A few years back here on American soil, some classmates used a broomstick in the act of rape on younger classmates as a hazing ritual while at a football camp. These kids were from the same affluent high school where my three children had attended. The town was shocked by what happened while the media camped out at the school for days. Even though my youngest had graduated that spring before all hell broke loose and I was grateful she didn't have to go through what her underclassmen was going through, the horror of what occurred affected all of us. The biggest question that kept cropping up was what makes anyone feel they have the right to do what those bullies did? What empowers them?
Just months prior to that gang rape, President Bush ignored the opinions and warnings of others and bullied his way into Iraq. Besides searching for those elusive WMDs, he said it was to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East population while trying to sell the idea that Americans are democratic and civilized, a people to be emulated. Unfortunately, the president used shock and awe in an attempt to win those hearts and minds. What soon followed was the news of what was happening at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay-- the dictates from the Geneva Convention be damned. The reports of the deaths and assaults done by the so-called liberators to those who had been abused for years by Saddam are confounding and infuriating. But when it happens by us to those who are somehow under our command, be it on a high school football team or in prison, one asks if the hearts have become evil and the minds vacuous.
Sentences were meted out to the young football players and the town soon moved forward. However, for me, the unease did not abate. I watched helplessly as Bush's administration trounced upon our civil liberties, the suppression palpable. It was bad enough that my ineffectual protests were being ignored, but so were my neighbors'. Then, just this past week, hope came in the way of voters standing up to the bullies in high places. Rumsfeld has been released of his duties and the president's arrogant attitude somewhat tempered. There is a collective sigh of relief, but now it's time to suck up our differences and try to live to be emulated.
We will achieve much, if we use this political change to gain a sense of respect for each other. I'm not talking about the kind of respect the cops tried to coerce physically from Abner Louima, but a respect that begins at an early age. From pre-school on, bullies have made targets of people for one reason or another, but we must find a way to stop it.
Maybe the examples being set are something we as parents, teachers and political figures need to examine. Perhaps our children need to witness people who do not elbow his or her way past the rest in order to get the best seat on the bus. Perhaps our children need to witness people who take time to listen instead of shouting down each other or barreling into a suspect war. Perhaps our children need to witness what it means to respect one another, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or being a war detainee. And, perhaps our children need to witness these people, us that is, willing to defend the underling, not to mention our civil rights, so that weapons of massive destruction, like broomsticks, will not even enter one's thoughts.
Then, perhaps our hearts and minds will be worthy of emulation. Otherwise, we will have little to offer not only to the outside world, but to ourselves.
Portions of Carol Hoenig's essay were published in The Raw Story in October 2004.