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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I’m on my way to the airport, like millions of other Americans, so this won’t be one of those coherent essay-like blog posts that takes a theme through a series of points and ends neatly with some clever reference to the introduction. Instead this will be a few random queries by a Thanksgiving traveler.

First: Megan, Luke and Tom actually flew two days ago, and I had the weird experience of seeing them off at the airport. One of the weirdest parts was having to explain to Megan why she shouldn’t bring her four tubes of lip gloss in her carry on bag. I really couldn’t explain why lip gloss was a public safety hazard, and the woman at airport security didn’t explain it either when she discovered that Megan forgot the lip gloss in her pocket and sent us back through security to get a zip lock bag, which apparently would protect the public from the dangerous aspects of a nine-year-old’s lip gloss. Like most Americans, Megan didn’t ask too many questions, which made it easier for me and, I now realize, our government.

The incident reminded me of a statement our Quaker meeting wrote after 9/11. There was a line in the draft—I can’t remember if it made it into the final version—that said something like, “Our only real security is the good will of others.” This was reinforced again yesterday when my South Africa class watched a video on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and discussed the book A Human Being Died that Night. Both showed that everything the apartheid government did to “crack down on terrorism” backfired, causing more people to join the ANC and causing the liberation organizations to take up increasingly violent tactics. The proponents of the TRC explained that breaking the cycle of violence and reconciling were the only ways to prevent future violence.

Interestingly, I also read this week the story of May1970 when the Black Panther Party called on activists throughout the United States to come to New Haven, home of Yale University, to protest the trials there of some of their members. These were the turbulent days of the anti-war movement with provocative leaders like Abbie Hoffman, who vowed that marchers would burn down Yale. The threat didn’t seem idle since a month earlier, there had been a march at Harvard that went bad when marchers found the Harvard gates locked and vented their frustration, causing 214 hospitalizations and $100,000 worth of property damage. The President of Yale, Kingman Brewster, decided not to repeat Harvard’s mistake. When the protesters came, he declared, Yale would not only keep its gates open; the university would coordinate their sleeping arrangements and serve them granola. Moreover, Brewster met ahead of time with student leaders to ensure a peaceful protest. The strategy worked. Although state troopers and Marines had been brought in by the state to quell the anticipated violence, the protests went relatively smoothly with the only vandalism caused by a fringe group of out-of-town provocateurs whom Brewster suspected of being “dirty tricks” operative of the Nixon administration.

And then I came to the news story of today: six American Muslim leaders who were on their way home from a conference on tolerance were kicked off a plane for praying in Arabic. This goes beyond the silliness of the lip gloss and reaches the level of real stupidity. What do we really think is more dangerous: a nine-year-old’s lip gloss or the alienation of Muslim Americans? What do we need more: plastic bags, or civil liberties?

That’s all for now. I really have to run for my train. Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers.


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