General: May 2003 Archives

cow·ard (kou' erd)
n. One who shows ignoble fear in the face of danger or pain.

I've argued for a year and a half that the only explanation for what has become of America since September 11 is its fear. Maybe we need this kind of kick to snap out of it.

For a brief moment after 9/11, we recognized some genuine heroes in our midst, those who put their lives on the line to rescue strangers and those who put their own needs in back of the needs of others in the middle of tragedy. The celebration of this heroism may have become a little gaudy, but it was sincere.

Since then we seem to have become a nation of cowards celebrating illusions.

There is a president, who, in reaction to the devastation of 9/11, does not act with forbearance, curiosity to understand the root cause, and as a world leader. Instead he lashes out at blurry targets with more force than we were met with. This is not the act of a brave man. This is the act of a coward.

There is a senator who sees his country yawing dangerously off course and, for the first time in its history abusing its power openly and shamelessly. The senator says nothing, though he knows better, because he is afraid of an emotional backlash if he engages in rational discussion. He is afraid he will lose the next election. This is the act of a coward.

There is a citizen who is unable to think. He succumbs to fear, believes every scary story he hears, buys duct tape for his doors and windows, when a bit of thinking would tell him he is in more danger from getting into his car. This is the act of a coward.

There is a journalist who knows there are young children dying in hospitals in Iraq, with their bodies horribly disfigured as the result of our country’s doings, yet he will not show pictures of these children so that people can weigh the consequences of war for themselves. He shows pictures of massively-armed Americans and reports every “coalition” news release as gospel truth. This is the act of a coward.

. . . .

It's also that we've simply become very stupid - a choice we've made ourselves, one which relates to an addiction to television and a general flight from reason, but I'll stop the crankiness right there for now.

Five months ago I wrote about Zackie Achmat. The good news is that he's still alive. The bad news is that about 100,000 other South Africans have died unnecessarily in the meantime.

Zackie is slowly dying of AIDS, but he refuses to take the drugs that would keep him alive, until South Africa's government makes them freely available to the poor. He has become a hero and a symbol in the struggle of AIDS patients and their advocates for recognition and for public medical care, but with the continuing resistance of the administration of President Thabo Mbeki to their appeals, the issue has become more complicated.

It is clear, but seldom spoken, that he is burdened with doubts about his pledge. In interviews his closest friends said that at times they sensed that he wished he could take it back. They said that no one, especially Mr. Achmat, ever dreamed that the government would withhold ARV's as AIDS treatment for so long. What is worse, they said, is that if Mr. Achmat dies now, there is the real chance that his death would not help his cause.

Mr. Achmat acknowledged the same, fidgeting as if uncomfortable in his own reasoning. "The government won't care one bit if I die," he said. "I don't think it will make a bit of difference in their policy."

The story is fascinating. The feature article by Jane Perlez visits an aristocratic Iraqi family which in this century alone has survived (no, somehow flourished under) an Ottoman Caliphate, a British Empire, an Arab monarchy and a Baath Party coup followed by a Sadaam Hussein dictatorship. Today its members eagerly anticipate the latest regime, with characteristic optimism about the benefits which will follow, for all Iraqis.

"We have lost," Mr. Jabbar said matter-of-factly at his mother's home, which he visits daily for lunch and conversation. "But I told my daughter, Magda, the other day: 'Now we will see Iraq changed into a modern country. Now there is a chance.'"
But the wisdom of this same man, a member of the Baath Party for four decades, is best revealed in his words to a 6-year-old grandson, Essa, words which reveal the patience and wisdom of thousands of years of history - or maybe just plain good sense.
When he was not at the party headquarters during the [recent U.S.-led] war, Mr. Jabbar said he paid a lot of attention to his 6-year-old grandson, Essa, who was frightened, particularly at night.

He created games, he said, such as how to tell the different kinds of orange trees in the garden in the dark (by feeling the varied textures of the skins), or a card game pitting the Americans and Iraqis against each other. When the Americans won a game, Mr. Jabber said he told Essa that the Iraqis could win a game in the future. "It doesn't have to be a battle to have a winner or loser," he told the child.

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