Jewish World Review July 11, 1999 /27 Tamuz 5759
Jackson was in town as part of his continuing pilgrimage toward beatification. Having heard him speak before, sometimes magnificently, I was curious to see how Jackson performed on foreign turf.
I was one of about 150 in a hot, cramped classroom at The American University. Most of those present were white American students, with a smattering of African-Americans (read: Democrats abroad) and a handful of French.
Through the French doors (you were expecting Dutch?) opening onto the street came the sound of a tribal drumbeat and the usual murmur of requisite protesters. On this day, they were against genocide, which certainly set them apart from all the rest of us.
The protesters and various journalists delayed Jackson about 30 minutes, giving us all time to consider His Reverend's extreme importance and to focus on our own discomfort in the heat.
Finally, Jackson arrived to the enthusiastic applause he so richly deserves. He is, after all, the only person alive who can secure the release of prisoners - while actually holding hands with the enemy - and he would be, after all, president of the United States. If only he were white.
So said Eva Jackson - a California lawyer, activist and longtime friend of "Brother Man" - upon introducing the reverend. Those who suspected this isn't precisely true nobly kept straight faces and earned extra grace points by standing respectfully for the Black National Anthem. If you, like me, didn't know we had a Black National Anthem, let me clue you in: It's as tricky to sing as the old "Star-Spangled Banner."
At last - but not before a brief moment of silence "to repair the earth" - we were allowed to sit down, whereupon Jackson more or less managed to compare himself to Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi and, more or less, announced his own imminent political demise.
It happened like this: Jackson was explaining the pivotal importance of our involvement in Kosovo. This time, he said, the United States was fighting for human rights rather than territory or oil or geopolitics. He urged equal standards in this fight and offered some guiding principles "by which the earnestness of world leaders should be measured."
So far so good. But beneath those palliative words was a stunning, if unspoken, message: Politicians may pick and choose their battles for political gain, but Jackson pursues the cause of human rights by following in the footsteps of his predecessors: Jesus and Mahatma Gandhi.
"People always ask me, 'What did you do in Iraq?' 'What did you do in Cuba, Syria?'"
"I tried," he said. "I talked."
Not a word about being the political pawn of our enemies, not a whisper about being used to orchestrate an impression of magnanimity while undermining the credibility of our elected leaders.
The reward of sitting through this self-love fest came, as rewards often do, at the end when the self-congratulatory Jackson unintentionally foretold his own doom. Talking about the perils of power, he thundered to the crowd:
"Why do the mighty fall? They fall when they believe they're mighty," he said without a hint of irony. "They fall upon their own sword."
Amen, Brother Man, beware your own
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