Thursday, June 4, 2009

Why "Assalaamu alaykum" is The "Ich bin ein Berliner" of Our Time

It seems like only yesterday that Minister Louis Farrakhan was the scariest Muslim in the world (at least to some uninformed Americans.)

Yesterday, President Barack Hussein Obama used a respectful term of greeting -- assalaamu alaykum -- in his speech at Cairo. It is Arabic, and it means, "peace of Allah be unto you." It is a term that may have stumped (or troubled) some of the same uninformed white Americans who once quaked at the rhetoric of Minister Farrakhan. But black Americans, and most followers of Islam around the globe, have no problem decoding the term, and the spirit in which it was delivered yesterday. For one thing, most of us probably heard the term for the first time in our own neighborhoods, from members of the Nation of Islam, or other African-Americans who have converted to orthodox Islam.

Its invocation yesterday by President Obama was a big deal, as significant as John F. Kennedy's busting out in German to demonstrate solidarity with citizens of that nation, as they struggled to rebuild their cities and reputation two decades after World War II: Ich bin ein Berliner. POTUS use of assalaamu alaykum in Egypt yesterday is also important in this respect: It is another key signal that Reality Rules, in this administration.

No more wasted energy chasing imaginary Bogeymen, at home or abroad. The Scariest Muslim in the world -- Osama Bin Laden -- finally has a worthy opponent, one who not only speaks the same language but who is likely to cite the Koran as he hunts him down.


Is it time to revive the "Black personal responsibility" debate?

I'm thinking, Yes, but this time with an important change: How about we recast it as an "Adult Responsibility" debate, de-emphasizing ethnicity, and replacing it with a generational focus?

Here is why:

Several key developments in the past few days have reinforced a sad universal truth -- Plenty of adults behave irresponsibly, quite dangerously, in fact, notwithstanding their economic status, education level or skin color:

-- Scott P. Roeder, the Kansan charged in the murder of a doctor who performed late-term abortions, is a 51 year-old white man.

-- Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the United States House of Representatives, sends a Tweet calling Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor a "Latina woman racist." (He later issued a half-assed apology but by then, the poison was unleashed, sparking an orgy of racist speech in the blogpshere.) He turns 66 years-old later this month.

-- Abdulhakim Muhammad, aka Carlos Bledsoe, is a 23 year-old African-American from Little Rock who was arrested early this week and charged with the murder and attempted murder of two U.S. soldiers. According to authorities, Muhammad shot the two young men from inside his pick-up truck as they stood in front of an Army recruiting office near Little Rock.

Three wildly different episodes, but each connected by a single unmistakeable thread: The perpetrators were all adults, and yet they exercised the judgement of an angry three-year-old, i.e., impulsive, vengeful, and horribly destructive to others. It is not a dynamic unique to blacks, Latinos, whites, or East Asians. The reasons why so many "adults," (meaning those who have crossed the threshold to the legal definition of adulthood, age 18) fail to clearly and rationally perform the act-for-consequence calculus before they do a dumb thing are not important here: We are a nation of laws, and our Constitution obviously attempted to account for such human failings.

What is becoming urgently clear is that we must find effective ways to reshape our culture and institutions -- families, schools, workplaces -- to more directly account for, and as best as possible, to prevent, the tragic outcomes that are inevitable when individual "rights" collide with the safety and progress of others. (The Second Amendment, for example, is most certainly due for revision -- can the Democrats on the Hill please find their spines and stop horse-trading on crazy things like allowing "campers" to bring assault weapons into National Parks?)

I am not interested in getting into a "preventive detentions" - style fight with the ACLU. Nor do I want to revive the "blacks only" issues beneath the rather amusingly one-sided dust-up between Michael Eric Dyson and Bill Cosby a couple years back. God no --been there, done that, bought the refrigerator magnet....although it is delicious to see my boy Dyson dialing back on the Cosby-Hates-Poor-Black-Folks rhetoric now that President Obama has pretty much endorsed Cos' position. Remember then-candidate Obama's Father's Day talk at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago last June? The one where he urged African-American males of all incomes and education levels to "make responsible choices," and to teach their children that, "there's nothing weak about being kind...nothing weak about being considerate and thoughtful." I watched it again just now, and will probably do so again soon.)

No, I'm concerned about our apathy in the face of Adults Behaving Badly, and the terrible message such acquiescence sends to our children. Surely there are innovative front-end measures we can take to make sure children, teens and young adults develop the critical thinking skills -- not to mention the empathy and compassion -- to prevent them from behaving like murderous caricatures?

What solutions have you encountered, I'd like to know?

Meanwhile, here is another clip of a conversation with an individual who cares deeply about finding realistic answers to this profound and confounding question -- How do you create a society and government where individuals can have the "right" to act up, but not at the expense of the safety and progress of us all? His name is Colbert King, and he writes at The Washington Post.


  1. you need a venue, like the New Yorker.....

  2. what I don't understand is how so called Black people can think of ourselves in the third person. ( me too by the way) We have massive unemployment, huge layoffs in the only relible industry for Black for long term (Union jobs in the auto industry)(if you consider one or two generations long term) living wage and benefits, Katrina is still happening, and a president who is showing us that he is taking care of his responsibilities ( earned 2 million last year) We will not take responsibility and many of us simply will not survive what is coming. Many of us ( talking about our family members) are not surviving what is already here. so let's keep talking get a good debate going, see if we can impress our friends. and maybe have another pork chop with our diabetes, obesity, no college money, ,valium, . Hey if that's not good let's watch T.V. that's my plan...what's yours?

  3. Ich bin ein Berliner, was a screw up which translated into the german that the people in Berlin spoke, actually meant: " I am a large jelly fIlled pastry". Hoffenlich will der todaz prez haven a besser tranlator.