I had the privilege of growing up in a family with roots in the Middle East. As such, I grew up with an appreciation of its cuisine, which, to anyone who has experienced its richness and variety, there would be full understanding as to why as an adult, from time to time I feel the need to indulge myself in a gut-busting extravaganza of some Old World cooking. However, getting ingredients can be difficult at times. I mean, it’s not like buying the ingredients to make pizza, tacos, or Chinese food, where you can find the basics at just about any grocery store. Depending on what’s on the menu, you may need to visit 3 or more different stores. This invariably leads to asking a clerk or manager whether or not they have this or that, and depending upon within which area of the country this is occurring, you’re liable to get some surprised expressions, which can only accurately be translated to mean “never heard of it.”
The other day, in the ethnic foods isle, a fellow stocking the shelf with bottles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil who had given me the expression described above, (yet wanting to be as helpful as possible) asked what I was planning to make, and whether or not there was some substitute. When I told him it was for a Middle Eastern dish, I got “the look.”
It wasn’t the first time, although I must admit with relief that it has died down a bit since about 6 months after September 11. That look that betrays the thoughts going on in the other person’s mind, where they quietly begin going down the list: “Italian?-No. Mexican?-No. Native American?-No. Arab? Yeah, probably.”
The look lasted for only a split second, but it had been there, nonetheless. My friend helped me out anyway, leading me a few meters over to the section that contained the specific item I needed, bur’ghul wheat, and then hung around for a few seconds that indicated to me he had something on his mind.
“Lotsa trouble over there, huh?” Not meeting his eye, but pretending that I was studying intently the wheat I had just found, I said, “yeah, lots of trouble.”
“What’s it all about?” he asked. Without moving my head, just raising me eyes to his, looking over wire-rimmed glasses and black, bushy eyebrows, I said “what do you mean?”
“The Arabs, why do they hate us so much?”
I could tell by the look in this man’s eyes that he sensed that there was something missing in the flood of disinformation that he had been fed about the situation. It seemed to me that he smelled something rotten in the daily reports put out by the Ministry of Truth, whether it came from Bush, Peter Jennings or Rush Limbaugh. He wasn’t confrontational, I think he just really wanted to know. I tried the symbolic, flowery explanation mandatory of any Semite.
“Imagine going up to a nest of bees, swatting it, and knocking it out of the tree in which it had peacefully rested. Are you going to be surprised when they get mad and sting you?” He just blinked with a slight movement of his head.
This was one of those opportunities that one runs into now and then, so I decided to make the best of it. I asked him if he had children. When he responded with the number 3, I asked him if he had any pictures.
Ask any parent, anywhere in the world, if they have pictures of children, and you will be witness to the flawless, one-handed act of producing a wallet that magically opens to reveal a family album. True to form, my friend drew me into his circle of trust by displaying to me pictures of his tiny kingdom. I asked him their names and about them. And again, as is mandatory with any parent, he gave their names, ages, and a few of their peculiarities that to the rest of us are unimportant but to him are vital pieces of information. If I had wanted to know, I ‘m sure he could have told me their favorite foods, colors, cartoon characters, when they cut the first tooth, when they cut the first knee, and what they dreamed of being when they got to be big like Dad.
I pointed to his eldest son, who was 12. “I just saw a picture on the internet 45 minutes ago of a boy his age. His arms had been blown off, most of the skin had been burned off his body, and his entire family had been killed in the instant that an American bomb landed on his house in Iraq. For the rest of his life, he will not be able to eat, dress himself, bathe or go to the toilet without the aid of someone else, provided, of course, that he lives through this. Imagine someone doing this to your son.”
I flipped to another picture of his daughter, aged 6-“I saw a picture of a girl this age, in Palestine. She had been shot in the face as she played in the schoolyard. She, and several others, including a man who had been killed trying to shield them, had been killed by a group of Israeli soldiers who were firing into a crowd of school children as target practice. Imagine someone shooting your daughter in the face with a high-powered rifle, just for target practice, taking pride in his accuracy, as he and his fellow soldiers trade high-five’s in the air for each bull’s-eye.
My hand moved over to his other son, aged two- “Yesterday I saw a Palestinian man, holding the tiny body of his 2 year old son, who had the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen. The little boy had a blood soaked bandage around the top of his head, and although his eyes were open, he was dead. An Israeli soldier had shot the two year old in the head with his American made M-16 machine gun, given to him free of charge, paid for by the US taxpayers. Head shots are a popular thing among the Israeli soldiers. Imagine holding the body of your 2 year old son, whose life had just been robbed from him, whose love had just been robbed from you. In this case, the Israelis were throwing these people out of their homes that were to be bulldozed in order to build new ones for Israeli citizens. I guess these people were not as “cooperative” as the Israelis would have liked them to be.”
There was one more picture, that of his entire family. I related to him an incident I had read about the night before, where a group of Israeli soldiers defecated and urinated into the water system of an apartment complex in the Occupied Territories, infecting an entire family with typhus. This wasn’t a new thing. The Israelis had been contaminating the wells and water systems of the Arab peoples since 1948, the year that Israel declared her “independence.”
He was a sensitive man who loved his family, and in that instant he understood, albeit in a minuscule way, how it must feel as a parent to have to bury a murdered child, pick up the pieces that remained of a child, or visit a child in the hospital, whose face had just been burned or ripped off, or whose arms or legs had been blown to bits by bombs. Imagining as a parent, trying to keep a child from sinking into despair in having just been crippled for life with assurances, “It’s okay honey, everything will be alright. Daddy is here and I will take care of you,” all the while holding back the tears and the rage that surge through the soul.
I could have gone on with instance after instance of what goes on there and has for the last 50 years, but I knew I had made my point.
His eyes slowly left the pictures of his children, and after meeting my eyes, I asked him, from one parent to another, “Do you remember the birthdays of all your kids? Do you read to your kids at night? When your kid falls down and scrapes his knee, do you console him and help him get patched up? So do they. Why would these people, all at once, for no understandable reason, decide to abandon their peaceful, happy lives, just to begin a war against us for no reason? They love their children too, just like we do. If someone had done the things I just described to one of yours, what would you do?”
Looking for an answer to one remaining question that lingered in his mind he asked me “What about Islam? Is this a religion thing, another Crusade?” “No,” I responded, “there hasn’t been a war between Islam and the West for over 300 years. They’d like to get along with the West, and were it not for the fact that we have been murdering their women and children for the last 50 years, we probably would get along pretty well.”
And with a slight nod of his head, as he returned to stocking the shelves with bottles of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I knew he understood a little better. He was just one man, a man with a wife and children, just like those men thousands of miles away, who to the rest of America are not considered anything more than blood thirsty savages, sub-humans, untermenschen, an image that has been cleverly crafted by a media and government sympathetic to the Zionist dream.
I paid for my bur’ghul wheat, went home, and ate the most wonderful and undeserved meal with my tiny kingdom that I have eaten in a while.
Mark Glenn is an American and former high school teacher turned writer / commentator. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).