I was in such a good mood. I really was. It’s back to school, and that means I get the house to myself during the day to write. It also means my daughter, now a first grader, will once again have a steady routine to guide her. All hail and bow before the glory of the routine. I won’t say I skipped home after dropping her off, but I won’t say I didn’t either. So with Coke Zero at my elbow I logged into the world to see what I might write about and promptly stepped into human poo.
HISD has opened its first Arabic-immersion magnet school, and Houston rushed to prove its two favorite contradictory truisms. One, that we remain the most diverse city in the country, embracing new cultures and peoples and ideas as only befits America’s headquarters for the exploration of the cosmos and all its wonders. Two, that within that diverse grouping are still terrible bigoted assholes who have nothing better to do than show up to prove they’re terrible, bigoted assholes on the first day of class.
If you can’t read the little sign in the lower right hand corner of the picture it says, “Everything I needed to know about Islam I learned from Muslims on 9/11”. This is why we can’t have nice things. My initial reaction was wondering if I could pull off a dropkick with some judicious stretching beforehand, but now I have questions I want to ask this gaggle of gits.
6. At what point in your life did expressing yourself become so important you were willing to frighten children?
Seriously, what was the event that made you say, “My thoughts are so turbo special it’s worth ruining parents dropping their kids off for the first day of kindergarten?” Some of you are surely parents, and you can’t tell me that you don’t remember the joy and fear and emotion of that first day at school. I teared up today and all I had to do was leave my little girl joyously scribbling a picture with crayons. I can’t even imagine what these families must have felt when they saw your hateful signs and woefully misused flags.
5. Can you name a single protest at an elementary school that was ever on the right side of history?
One of my daughter’s favorite bedtime books is The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles and George Ford. Little Ruby Bridges was a real-life girl who was the first black child integrated by court order into a New Orleans white school. She ended up spending her day as the only student there as parents held their kids home and formed angry mobs that she had to be escorted through with bodyguards. That was just 55 years ago, and judging by some of you it’s within your own living memory. Have you learned nothing in half a century? In 30 years will I read to my own grandchildren from a book where your angry faces peer out at impossibly small but brave children?
4. Do you honestly not understand the difference between Arab and Muslim, and either and terrorist?
Number one, most Muslims are not Arabic. Not even close. Most of them live in Indonesia and India. The Arabic world contains about 20 percent of all Islam. Arabia is a region, Arabic is a language, and this is a state secular school not a religious one. Please in Allah’s name learn the difference.
As for the terrorism, do you remember this speech?
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.
That’s President George W. Bush speaking shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and for me it was one of his finest moments as our president. He never let for a single second the idea that “Arab” or “Muslim” would be synonymous with “terrorism.” In the immediate wake of the greatest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor he stood up there, knew you candy-brains were going to go tribal, and told you to knock it off. Despite all that came after, he was right then and he is right still.
Speaking of 9/11…
3. You do realize, again, that these are young children? 9/11 happened in 2001.
If it were a child it would be starting to hint about what it wanted for its first car. However, these actual children at this actual school are all between four and six years old. It’s likely a lot of them don’t even know about 9/11 yet. My daughter doesn’t. But now these parents have to look forward to answering, “Mommy, what’s 9/11” instead of a pleasant conversation about how their first day went. Good job.
2. By the way… you know the only reason you can even write that sign is thanks to Arabic, right?
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Without Arabic we’d still be using an archaic and near useless numbering system from the Romans. So unless you’re going to change your sign to IX/XI or a.d. V Prid. Sept. you’re just being ridiculously ignorant of how much you owe Arabic in your day to day life.
1. Finally, do you have any idea how much this could benefit kids?
Arabic is the fifth-most spoken language in the world, and is extremely important to the oil and gas industries that make up so much of Houston culture. In addition to that, bilingual speakers are required in areas of diplomacy and national security, and a deep knowledge of Arabic culture and language will better prepare them for jobs we desperately need. Being bilingual makes you more hirable and early education in two languages has many cognitive benefits. If nothing else, it might teach them not to automatically fear something just because they don’t understand it, and in doing so prevent them from becoming misled bigots clutching to the flag like a security blanket in order to ward off imaginary terrors. You’re treating an elementary school the way an overactive imagination turns piles of clothes in a child’s room into a crouching monster waiting to eat them. Please, for all and sundry, can’t you grow the heck up?