Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 2001 /28 Elul, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

Unnecessary call

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I GOT a call from an old friend Wednesday afternoon. Well, that's not accurate. He is only the kind of man I would want as a friend; I had known him only in his professional capacity. But he's somebody you remember for more than his professional services. Because he is the kind of doctor who treats the whole patient, and for that a family is still in his debt, always will be.

His patient back then had been a Southern lady who set great store by manners -- not in the formal, narrow sense of the word, but in the broader sense of how human beings should treat one another.

The lady had been impressed by the doctor almost from the first moment she'd met him -- by his combination of old-fashioned British reserve and newly adopted Southern warmth. For he had come to Arkansas from an old outpost of the Empire.

For the brief time he had been able to treat her, he had proven not only the right physician for her, but the right person, inquiring not only about her physical but spiritual health.

His faith was not the same as hers -- he is Muslim -- yet it was the same. It took him only a few words, a gentle question, an understanding nod, a quiet but definite instruction, to make that much clear. (''You will soon have a feast day -- your new year's? We have our feasts, also. You must celebrate it at home with your family.'')

Now, years later, and with another new year coming out of the literal, terrible wreckage of the old, he was on the other end of the line again. As soon as I'd seen his name on the message slip, I'd known why he was calling. It was the day after the attacks in New York and Washington. America was in shock.

I knew he hadn't phoned just to repeat what everybody else was saying. I knew it would be to underscore what everybody knows if they'd just think about it, that Muslim Americans -- and indeed good and faithful Muslims everywhere -- are as shocked and outraged and saddened as all the rest of us by this evil that has struck at America, and at all Americans.

Now he was asking, in that reserved but undeniable way he had, if I would say something to that effect in the paper.

I was sorry he felt he even had to ask. I'd seen some columns and editorials in other papers along those lines, all about brotherhood and unity and other platitudes. They made me uncomfortable, even a little angry. Not because I would disagree with any of the points they make, but because some things shouldn't have to be said. And I resent having to say them again. You'd think we would all have learned some things by now.

Haven't the terrorists killed and maimed enough of us? Are we going to let them divide us, too, and set American against American?

Does a columnist still have to point out that we only play the terrorists' game when we start badmouthing our Muslim neighbors, or innocent students from Arab lands who have come here only to study and make a contribution to life, or Muslims around the world, or Islam in general?

So I hadn't spoken up. Not at any length, not till now. Not till I heard the good doctor say something over the phone that struck me anew, even though I'd known it a long time:

It's important, he said, to say something about how Muslims are as shocked and concerned as everybody else by this sneak attack, this crime and abomination. It's important because of the children.

Yes, the children. They're so young, they don't yet understand that the haters can never get them where it counts -- in their heart and mind. They're not as fully formed yet, they don't understand that their souls are clean no matter what names they might be called.

The kids are too young to understand, but they're old enough to be hurt, to cry over the injustice of it. And old enough to be afraid when they see the pictures on television. Or when some useless idiot fires a few shots through the plate glass of an Islamic Center in Texas, staging his own personal Kristallnacht. Brave, brave man. He doesn't even have to know how to fly a 747 to pull off his own noisy little act of terror.

But the children are too young to understand all that. And that's how the haters always get to you, through your children. That's the only thing that really hurts.

That's why I need to repeat the obvious today: that all of us are hurting now, that all of us are Americans, that united we stand. And that now of all times we are not about to hurt more of our fellow Americans, and certainly not their kids. And nothing -- nothing -- is going to turn us against one another.

When the phone call ended, I was sorry it was over. It had been good talking to the doctor again. His is still a comforting presence, even over the phone. And we hadn't talked about only the terrible, hurtful things in the news but about family, and what the kids were doing now.

Hearing from him after all this time on so dark a day had brought back the memory of the patient he'd cared for, even some of the light of her presence. Yes, talking to him had done me good, just as it had in other difficult times. So maybe his call was necessary after all, not for him but for me.

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