Tag Archives: Mark Twain

I Could Not Celebrate: So Kill Me

I know that Osama bin Laden is dead.

I was awake the other night when the announcement was made.

I heard President Obama’s speech and I got this weird feeling that the speech had been written for years and, like a dark Mad Lib, there were just a few holes left for the particulars to be filled in: a few nouns, a few verbs.

How does this help?

Yesterday morning I woke up and I saw all kinds of disturbing images peppering the internet: People screaming at a Phillies game; folks gathered in the streets of Washington, DC and at Ground Zero dancing and singing; Photoshopped pictures of Osama’s head being held by Lady Liberty. Pithy signs.

I felt a little squirmy.

This past Sunday we gathered for YomHashoah, a day commemorating the six million Jews (and others) who were murdered in the Holocaust. Obviously, Osama bin Laden wasn’t a leader who shared our western worldview, I know that. I have a friend who said: “Celebration in the streets is really unimportant either way in the great scheme of things. There are a select few historical figures whose demise is truly wonderful news for the world, and this is one of them — a man whose very existence was a threat to civilization. Ding, dong, the mass-murderer is dead.”

I guess I’m uncomfortable celebrating another person’s murder.

Aren’t we taught not to be joyful when blood is shed?

Proverbs says:

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…” (24:17).

So what are we doing?

Really?

I wish that in his speech Obama had thought to caution Americans, to remind Americans that this is a time to act with discretion and with civility. Because the world is watching us. All this partying seems not to be very productive. More likely, it will simply add fuel to the fire. And it certainly will not do anything to end the “War on Terror” when many Americans look like college students on Spring Break: that is, students behaving badly.

I know that Al-Quaeda is responsible for the attacks on our own soil and so many other atrocities abroad. Still, all the screaming and celebration and nationalistic dogma is unsettling. I’ll leave you all with a quote from Mark Twain:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

There is a difference about feeling quietly content about a desired result – the death of a person who openly declared war on another country and its people – and making a choice to bombard people with inflammatory images and mob scenes where groupthink is at play.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Bin Laden was a good man. He was, in fact, and without a doubt a terrible, terrible person. He was like Hitler, okay. Evil. But the Torah teaches us that it is not right to celebrate when someone else is killed, even if they are our enemies. If you just celebrated Passover you should have read this in your Haggadah. As I understand it, this is why we take drops of wine out of our glasses as we read the ten plagues. This is why the angels were rebuked by G-d for celebrating too much as the Egyptians drowned when the Jews crossed the River and made it to the other side. We can be quietly pleased. We can be grateful. We can be respectful of all those who have died as a result of bin Laden’s horrible crimes against humanity. But “partying” when there have been murders committed, on any side, is just another evil.

For those of you who watch the dramatic series Dexter, you know that Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer. All I know is that Dexter would have handled things a long time ago. Quietly. Discreetly. And he wouldn’t have been celebrating. There is a kind of sanctity to his bloody ritual.

To me, Monday was a little too much like Lord of the Flies.

I got lambasted on my Facebook page yesterday.

It’s okay. I can take it, and I know that others were a little uncomfortable with all the celebration today, too.

One last thing: Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violemce, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction… The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into a dark abyss of annihilation. -Strength To Love, 1963.

And this is just another of the zillions of reasons I love our county.

I can say my peace and have faith that no-one will haul me or my loved ones off in the morning to be tortured or raped or murdered.

Meanwhile how should teachers handle Osama bin Laden’s death? What kinds of statements would you want teachers to make or not make to their students?

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What the “Huck”?

Traditional raft, from 1884 edition of Adventu...

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A few months ago, I wrote a tirade about the Alabama publisher who took The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and “sanitized” it because school teachers confessed they felt uncomfortable teaching it in their classes due to the  use of the “n-word.”

I ranted and raved about how wrong it is to alter books and how it sets a dangerous precedent.

I never posted it.

I realize that not everyone will agree with me, but I think much (but certainly not all) of the power in Huckleberry Finn is in Twain’s brilliant use of language and how the plot morphs from a story of one, young, rather selfish boy on a journey to a story about a boy and a man, together, against the world.

There is an incredible irony that engaged readers will pick up on that Jim, the slave, referred to as a “nigger” 219 times during the course of the novel, is the most moral, loving, genuine, forgiving, character in the entire book. He is probably one of the greatest father-figures in American Literature. And, if read correctly Huckleberry Finn stands as one of the strongest condemnations of racism in American literature as Huck recognizes Jim’s humanity and says he would rather go to hell than send Jim back into slavery.

I had written much more – about how it is important to discuss the power of the “n-word,” its origins, and its different contexts in different communities; how it is necessary to challenge students about the casual use of the “n-word,” to get them to consider if it is ever okay to use this word and if so, who can say it, when and under what circumstances.

I caught this bit on Huckleberry Finn and the N-word debate on 60 Minutes and about 7 minutes in, I just knew that this report was saying it better than I ever could. If you ever read Twain’s novel or have kids who read it or might read it, it is worth the next 12 minutes of your time. And if you are an educator, I recommend you see it – first, to think about your methods. Because this is a book where one has to be mindful. But this piece of journalism would be great to show in one’s class to get a real discussion on race relations going.

If you were an English teacher, would you use the version with the original text? Or would you choose the new version where the “n-word” is replaced by the word “slave”? Or would you avoid the discussion on race altogether?