Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan’

STORY POWER

During the past week, two signs from the heavens got me thinking. This is all a bit subjective, of course, but my train of thought led me from a red-tailed hawk and white, storybook clouds to our over-busy lives, one of my all-time favorite TV shows and the function of fiction.

On a recent walk in the Presidio, I saw the red-tailed hawk hovering on a thermal as I approached Immigrant Point overlooking the Pacific, the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands. The hawk floated virtually motionless. How elegant. How simple. Hawks fly, eat, mate and sleep. Humans live far more complex lives. We run ourselves in circles. Then we complain. Yet most people take pride in their busyness. It seems to validate their lives in a society that less worships productivity than its impression.

The clouds appeared during a morning walk on Lake Street. They looked just like the clouds at the opening of The Simpsons—a perfect blend of white on blue. (In August we’re usually foggy—a double miracle of sorts.) I literally stopped and stared. I halfway expected to see the yellow-gold THE SIMPSONS title and hear the singing that introduces the show.

What’s true in our lives? What’s merely illusion? Which do we care about? Often what we know to be true moves us less than the stories we read and hear. Even truth becomes a story of sorts.

Most people know that an American hunter killed Cecil, a black-maned lion with celebrity status in Zimbabwe. Protests abounded. Cecil could have been the fictional Bambi. Some people protested the protests. War has displaced millions of people in the Middle East. A quarter of a million people have been killed in Syria alone. Refugees are flooding Europe. Here, an old adage comes into play. A million deaths is a statistic. A single death is a tragedy—and the stuff of stories.

In 2012 Malala Yousafzai, a 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl, was shot and badly wounded. Much of the world was outraged. Where was the outrage when thousands of other Pakistanis were murdered over the years? When violence ripped through neighboring Afghanistan? When Islamic State later beheaded hundreds and enslaved women? People responded, yes. But Malala captured their hearts. She was a recognizable individual. She had a name and a face. She wasn’t just a news report; she was a story. Thus on to fiction…

Yes, I read nonfiction. I’m a big fan of Robert Kaplan’s incisive geopolitical books. Nonfiction enlightens the mind. But fiction touches the heart. A year ago, I finally read John Steinbeck’s deservedly classic The Grapes of Wrath. Yes, there was a bit too much repetition for my taste. But wow! How could you not understand the suffering caused by the Dust Bowl and the Depression by coming to know the Joad family?

Economists write books. Politicians make speeches. But giving people a human story with which they can identify—why presidents host “ordinary people” at their State of the Union addresses—creates both understanding and empathy.

That red-tailed hawk and those clouds hit me where I feel. The nation, indeed the world, might be better off if we read more fiction, saw more plays and attended more independent films to get out of our heads a bit and nourish our hearts.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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FOOTNOTES TO HISTORY

Last week, I asked a question: “What if you looked in the mirror and couldn’t see yourself?” An event last Sunday reminded me that that question might be asked in a different way: “What if you walked down the street in broad daylight and everyone looked right through you?”

The event I referred to was a program at the San Francisco Public Library main branch explaining Filipino suffering defending Bataan in early 1942 and during the “death march” following Bataan’s surrender on April 9. Approximately 12,000 Americans became prisoners of the Japanese—but so did 63,000 Filipinos, died in far greater numbers due to disease, starvation and brutal murder on the 65-mile trek north and during imprisonment at Camp O’Donnell.

Cecilia Gaerlan, the Filipina-American creator of the Bataan Legacy Project, seeks increased recognition for Filipinos who fought alongside American troops. Those vets have had great difficulty getting benefits from Washington. Filipinos they may have been, but the United States ruled the Philippines after wresting the islands from Spain in 1898.

I mention this in light of the April 15 bombing at the Boston Marathon. The Boston bombing was horrific but not the only—or most chilling—act of violence experienced in recent years. Heinous acts beyond our borders often go unnoticed. Americans tend to think that what happens to us is tragic while what happens to others merely represents a footnote to history. Understandably, our deepest emotions respond when disaster strikes at home—Oklahoma City, September 11, Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy and the recent explosion in West, Texas to name a few.

