Friday, November 21, 2008

When silence is not golden

Is peace with justice possible?
To the Editor:

The call is out, "we want your Letters to the Editor" (Tribune, Nov.12). My topic is one I wish would disappear allowing dialogue on more popular or locally relevant topics. Alas, too much still troubles me to end my sermonizing about Palestine.

Following the advice of journalist Amy Goodman, I still have "to go where the silence is and say something." What saddened me during our long campaign season and even now that our hopes for change are high is the almost total removal of the Palestinians from the dialogue and the seemingly unchallenged slander against Arabs and Muslims.

Obama couldn't even say something as benign as "I know the Palestinians are suffering" without a barrage of "he's against Israel" criticism. Then, there was the woman who whispered to Sen. John McCain, "I'm afraid. Obama's an Arab. He scares me." McCain quietly corrected her and spoke well of our new president-elect in rebuttal, but he did not clearly add, "So what if he is."

President-elect Obama isn't Arab, of course, but if any of you heard publically expressed campaign rhetoric that gave credence to the fact that there's nothing inherently wrong with being Arab or Muslim, I wish you'd let me know. Sure there are some Arabs who don't like Western society, but there are plenty who would be tremendously happy if we'd just let them have their culture of birth in a live-and-let-live world where no one hurt one another based on cultural, racial or religious differences.

Toward the end of the campaign season, there was the ridiculous ruckus about Rashid Khalidi, an intellectual, as American as anyone, but of Palestinian heritage. Khalidi's a soft-spoken academic, not a rough and tumble evil guy like some "habibis" in the movie "Body of Lies." Given that his grandparents or cousins or ancestors were Palestinian, is it surprising he would support justice for Palestinians? For whom is activism on behalf of justice synonymous with evil?

The other night, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann rightly ranted about the just passed bill that reverses an earlier decision to allow gay marriage in California, loudly exposing the bigotry of the latter decision. During the campaign, however, Olbermann was as silent about Palestine as everyone else on the airwaves.

Sadly, bigotry is not gone because we elected a president who is half-black, half-white and not at all Arab or Muslim. Silence about Palestine tries to hide bigotry, but it's there keeping our public unaware and easily forgetful of the fact that Israel with American financial and moral backing is keeping more than 1.5 million people in a concentration camp called Gaza all the while continuing to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank.

Maintaining such a camp and an expansion program which Palestinians are powerless to stop is not justice for all, not democracy, not a Christian take on God's will and not a path to a kinder, more forgiving world. Because of the wrong of what's happening in Gaza and the West Bank, I can never stop reminding myself that, probably, if I had been born into an Arab family in Palestine and, certainly, if I came into the world in Iraq or Iran, I'd be Muslim. I wouldn't have had a choice, at least throughout childhood.

Think about your own birthright whenever you feel the need to hate or slander people you don't know or those who practice a faith or national pride you haven't objectively studied.

Understanding the odds and genetics that made you who you are and others who they are may educate you about randomly ascribed differences none of us can control. Might such understanding open your heart to peace with some semblance of justice?

After all, many of us subscribe to the axiom, "Politics is the art of the possible." Is there any possibility that there will be peace with justice for Palestinians.


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