Sunday, November 22, 2009

An Apology

I've always thought of myself as dedicated to equal rights, fighting racism and as very particular with my words. But my self-identity took a blow today.

When I read your article, I forwarded it to the CAN's listserv. The sentence I wrote above it read, “whoever used the phrase 'zionist breeders?' ”

Sarah Jaine responded:

“ 'you did'

" 'Settlements pepper the Muslim Quarter. We saw armed guards escorting
Jewish children to their settlement homes withing the quarter. They
were not smiling. I don't blame the parents for wanting to protect
their children with arms here. After all, they are occupiers. Most of
the Muslim inhabitants, however, seemed unfazed. They were used to it.

'I have to wonder at the dedication of these Zionist breeders. What
would it take for you to move your children into an area in which you
feel you must send armed guards with them?' “

It was from my blog this summer when I was in the Old City in Jerusalem. You should know, you quoted me.

What can you say to your own words, staring you in the face?

There is no way that I can understand how those words have made people feel, and there is no apology that could fix it.

I take full responsibility for my statements, and wish I hadn't said it. But it is there.

I sound like a pundit. That was never my intention. But intentions are just what you meant to do.

How do you apologize for that?

I want to say “I didn't mean it like that.” But that doesn't fix anything. I want to say I'm sorry but that doesn't do a bit of good, because it doesn't solve the problem. There's no way we can have a conversation if it gets reduced to that kind of inflammatory language. There's no way I will have any of your respect if I do not act respectful. And I don't know how to apologize in a way where I can gain your respect back.

And because an apology doesn't do any good, I will instead make a promise to learn from this loss I've created. Instead, I'd like to thank you for using my own words against me, because I deserved to have them thrown back in my face.

What am I doing talking about people in Gaza and Sderot being pissed that they can't talk to their neighbors, and here I am alienating mine and actually choosing not to speak with them? I don't know anything about you besides your politics, your religion, and more recently, your major. We're not exactly close, and yet I've managed to wound you in a way I can't pretend to feel.

And I don't know what to do about it. First, I have to thank you for not using my name. I appreciate it. You perceive me as hateful and full of lies and you didn't use my name. That is big.

So - I could delete that post from my blog, but I don't want to pretend like I didn't say it, because I did. I could publicly apologize, or not. I think I should, but part of me feels like doing that undermines this apology to you. You, who are someone that I know. You, who are someone that is real and tangible. Apologizing to a mass of people through newsprint feels a little hollow.

Do you know anything about my religion? My dad's Greek Orthodox, but my mom's Episcopalian. I wanted to be a priest for a long time, but lost the faith when none of the bishops or anyone could answer the question "How does Jesus dying on the cross save me from my sins?" But, even though I don't much subscribe to Christian mythology, I still like what the Episcopal church taught me. Generally, it amounts to: be good to people no matter what. There are times when it is appropriate to refrain from kindness, but there is never a time to reduce people to flippant rhetoric.

In addition to the pain I've inflicted, I feel I've done an injustice to myself. In my passion for one person's humanity, I dehumanized you, something I never want to do. That makes me someone I never want to be.

We may never agree on anything again, but that doesn't mean I have the right to remove your humanity from you.

I believe that Israel is a colonizing state. I also believe in nonviolence, and that any amount of dehumanization is going to take us back a long way in this process. Though I'm not nearly as brave as him, I believe in what Ghandi said (I'm paraphrasing), "we want the English to leave, but we want them to leave as friends."

I want to thank you for pointing out my mistakes. Without criticism, I would never grow. We barely know each other, but you provide me the opportunity to better know myself.

This was really long, and I hope you don't feel like I wasted your time. Thank you for reading this. I'll post an apology on my blog. I'm gong to leave what I wrote instead of pretending I never wrote it, because I don't want to hide from myself. I'll link it to the apology that I write.

So, all of that is what I'll mean when I next see you and say "I'm sorry." If I said all of this to your face, I would probably cry, and we'd both be really uncomfortable. Not that making one another feel comfortable has really been the goal of our relationship.

I don't know. I'm really sorry. I hope you have a nice day.


Friday, November 20, 2009

StreetVibes picked up my article!

Thanks Greg Flannery!

Read it on their blog, then buy a copy from your local StreetVibes vendor. Berta and Raeshawn are always outside Pangaea/IGA respectively.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hasan's Religion Irrelevant: A Story for Veteran's Day

Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 29 in a shooting at Ft. Hood on November 5 of this year. Everyone agrees on this fact. Why he did it is still up for speculation.

In his memorial speech Obama said, “It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, but this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts, no just and loving God looks upon them with favor.” Absolutely, I agree. But would Obama have said just that if the killer had been Christian? The main focus of the speculation on Hasan’s motives is religion. He is Palestinian-American and practices Islam.

Popular culture in the United States is not very friendly to Islam. According to Steve Deace of WHO radio (an AM station out of Iowa), Islam is irreconcilable with the American Dream, “every bit as much as communism or Nazism.” I wonder if Deace has ever met anyone Muslim. Or a communist, for that matter.

More than likely, Hasan’s religion wasn't the most relevant. He was one of “only 480 psychiatrists – military civilian and contractors – serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world” according to the Iraq Veterans Against the War. In their Veteran’s Day Letter to Obama they argue that Hasan simply broke. This is not so uncommon.

The weight of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) leads 6,000 veterans (out of the 25 million) to commit suicide every year, a statistic I got from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The VA can document an additional 1,000 suicide attempts every month. Bearing the emotional burdens of soldiers who’d been deployed 4 or 5 times, and without an outlet to relieve himself, Hasan flipped.

My point is: no matter the reason, flipping out and murdering a bunch of people is never okay. Another bad thing is labeling an entire group of people as terrorists. Assuming that an entire racial/religious identity is in cahoots with whoever the US happens to be at war with is the same philosophy that led the US to put Japanese folks in internment camps during World War II.

We have a lot more rights than a lot of other countries. This Veteran’s Day, let’s take advantage of the things that make this country livable. I’ve got a couple of methods in mind:

We need to respect our Freedom of Religion and the diversity that inspires. We need to fight racism whenever we encounter it, no matter who says it or why.

We need to use our Freedom of Assembly to make Congress ashamed of the fact that almost a quarter of the homeless are veterans. We need to actually support our troops and demand that they get all of the benefits they’re entitled to.

PTSD is not a new issue, and neither is racism. If we plan on living in a nation where all people have freedom and are respected, we need to remember our parents and grandparents standing up for each other when it seemed most difficult. If we plan on living in a nation where all people are respected, we’re going to have to fight, like they did, to make sure that happens.