Monday, June 24, 2013

Teaching both sides of the truth

Heating up: a confrontation in the making            During the early cool on Sunday morning, I walked the hill to Main Street. To my surprise, men were replacing the old concrete sidewalk with brick. As I scanned their four-man team; I recognized Fred, the boss.

“Beautiful,” I said, noting the near perfect pattern of red brick, its tedious installation.

“Want you to meet my brother,” he said, pointing to a tall, lanky man in a t-shirt and camo pants at the other end of the block. From a distance, he reminded me of the television character known as Grasshopper (David Carridine in Kung Fu, an American western action series; please see: "Kung Fu": TV Series Episode Guide   Cached Quotations from & information on the classic TV series from the 1970s, Kung Fu. Television show with David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine...). He walked to meet us.

Moments later we chatted. I learned he’d been a Colonel who served in Iraq, was about to retire. Prior to that, he was spending leave time (he didn’t call it that) helping his brother and his ailing mother. When I mentioned my Humanities class, he told me he’d like to speak to my students about his experiences. Now was a good time for that; he might be sent for a final assignment to Afghanistan in less than a month.

Although I wanted to trade e-mail addresses, I didn’t have time to return to my apartment to grab a pencil and paper; I had to take my sister to the RDU airport.

In a very real sense, meeting the Colonel was a godsend. As I was about to teach the cultural aspects of Islam, so closely tied to its religious ideology, having him speak would serve as a perfect introduction. I’d found him to be articulate and intelligent, a quietly confident people person.

Hours later, on my drive back from RDU, I thought of the challenge I faced regarding maintaining a balance between explaining the behavior of violent jihadists while being sensitive to the pacifism of my Muslim student. Disinterested in violence, she still had to confront the reality of sudden jihad syndrome such as that at the Fort Hood massacre.

Tossing around scenarios continued until I reached home, went to my computer, and typed my e-mail address and phone number for the Colonel. With that in hand, I walked back to Main Street in hopes of seeing him.

Fortunately, he was still at work. Despite the 90-degree heat, he didn’t seem bothered.

“Nothing compared to where you were,” I said, pointing to the summer sun.

With a slight smile, he answered, “You’re right. Over there, it’s 140 degrees.”

I handed him my information. “Send me a bio if you can,” I requested.

“Sure,” he said. “I thought of a story you might want to hear,” he began. For the next few minutes he recalled having met a sheikh in Kuwait. “His home, a fenced-in compound, was the size of this entire block. There was a swimming pool and a soccer field. His daughters played there.”

The Colonel described their attire, the same shorts and t-shirts our kids wear. “But the sheikh was upset,” the Colonel told me, “because men had climbed the eight foot fence and saw that they were not wearing traditional Muslim dress. To keep them out, he would have to build his fence four feet higher.”

Hearing that made me think about my Muslim student, and how covered up she is despite the summer heat. Fortunately, my classroom’s temperature is set to very low. She’s never complained.

When they meet, my guess is that the Colonel also won’t mind the coolness.

                                    B.Koplen 6/24/13

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