Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mother's Day poem for my mother

Lazy Sundays
by Jason M. Rubin
for Mildred Rubin (1933-1999)

I long for lazy Sundays like I had when I was young
If I had known how fleet they’d be more tightly I’d have clung
I’d wake up not by ‘larm bell rings but rather by the scent
Of onions in a frying pan; I knew just what that meant

A breakfast made by mother dear, the best I’ve ever had
The only morning meal we'd share, we siblings and our dad
Those eggs with onions, bits of lox, and bagels fresh and warm
To fill my plate in those old days I’d weather any storm

I’d watch my father build his bagel piling lox and cukes
Atop a sliced tomato and red onion, no rebukes
In fact I sought to emulate his architect’ral feat
And strained to stretch my mouth so what I’d built I could then eat

My mother served us all, of course, and cheerfully at that
Despite the fact that she had toiled while all of us just sat
Indeed those lazy days I loved were lazy not for her
I’d change that all today if only with us she still were

A poem for my mother, though, is all I can now do
And if you’re reading from above, you know, mom, I love you
On Mother’s Day my thoughts still stray to Sundays I dream of
And to the woman who fed me with lox and lots of love.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Mr. President, please do not publish a bin Laden death photo

Dear President Obama:

I congratulate and thank you for finding and eliminating as a threat Osama bin Laden. By all accounts, our troops undertook a variety of actions to establish that the deceased was indeed Osama. By all accounts, the body was handled with respect to, if not in absolute accordance with, the proscribed death and burial rites associated with Islam. To do both of these things so quickly and efficiently is evidence that every aspect of this operation was considered well in advance of its execution. For this, all involved should be commended.

Surely, though, the question of whether or not to publish a photograph of Osama in death must also have been considered. Perhaps the brisk success of the mission and the near-universal acclaim it has received has provided a window of opportunity to reconsider this question? If so, Mr. President, I respectfully implore you not to release any photographic or videographic evidence of Osama's death and burial you may have.

I understand the reasons why the body was disposed of quickly. I understand that no legitimate nation-states would want his remains in their soil. I understand that rogue entities and terror groups ought not be allowed to make him a martyr. I understand the danger and difficulty of bringing his body back to the U.S. or to a U.S. territory. And I understand that burial within 24 hours was what Muslim practice required.

I do not claim to be an expert on Muslim death rituals, but from what I've heard they appear quite similar to Jewish death rituals, in terms of washing and enshrouding the body without embalming or otherwise seeking to preserve or tamper with it. Soon-as-possible burial ensures it will decompose back to the dust of the earth from which it originally sprang. Jewish custom also prohibits viewing the body except by those entrusted with washing and preparing it for burial, a holy act. This is why open-casket wakes and funerals are not part of Jewish tradition. I can only assume it is so for Muslims as well. In death, the body is naked of its soul. To view it is to disrespect it. I'm not saying that Osama, dead or alive, deserves respect, but when a person passes from its mortal state to the unknown, from its place among humanity to the judgment of Divinity, our work is done.

We have seen over the past decade brutal thuggery and cruelty among our enemies in the Middle East. Bodies have been dragged in public and shown on television, Daniel Pearl's beheading was on YouTube. This is what inhuman savages do with their kills. Vlad the Impaler, inspiration for Dracula, put the heads of his victims on stakes leading up to his castle door. We are not trophy hunters. We are not savages. We made a justified kill. It is over.

There are those who doubt the deceased truly is Osama bin Laden. The Taliban, for example, says that America has shown the world no conclusive evidence. To this I say, So what? Who are we to care what the Taliban says? Why should we be concerned about satisfying the Taliban? If they don't believe it, fine. It doesn't change anything. They won't lay down their arms if shown that he really is dead. And if they doubt, then they have no grounds for retaliation. That's a win/win in my book.

