I am sitting with Fahed in one of the rooms of his palatial home reviewing his essay when his mother slowly winds her way downstairs and asks me timorously in broken English if I would come upstairs. I am confused because I am never invited outside this room where I meet with Fahed for tutoring sessions. I have met both parents who are kind and gracious to a fault. I follow Fahed’s mother upstairs and into an opulent room where a very large TV is playing. Fahed’s father, who is a high ranking official in the Kuwait Navy, rises to greet me and shakes my hand. He is stone-faced and when I turn to the TV, I see why. At first I can’t make it out, and then I see one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City billowing smoke out of several floors and then I see a plane swerve and deliberately crash head on into the other tower. I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing. Is this a movie? The scene is played over and over and the commentary and the rolling script is in Arabic so I don’t know what has really happened. Is this an accident? And then Fahed’s father translates the Arabic for me and I hear “America is under attack.” Fahed’s father in utmost respect and care says “This is very, very bad. Would you like us sir to take you home?” I tell him yes, I had better go, and they both avert their eyes from mine.
A group of teachers has gathered in the courtyard of the teacher’s residences that we have mockingly dubbed the Golden Palace. We stand in a loose circle around the school’s owner, a rotund Kuwaiti woman, and her accomplice, a Kuwaiti man who does not have a title. We shift our weight and shuffle our feet and look disconsolately at one another. No one speaks per se. I finally tell the owner in a sturdy and straightforward voice that we need our passports, that they should not have confiscated them in the first place. It’s against US law. She tells her sidekick to get our passports and then does what she can to console us but blows it completely when she blurts that really stupid administrator’s cliché used to mask self-serving motive: “We have to think about the students.” Her motive is profit. If we leave, there is no American School.
Most of my students are from Islamic countries: Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, Sudan, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Bahrain and then some. They are wonderful and respectful young people and I enjoy being with them and I think they reciprocate those feelings. However, on this day after September 11, 2001 I am shocked at their behavior. They are jubilant. It’s as if school were suddenly let out for summer vacation. And then I am reminded that these are Muslim kids and they have an inborn hatred for Israel and for America by association and that monstrous hatred has emerged from its cave. They are in the halls cheering and they are oblivious to “American” in their school name and there are oblivious to me, their teacher, who they profess to honor and even love. They are hysterical from an inborn hatred that they feel licensed to fully express, a victory celebration for an inarguable criminal act. They file into class and become subdued once they cross the threshold although I notice sideways glances laced with smiles. Without compunction they ask me ad lib how I feel about the bombing of the World Trade Centers. I feel I have to say something but I want to fall back on “this is not the time nor the place for that discussion” but it is. It most surely is.
“At this point,” I tell them, “I only know that some three thousand innocent men, women, and children were incinerated and crushed yesterday over an ancient hatred between Arabs and Jews although I am relatively sure that most of them did not share in that hatred, and I am most certain that their deaths will not advance either side’s cause although I am certain that more innocent people will die before it is over but it will never be over. Will it? It won’t ever be over because you cannot even identify your hatred and therefore you cannot rid yourself of it and it will grow fat within you. Did you forget that while you were out in the halls celebrating the deaths of nearly three thousand Americans that I too am an American? Yes, you look down at your feet now not in deserved shame but in sheepish embarrassment. Please note that it took me to remind you because you were too caught up in the jamboree of your hatred to be considerate towards me and all the other Americans around you, your teachers, your principal, your counselor, and some of your peers. And by the way, there were three hundred seventy-one non-Americans killed in the attack, Arab nationalities among them.” A lovely sweet covered Egyptian girl raises her hand.
“But sir, people die every day. Why not Americans?”
I am stunned at first and then I realize that she has not framed her question the way she’d like and I understand her dilemma. She wonders why Americans in general are living lives of relative privilege, comfort, and autonomy while Palestinians live in squalor, suffer, and die as they do. But I can’t answer her question in a way that won’t just add to her quandary and I don’t want to risk being glib or sarcastic. What I really want to tell her is that once the smoke clears from the conflicts that arise from America’s unwavering defense of its independence, what emerges is an America that has a unique, unspoken creed of humanity that has forgiveness at its center and where a never ending suffocating shroud of hatred cannot form. In spite of charges of imperialism, the Marshall Plan in Europe and SCAP (Supreme Commander of Allied Powers) in Japan helped those countries, friend or foe, rebuild and become US allies and economic powers in their own right. So I am honest in another way, which always works. “I cannot answer that satisfactorily, Miriam, but I wish I could,” and I flash a smile. “Okay, so please take out the review questions that are due today and let’s go over them.” While students are flailing with notebooks and rustling papers, I am thinking about what Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp said in the movie Tombstone: “Run! Tell all the curs the law is comin’! You tell em I'm comin’—and hells’ comin’ with me, you hear?”
Oops! Texan George W. Bush is the US President.