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Apologies in the Time of Obama, Session Four – Guest Editorial by Jack Harmon

To read Jack’s previous installments, click here.

Chicago, November 23rd, 2008:

It was, of course, an El Qaeda training camp, for this journey was unfolding in the usual way: A laundry list of those people(s) who had been victimized and mortified and bent into positions where they had to commit any and all acts to stop the endless unfairness that dogged them through all of their days, courtesy of George Bush, his Neo-Con minions, and all their predecessor oppressors.

Framed by several distant mountain ranges, the camp had been set up in a large natural depression that had been baked into the desert over many millennia. Salty dried remnants of seasonal floods criss-crossed the landscape. We watched for awhile as the kerchiefed terrorists ran through their killing drills and obstacle courses. Inside, in hot and stultifying barracks, they no doubt discussed bomb-making techniques and the finer points of living among the enemy anonymously. The minister sinuously unfurled his hand towards the action in front of us and declared:

“Freedom fighters.”

I in turn opined:


This, on the face of it, was the classic clash between ideologies, although I wondered often how badly the “average” Muslim wanted to kill me. My guess was not very, although there was no way to tell. Take your “Regular Yusef” Palestinian olive farmer, or Gaza taxicab driver, for instance: Even though they may have heard the grievances against the Americans and the Jews repeated ad hominem daily, to the point where they could recite them like the alphabet, I would assume that, at the end of that same day (even though it was on balance probably much worse than mine) they wanted only their share of peace, contentment, and quiet – just like me. I always wanted to believe that the fanatics only appealed to the very few…that most people just didn’t boil over with hate like that for any extended period of time. Again, although I may have been wrong, it seemed the only people who had anything to gain in this ultimate holy war were those that profited from its existence: The theocratic zealots who would simply melt away into history were they not to find ways to continually stoke the fires of pure ill intent for all things not their own.

Which wasn’t to say that Al Qaeda and similar groups were anything to take lightly. It only takes a few people who want to die to make things awfully dicey for the rest of us. And of course the message here was that Mr. Obama was going to find a “different” way to deal with these malcontents, the terrorists on the one hand and the bumptious and greedy leaders of the incredibly dysfunctional and broken nations that made up the Middle East on the other…the whole mess a sticky stew of intrigue and backstabbing and endless self-preservation. The rulers, in fact, weren’t necessarily averse to chaos, since it diverted attention away from their own misdeeds and incredible shortcomings as stewards of their people’s destinies. The same thing with religious expression: If they could use it to whitewash their own sins and whip their subjects into a lather over a common created enemy, so much the better. That they hated the U.S. and all it stood for was no secret, nor was the fact that they were jealous of what we had achieved and the way we continued to innovate, excel, and in general make life better for our citizens. How then would the 44th President of our great land deal with the mess that was the birthplace and the spiritual headquarters of the three great religions of history?

The Minister was now largely ignoring me. Staring straight ahead, and making no eye contact, his speech was only perfunctory and seemingly without passion. Although this was only a dream, he was still no spring chicken, and I think the whole escapade was starting to wear on him.

“Barack’s going to talk to them.”

“Who? The terrorists? The leaders? The people?”

“All of them. He’s going to create dialogue.”

“OK. I know I was guilty of using that word earlier, but what exactly does it mean?”

The Minister shrugged.

“It means he’s not going to bomb them for no reason. He’s not going to make up some story about WMD’s so that he can destroy a country and make a mockery of its people and their civilization. It means that he will listen to their grievances and try to make things right for them.”

Make things right for THEM? What about us? Or even us and them? Them? Them only? This was the grand plan for America and the world? Placate every angry citizen of every nation, including ours, even though we have been and still are the largest force for good in the planet’s history? Just apologize for leading the way and doing better and just parcel out every bit of largess that we trailblazed to create and refine until there is nothing left? Are you f#$k*n@ kidding me???

I of course didn’t verbalize this thought. I did get a little sarcastic though.

“I didn’t know Saddam created an enduring civilization, to be honest. I didn’t know that assassinating Bath Party members at a National Congress to create paralyzing fear in the ranks or executing thousands of dissenting citizens Stalin-style and burying them in shallow graves marked the pinnacle of refinement and breeding. So sorry.”

“You can make all the weak attempts you want at invective, Mr. Harmon”, the Minister calmly replied, “but the fact remains that America does not belong in the Middle East, and in truth when it has interfered in her affairs, like in the battle in Afghanistan in the 1980’s against the Soviets, it deserted the people it promised to help immediately after its interests were met – which of course left that country open to civil war and to the whims of actual real terrorists, which almost destroyed it, and certainly kept it unable to look after its own interests in the intervening years…until the Americans came back after 9/11 and made more promises they will never ever keep.”

The Minister was obviously bitter over this abdication of his fellow religionists, and after a little reflection on my part, I decided he was right – at least about this one thing.

“Alright. So we have been self-centered and myopic at times. Why does that still make it right for those, those animals to bring down our towers and try to kill our citizens and our allies in all the corners of the world? Why? Why will discord and hatred make the world a better place, for Muslims or Christians or Jews or Hindus or Atheists or whoever? Why can’t we all just get along?”

The minister snorted derisively at my unintentional paean to Rodney King.

“I guess you will have to answer that question yourself, Jack. All I know is that Barack will actually listen to people of varying viewpoints for a change, and might actually make some things right – even if they aren’t the right answers for the America you seem to live in, they may well be the right answers for the world.”

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