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A Child Shall Lead Them

While heading to the concession stand during a local university football game the weekend before the dastardly ISIL crimes were perpetrated on innocent civilians in Beirut (47 dead, 200+ injured, very little media coverage), Paris (126 dead countless others injured, wall-to-wall media coverage), and (Nigeria, 32 dead, 80 wounded, almost complete media blackout), I heard his familiar voice: “Hey, Terrorist!”

Sadly, this was not the first verbal assault B.S. (I kid you not, these are his initials) hurled at me.

Just a few days after George Bush launched his 2003 pre-meditated criminal carnage on Iraq, I saw B.S., a local attorney and adjunct faculty member, heading to the school of business building to teach his 8:00 a.m. Business Law class. For a greeting he bellowed the following across the forty foot distance: “Hey, Halaby, we’re going to whip Sad-am’s [sic.] ass. But I know how you feel about it.” Shocked, I said something I regret even to this day; I foolishly and angrily uttered two words I’ve never used in addressing anyone. “Fuck you, B __ S______,” and proceeded to the art building. Soon I was more indignant at myself instead of the remark; how could I have allowed stupidity and latent xenophobia take charge of the moment to reduce me to bs’s level (hereinafter referred to as he/him).

One would not expect a former army officer (a Colonel, I believe), an attorney, and a one-time small town judge to stoop to this level. Yet he did. And for several years I could/would not talk to him. While waiting to be seated at a local restaurant some eight years later, he, standing directly behind me, introduced me to his second wife, and made a half-hearted attempt at an apology. And, wanting to believe that he was somewhat contrite, our occasional chit chats were once again cordial. And for some reason (sometime after the incident) the Lord called him to the ministry; he serves as the minister of a small local Methodist church. And it is precisely because, as a man of the cloth, a minister of the Gospel, and as a spokesman for Jesus Christ, who is the epitome of humility, goodness, peace, kindness, and love, that I was taken aback at the recent remark.

I am convinced that he is not a malicious man, and that his utterances were not malevolent; rather, they were utterly foolish, immature, and unbecoming.

***

While this not so significant event occurred in a small southern, rural setting, unfortunately, and thanks to a group of crazed fanatics, aided and abetted by grim reapers Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar (and, by extension, ever the colonial enabler arms merchants-of death U.S., Britain, and France), the chorus of hate speech, by politicians and the media, is in a full-throttle-open-season of rhetoric laced with downright xenophobic broad brush attacks on Islam and the 1.3 billion Muslims. While there has been an incessant call for Muslims to avow the rabid madness that is a direct result of Bush’s misadventure, I’ve heard precious little calls on Americans, Brits, or the French to disavow the Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria carnages.

I suppose that by the standards articulated by some thirty governors and several aspiring presidential candidates I am a good Arab because I happen to be a Christian Arab. That I am of Christian roots, however, does not give me immunity from being called a terrorist. And way back in the eighties when the U.S. was arming and training Osama, an Academic V.P. introduced me thusly to a group of incoming freshman students and their parents: “This is Raouf Halaby, he is a Professor of English. He is a Christian Palestinian from Jerusalem, but he is not a terrorist.” I suppose that while being a Christian absolves me of being a fanatic, it does not totally absolve me of the sinful association by guilt, that terrible T word.

***

Under the pretense of free speech, Charlie Hebdo has recently engaged in four hate cartoons which expose it for what it is, a cheap rag posturing as a journalistic publication on behalf of moral causes. And, while I defend Hebdo’s right to free speech, that freedom comes with responsibilities. Its recent cartoon in the aftermath of the Russian-downed airplane (now confirmed to be yet another ISIS depravity) is but one example. The first Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicts airplane parts and what appears to be a Russian passenger in a free fall descending on a stereotypical cartoon of a Muslim cleric. The acerbic text reads: “The Islamic State: Russian Aviation Intensifies its Bombardment.” The second cartoon, depicting a giant skull on a desert dune strewn with body parts and burning engine parts, reads: “The Dangers of Russian Low-Cost Airlines,” and an accompanying statement that reads: “I should not have flown air cocaine.” The latter is uttered by the grotesque image of a skull. (Willa Frej, Huffington Post, 11/6/2015)

The third depraved cartoon draws on the tragic photo of four-year Aylan Kurdi, the drowned toddler whose plight became a cause célèbre. A drawing of young Aylan’s lifeless body is appropriated from the photograph; it depicts the drowned victim’s lifeless torso, with the head submerged in water. A large poster with McDonalds arches at the top, in what appears to be a beach promo, depicts the face of a happy clown and an image of a Happy Meal. The macabre captions read: “Welcome immigrants. So close to his goal,” and, “Two children’s menus for the price of one.” The fourth cartoon depicts young Aylan, head and torso completely submerged, with only his tiny feet protruding from the water. Directly to the left is a drawing of a Christ-like figure. The captions read: “Proof that Christians can walk on water. Muslims drown. Muslim Children drown.”

These wanton cartoons can hardly be considered political commentary. Rather, they are the product of debauched and depraved minds that capitalize on horrific cadaverous images. With death comes deep pain. And, when Thanatos prematurely calls on innocents, whether they be Parisians, New Yorkers, Beirutis, Damascenes, Lagosians, Moscovites, or Gazans, the standards for acknowledging the value of each person should be the same. And when Thanatos, that spiteful and grim thief of the night, robs children of their souls, it gives us all a pause to ponder our collective depravity.