The image, we are told, is gruesome. He was shot above his left eye and part of his skull was blown off. We know what this looks like from the JFK Magruder video. It is unsettling to say the least. Showing this image will only engender sympathy and inspire rage among those who wish to do us harm. Among our friends and allies, our own people and especially the 9/11 families, it will only disgust the masses and disennoble the mission. We believe you, Mr. President, and again, we thank you.

But please, do not release the photo.


Jason M. Rubin

Monday, May 2, 2011

Random thoughts on the death of bin Laden

Just last month at Passover, we read about how God led the Israelites across the parted Red Sea, then allowed the waters to swallow up Pharaoh's pursuing army. Referencing Talmudic teaching, our haggadah says, "Our rabbis taught: When the Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. God silenced them and said, 'My creatures are perishing, and you sing praises?'" I am reminded of this when I see college students waving American flags and shouting "USA! USA! USA!" with pumping fists. This, in spite of the fact that they were not cognizant of what 9/11 meant when it happened, and what this act of delayed retribution means now. This isn't about America kicking ass. It's merely our volley in an unwinnable game that the Israelis and Palestinians have been playing for many years.

Which is not to say that I don't applaud the mission or its outcome. I do. I'm glad he's dead, and I'm glad he wasn't allowed to die of natural causes or disease. He deserved to meet his fate by an act of man. I am not in favor of capital punishment, but Osama bin Laden had perpetrated crimes against humanity and he deserved not the mercy of humanity. His targeting of the West for the wrongs his own people had suffered was just an updating of Hitler's targeting of Jews for the wrongs committed against Germany after World War I. There are bad people and there are evil people. A bad person might be reformed; evil must be expunged.

There are many on both sides who are eager to politicize this act. I have seen the left smile smugly that this happened under Obama's watch and not under Bush's. I have seen the right declare that Obama did nothing; all credit must go to the Navy Seals. Both sides are right and wrong - and ultimately wrong even to politicize it. I will say that Obama had a better chance of scoring this trophy because he was more focused on it than Bush, who gave up on Afghanistan early (no doubt chastened by Russia's failed war there) in favor of Saddam Hussein, an easier yet less relevant target. But the work that led to this daring act had been going on for many years, long before Obama even thought of running for the Presidency. In his speech, he could have been more generous to the efforts of others; his repeated use of "I" was noticeable.

And yet, it was also appropriate. After all, had the mission failed, it would have been incumbent upon him to stand before the American people last night and accept the blame. This is where the Commander in Chief earns his money, which is why Donald Trump is indeed such a joke. Someone has to make a decision that has to do with life and death, not just dollars and cents. True, Obama did not pull the trigger that separated part of bin Laden's skull from his head, but he did pull the trigger on the mission itself. He weighed the information, the risks, the opportunity, and he was satisfied that this was the time, this was the place, this was the plan. And he was right. Abbottabad is now America's Entebbe. It took brains and guts to execute it, and it also took brains and guts to green-light it.

The world without Osama bin Laden is still a dangerous world. And our enemies are beyond the tools of diplomacy. Like it or not, we are in a war of attrition against terror networks large and small, all over the world. Killing bin Laden did not make us stronger or safer; reprisals are not only possible but expected. Like in an old Western, all we did was settle an old score. It could well have been Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name who pulled the trigger (in fact, due to safety concerns, I am sure we will never know the name of the person or persons who delivered the fatal shot or shots; unlike Boston Corbett, who killed John Wilkes Booth, or Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the avenger's name will likely be withheld from history).

I know someone who was killed on 9/11. I've been to 9/11 funerals, sat in 9/11 shivas, watched 9/11 footage with 9/11 mourners. Today, that person is still dead. Her children have lived longer without her in their lives than with her. The dead can't help us now. Then as now, it is the survivors - all of us - who must carry on. If the world is to become better, it can't be done only by expunging the evil. We must also activate the good. That's why, while this act was important, while this act was courageous, while this act was even necessary, it is the next act that will define us as Americans and as a civilization.