Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
November 1, 2019 (posted November 8, 2019)
Mr. President: Forever known by his phrase 'reverence for life', Albert Schweitzer was
a theologian, moral philosopher, physician and missionary. He was born in Alsace
when it was German, and became a French citizen when it reverted back to France
after the First World War.
To him this reverence implied regard for and a duty to all human beings, not
"confined to blood relations or tribe" (The Teaching of Reverence for Life, Holt,
Rinehart and Winston, 1965, p. 9). It is an inspiring thought for it leads naturally to
peace and the end of wars. He did not claim originality for the idea, noting that
Lao-Tse and Confucius among others had already preceded him in espousing it (pp.
9-10). He merely promoted it.
In this he was also of like mind with the 18th century Scottish philosopher, David
Hume, who reminded us of conscience and the ability to distinguish between good
and evil. We are strings, he said, "that vibrate in sympathy with others", endowed with
a natural good that propels us to help our neighbors or the distressed (p. 20). I am
reminded of my father who always said, "You don't treat a disease; you treat a
And then one wonders if these instincts have been consciously suppressed in some
human beings. One can think of two current leaders in particular: Donald Trump and
Narendra Modi. Trump's assertion, "he died like a dog" grates even if one violently
disagrees with al-Baghdadi's methods, wrenched as he was from the normal course of
his life by a US invasion predicated on false charges.
Then there is Modi and his drumbeat of upper caste Hindu supremacy. As US
Representative Ro Khanna noted forcefully in a tweet, "It is the duty of every
American politician of Hindu faith to stand for pluralism, reject Hindutva, and speak for
equal rights for Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians."
It was only a few days ago in India that a 27-year old Dalit man was beaten
mercilessly and tossed in the river to die. He had been fishing. His crime: a refusal
to give his catch to a nearby Brahmin who wanted an equal share. If it needs
reminding, a Brahmin belongs to the highest caste, a Dalit or Untouchable to the
lowest -- someone who is frequently not allowed to use the village well. The Dalit man
killed was the sole support of his family.
For the people of Kashmir there is little respite. A beautiful valley that could attract
tourist dollars, instead is invaded by Indian troops. When the Kashmiris protest their
humiliation through demonstrations, even children are blinded by pellet guns. Photos
show decaying towns where empty streets are patrolled by sullen soldiers.
Then there are Palestinians, frequent casualties of the Israeli military, living the daily
humiliations and frustrations of life between checkpoints -- a life in prison in the case
of Gaza where the soccer team is denied travel permits to play in a local tournament
against a West Bank team.
Gaza's native son Dr. Ramzy Baroud shines a frequent light on the dark horror of
three-quarters of a century of occupation. Frequent articles and four books including
the latest "These Chains Will be Broken" published this year-- keep the world
Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a peace activist. His moving memoir I Shall not Hate followed
a tragedy. During the 2008 - 2009 Gaza invasion, a tank stationed itself outside his
home (well known to the Israelis) and fired a shell killing three of his daughters aged
13, 15 and 21, and seriously injuring another who was 17. In that war one of his
nieces also died and another niece was grievously injured.
Who was it who said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The
good doctor's book is subtitled, "A Gaza Doctor's Journey on the Road to Peace and
Dignity." It is a common quest across the world.
In Chile, protesters show no let-up and the country is unable to host the COP 25
climate change meeting. Spain has offered to step in, despite its own Catalan
independence movement problems.
The Chile protests have so far resulted in 20 deaths and thousands injured. Starting
with a student protest on October 18 over a rise in Metro fares, they have ballooned
to a million at one demonstration, the largest in the country's history. Vandalism,
looting, bus burning are often a consequence and clashes with security forces follow.
President Sebastian Pinera has been obliged to reverse the fare increase, and is also
promising higher taxes on the wealthy as well as an increase in the minimum wage.
Examples of human strife do not end here. Yet in the present era there is a common
goal for humanity when it faces the existential threat of climate change. Surely then
we can form a common bond, extend Schweitzer's reverence to include all life, and
strive to save our one and only home. As Schweitzer observes (p. 31), "Reverence
for life, arising when intelligence operates upon the will to live, contains within itself
affirmation of the universe and of life."
This piece appeared on Counterpunch.org