***

Back this side of the big pond the depravity of Republican presidential candidates came out of the woodwork in a heretofore wicked manner. In a speech to the National Press Club, John Kasich proposed a;

“mandate” to promote what he calls ‘”Judeo-Christian values” overseas to counter Islamist propaganda. … [these values] would promote human rights, democracy and the freedoms of speech, religion and association. Kasich says the information would be distributed in the Middle East, China, Iran and Russia, to compete with the propaganda and misinformation purveyed by Islamic militants.” [We are, he stated], failing to advance our values in the battle of ideas in the face of advances by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. … [The agency’s job would be] “fundamentally to revive what we used to do when we beamed messages into the former Soviet Union.” [In a subsequent NBC interview he told NBC News] “We need to beam messages around the world about what it means to have a Western ethic, to be part of a Judeo-Christian society. It means freedom, it means opportunity, it means respect for women, it means freedom to gather, it means so many things. (NPR, 11/17/2015)

Really, now, Judeo and Christian values? Tell that to the Palestinians, the Vietnamese, the Cambodians, the Libyans, the Iraqis, the Yemenis, the Syrians and the Latin Americans.

On the previous day bouffant buffoon Donald Trump suggested on the Morning Joe program that “U.S. counterterrorism officials should shut down certain mosques in response to the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. … I would hate to do it but it’s something you’re going to have to strongly consider.”

While other aspirants made some truly egregiously outrageous comments, Mike Huckabee, apologist for sex-crazed Josh Duggar and Kim Davis, gets the prize for the most contemptible remarks. The Evangelical Southern Baptist preacher gushed with Baptist Babble (disclosure, I am a progressive Southern Baptist of the Jimmy Carter stripe) in which he huckstered some of the most outlandish comments, better known in local parlance as a kind of constipation of the mind and a diarrhea of the mouth. The Huck suggested that Syrian immigrants be placed abroad, in “encampments.” As a staunch supporter of Israel he must have forgotten Europe’s concentration camps. He even wondered whether American tax payers were going to “open our doors … give them a place to stay and a good sandwich and medical benefits.”

Earlier in the year Huckabee stated that, “while some immigrants do want to ‘embrace our way of life,’ others are only here ‘because they heard there is a bowl of food just across the border.’” And in a recent podcast the presidential hopeful indicated that the refugees should be placed in Europe where their “needs are being met, closer to their culture, country, language. Bringing them to the United States would be a language shock, a culture shock, perhaps a religious shock.” Yea Mike, tell that to the millions of Scandinavian, German, Italian, Polish, Irish, Armenian, Greek and a whole list of immigrants and refugees who, at one time or another, sought refuge in this country. Perhaps the most asinine comment, as reported by Mother Jones’ Inoe Oh on 11/15/2015, was in Huckabee’s conflating of the refugee crisis with recent racial events on the University of Missouri campus: “Heck, we may take them to the University of Missouri. A lot of the students are so stressed out from feeling unsafe because somebody said a word they didn’t like that they are not using their dorm rooms anymore. Maybe we can put them there.”

Mike should be ashamed of himself for taking being sheldonized gambling money from casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Aren’t Southern Baptists opposed to gambling? It behooves Mike and his sanctimonious co-religionists to read the Sermon on the Mount and to memorize the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a narrative intended for the hypocritical and legalistic priests, rabbis, Levites, and Sadducees. Should Mr. Huckabee parse this parable, dissecting each word for a deeper comprehension of the Holy Text, then, perhaps, and only then, would he comprehend Christ’s admonishment: “Go ye and do likewise.”

***

Two uplifting things occurred this week. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom uttered a serious American political taboo. The world leader to do so, she actually stated that there is a link between terrorism and Israel’s occupation, dehumanization, and exploitation of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians. Like John the Baptist, hers is a voice in the wilderness, a voice calling on the world to come to grips with the root causes of terrorism. I shall be nominating this gutsy lady for the Nobel Peace Prize. For further comment the reader is urged to read Israel’s Ha’aretz tongue-in check column under the title “Shame on You Sweden for Telling Israel the Truth.”

The other uplifting story comes from the Pflugerville, Texas, community. Appears that while there has been an upsurge of vandalism and threats to mosques across the nation, on Monday last someone left a torn, feces-covered Koran at the front door of Pflugerville’s Islamic center. On Monday night the Good Samaritans of Pflugerville (don’t you just love this name?) came to the Islamic enter to lend support and donations. Seven-year old Jack Swanson robbed his piggy bank of all its contents and donated all $20 to the center. Huffington Post’s Lydia O’Conner, reported thusly:

On Monday night in Pflugerville, community members arrived at the Islamic Center of Pflugerville to offer support and donations.

One of those bringing monetary support was 7-year-old Jack Swanson. He brought $20 from his piggy bank. …

Jack’s mother, Laura, is not Muslim, but as a neighbor she was looking for a way to help. “We got together our pennies and it came out to 20 bucks so we did what we could,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you believe or I believe or he believes or anybody believes. All faith is important. And especially peaceful faith. I mean what happened in Paris is not what’s happening in Pflugerville. We should all be supporting each other.

Mrs. Swanson deserves accolades for instilling decent values in her child and should be nominated for the Texas Mother of the Year. She not only led by example, but she also affirmed that good, decent people, Texas Samaritans, could teach all of us a valuable moral lesson.

And a Child shall lead them.

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Raouf J. Halaby has just recently been awarded a Professor Emeritus status. He taught English and art for 42 years. He is a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, and an avid gardener. He can be reached at rrhalaby@suddenlink.net

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