circumscribed daughter Bristol’s thinking.

Had Sara Palin been a good mother to her children, she would have spent more time with her children (instead of seeking freak photo ops.), encouraging them to hit the books, advising them to be creative and inventive and counseling her daughter on birth control measures and the challenges of raising two children out of wedlock – instead of looking at Russia, the world, and the pharmacy’s birth control shelves through frosted glass.

To be sure, Pam Geller and Bill Maher (both of whom are Jewish and both of whom have never missed an opportunity to unambiguously attack Muslims), joined in the noise making. I wonder what Geller and Maher’s responses would have been had a crackerjack smart Jewish teenager with a skull cap on his head brought a similar clock he made to school? Atheist Richard Dawkins and super Christian presidential candidate Ben Carson joined in the yelping litany of Islamophobia. You’d think that because of his African American background Ben Carson would not harbor such narrow and bigoted views.

And finally, last week Donald Trump was exposed for what he is. He is a fraud, a charlatan, a circus performer, an impresario, a bigot, braggart, narcissist, and opportunistic no substance blowhard. “The fault, [Dear Reader], is not in our stars. But in [our ignorance and xenophobia].”

For the past few days the stranger’s xenophobic question and Trump’s ‘no response’ response have been blaring across the world. “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he’s not even an American. … We have training camps growing where they want to kill us,” the man stated. There have been numerous vociferous responses and comments on both sides of the spectrum, and I will not rehash them. The stranger’s charge that there are training camps for those who “want kill us” is true only if it applies to the training camps established in Syria and Iraq by the U.S. and its Saudi, Qatari, Turkish, and Jordanian partners. Because of whipped up xenophobia, the questioner no doubt meant the camps to be in America.

My quibble has been with politicians, pundits, media types, and commentators of every color and screed, all of whom have suggested that Trump could/should have, McCain-style, responded to the offensive remarks. In 2008 John McCain was asked by a Tea Party grandmother whether Obama was an Arab: “I can’t trust Obama. I have read about him and he’s not, … he’s an Arab. He’s not…” [at which point McCain took the mike and responded thusly: “No ma’am, He’s a decent family man a citizen that I just happen to have disagreements on fundamental issue. …He’s not [an Arab].”

To the best of my knowledge no one’s asked McCain to explain what he meant. Did he mean that collectively Arabs are not to be trusted?

If, at the time, John McCain had been talking about the Arabs with whom he has been sleeping in a shared bed feathered and dollared with oil, theocracy, brutality, exploitation, war mongering, arms sales, autocratic, backwards, and fanatically religious folks, then, like Obama and others, he is complicit in the staging and execution of the sinister wars that have plagued the region in recent years.

What an infinitely better world this would be if only humanity could learn from and emulate Tilley and Phoebe, two faithful canines, who’ve behaved in more human terms than many of today’s world leaders and their lost masses.

Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist.