Wednesday, March 26, 2003


LIVE JOURNAL - Remember Ali, the Iraqi student I wrote about a few weeks before leaving for Italy when telling about going to the antiwar rally? He's gone. Disappeared. His parents' phone number is disconnected. His mother cannot be reached at work. His father disappeared first... and now, one of our babies is gone! His counselor said to me this afternoon: "Either the parents have been called in by the government for questioning, or else they've all fled." Oh, my God. Just three weeks ago... Miss Thomas, can I please have more time on this essay test? My father's gone and I had to get a job to help at home. Sure, you can come here during your lunch hour and work on it. Thanks. I really appreciate it. He didn't let me down. He came. He did good work. But the last week that I saw him, it seemed as if he couldn't concentrate. His usually interested face seemed to slump; his bright brown eyes were dull. (Teachers, at least good ones, notice these things.) I kept asking him if everything was okay. He assured me that it was, and that he appreciated me asking after him. But now he is gone. I spent most of the next hour crying. I was absolutely hysterical. Thank God my students were in an assembly. Some of the other teachers tried to console me, saying they likely fled to Canada when our local news reported that all Iraqi nationals and Iraqi Americans in the Detroit area were being questioned by the FBI. Saying that I *couldn't* think they'd been detained or deported... that I couldn't think the worst. Even if we are starting to notice that a few of our Middle Eastern students and parents and neighbors are disappearing. Another teacher said that my story made her realize she hasn't seen a certain Palestinian student for three weeks. The Detroit area has the largest concentration of Middle Easterners outside the Middle East, and one of the oldest Arabic-language and Muslim communities in the country. The Nation of Islam began here, too... And now, people are scared. I'm scared. There were other countries in history where people of certain ethnic groups disappeared without a trace, without protest from those who were once their neighbors. . . And as of Friday all faculty and staff have been ordered by the district (which gets its directions from the state, which gets its directives from the US Department of Education) not to speak against the war or the government in the presence of our students. Not asked, ordered. Something is being done to our nation deliberately, something sinister... something horrible. When more than 50% of Americans say that the First Amendment goes too far... When more than 60% of Americans feel that not only is this war just, but that to speak against it is a treasonous crime... When more than 70% of Americans feel that only people of certain races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds ought to be allowed access to higher education... And when a child named Ali who met Saddam Hussein and then fled his regime in the dark of night, who saw his uncles murdered before his eyes, when all that child ever wanted was to learn how to read and write good English, and to be accepted in a country called America... Too bad no one ever told Ali that America wasn't for people like him. And so, he is gone. A red line has replaced his name in my grade book; an empty seat marks his place in my classroom. A classroom where the American flag has a place of honor. A classroom where I looked at the American flag today and raged at it, and at the republic for which it stands. Once, I thought that the republic was governed for the people and by the people. Today, I realized that people are the very last thing that this republic cares about. . . And wherever my young student is, I hope he's safe. I hope he's got enough to eat. I hope he can find a good school and continue to learn. I hope that he remembers what I strive to teach all of my students, that there is love in the world, that every man and boy is your brother, and every woman and girl is your sister, and that in the eyes of eternity good always, always prevails over evil. I hope he finds a nation more worthy of him and his people than America is.

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