Yet we must acknowledge others’ suffering. Following catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 80,000 people have died in the Syrian civil war, many of them civilians. (About 1.4 million Syrians have fled the country, according to The New York Times.) Violence abounds in sub-Saharan Africa, too.

This past week’s news offered more tragedy. The death toll from a fire at a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh—allegedly caused by a lack of safety precautions—soared to 1,000. (One woman was just found alive.) Another factory fire in Bangladesh killed eight. In Pakistan, a suicide bomber killed 25 and wounded 65 at a rally organized by a religious political party. A gas tanker outside Mexico City exploded killing 20. Suicide bombers killed three people in Kirkuk, Iraq. Gunmen in Nigeria ambushed and killed as many as 46 police officers (death tolls vary).

My morning contemplation includes, “May this day bring us all a step closer to healing and peace, understanding that we’re all children of the same Creator and all deserving of the same respect.” I don’t kid myself. This thought won’t eliminate the hatred, greed and will to power too often attached to the human heart. This post won’t put an end to bad news.

Still, any and every step towards making the world better demands that we recognize the plight of others. We can’t dwell on these horrors all the time; we’d go mad. But we can transform footnotes to history into real people.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

FLASH AND MALALA

As a kid, the televised run of the 1936 Flash Gordon sci-fi serial with Buster Crabbe fascinated me—particularly the contrast of technology (rocket ships, two-way TV) and medieval environments. Today’s world maintains that contrast—including here in America.

When I was growing up, the U.S. had TV, satellites, manned space flights and, yes, hydrogen bombs. At the same time, many countries couldn’t provide their people with clean water and indoor plumbing. George Lucas, only two months older than me, presented the same complex meld of technology and ancient cultures in the first Star Wars. I recall Luke Skywalker and Obi-wan Kenobi taking Luke’s anti-gravity landspeeder into the desert. They’re attacked. Luke believes Sand People to be responsible. Obi-wan tells him that the shots fired at them were too precise; the Sand People lack discipline and frighten easily. Imperial storm troopers are the villains here.

I’ve always believed that Lucas—he’s free to correct me—was taking a direct shot at the Arabs and the Greater Middle East. Negative stereotypes truly can be misleading. Yet in today’s world with a manned satellite orbiting earth, a Martian Rover and anyone posting anything on You Tube, Islamists go out of their way to portray themselves as primitives.

Case in point: In Pakistan last Tuesday, the Taliban shot and badly wounded 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai. A 14-year-old girl! Why? Because Malala, who wants to be a physician, promotes education for Pakistani girls.

This was one of many recent dark moments in the Greater Middle East. Islamists of all stripes continue to mount atrocities on virtually a daily basis. They kill, maim and terrorize not only non-Muslims but more often fellow Muslims in God’s name. And all as the “infidel West” probes the secrets of the human genome and links humanity through advanced communications devices.

There may at least be a ray of hope. Pakistanis are outraged. “Malala is our pride,” said Interior Minister Rehman Malik. “She became an icon for the country.” Army chief of staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani condemned the attacks, as did Jamaat ud Dawa, the charity wing of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba. In full disclosure, it must be said that neither of the latter has ever taken a clear position against Islamist terrorism.

A vexing question remains. What about the rest of the Muslim world? Will Muslims in other nations rally in protest against such savagery as they did against an obscure video that painted Muhammad in such a negative light? So far, there’s no news. And that’s bad news.

But let’s not get too self-righteous in the high-tech America of which Flash would be proud. In the last week or so, Arkansas State Representative Jon Hubbard claimed that slavery was a “blessing in disguise.” A book by Republican state House candidate Charlie Fuqua proposed that all Muslims in the United States—citizens included—be deported. And Georgia Republican congressman and ardent Christian Paul Broun, a physician, called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from hell.”

Decades ago, Flash Gordon battled the Shark Men and the Hawk Men to save Earth from the clutches of Ming the Merciless. That fantasy is no wilder than our own reality.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and a coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.