Chapter 44 – An Alternate Perspective
During one of the nights out with my friend Elizabetta in Lebanon, we ended up going to a bar called Antidote in the Gemmayze district of the capital. At the time I’d been wearing my beloved Yemeni scarf that I’d purchased several weeks beforehand from some back alley bazaar near the old town of Sanaa. After walking in and greeting several people I’d met during previous nights of mindless drunkenness, some young spiffy-lookin’ brown dude of whom I had yet to make the acquaintance came up to me and started feeling the silky material of my neckwear.
“This,” the guy looked up at me, “this is from Yemen.”
“Yeah, I got it there a couple weeks ago. Have you ever been?”
“I am from Yemen,” he replied.
“Really? You don’t dress like most people there. Where’s your scarf? And your robe and your jambiya, for that matter?”
“Well,” I suggested, “hang on a minute. Lemme grab a drink and let’s talk about your homeland for a bit. There’s a few things I’ve been wanting to discuss.”
Like I began mentioning, this guy had been a well-dressed and clean-shaven, handsome young twenty-three-year-old Arab dude. But he also spoke a perfect English and struck me as far more intelligent than anyone else I’d met while travelling through Yemen. For someone who originated in the poorest country of the Arab world, this guy had upper-class written all over him.
When I showed up to the bar, I’d already been quite drunk so whatever social filter I normally spew through had pretty much been crumpled up and thrown in the fuckin’ trash when talking to this guy. The early part of our exchange went as follows.
“I gotta ask though,” I began, “what type of Muslim are you to be drinking at a bar? I mean, Mohammed said you’re not to adulterate your mind, right? So why, according to your faith, do you think this is okay for you to do?”
“Well,” he retorted, “I’m not hurting anybody when I drink, so what’s the problem?”
“But you’re not hurting anyone when you eat pork either.”
“That I will never do,” he added.
“What’s the difference? You decide which laws are okay to break and justify doing so with homemade rationalizations? That’s a bit hypocritical, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so,” he shrugged, “but eating pork is totally different and I will never do that.”
“But what’s different? I don’t get it.”
“Pork is not clean. That’s the difference.”
“But why is pork not clean?”
“It just isn’t. And that’s the way it is.”
“Man,” I laughed while patting him on the back, “you’re one crazy motherfucker.”
He cringed a bit when I said this but I didn’t know why. As we’d go on conversing, as I always do, I kept making good usage of the word “motherfucker.” Motherfucker this, motherfucker that – everyone to me is a god damn motherfucker. But that, I’d soon find out, is what he didn’t like.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he interrupted me after one too many MF-bombs, “can you please stop using that word? You say it so much and I need you to stop.”
“What word, ‘motherfucker?’”
“Yes, that’s the one. Can you please cut it out?”
“I guess I could. But why?”
“Because our mothers are the ones who have given us life. Mothers and sisters should be held in the highest regard.”
“Yeah, but I’m not talking about anyone fucking anyone’s mother in particular. It’s just a common word used by everyone in my neighborhood. I grew up with it. It’s part of me. In fact, it’s used so often that it’s basically become an interchangeable pronoun that’s replaced usage of ‘he,’ ‘him’ and ‘you’ in everyday language.”
“Okay. I understand. But please don’t use it in front of me anymore. I find it very disrespectful and it’s making me sick.”
“Yeah, alright man. I’ll try, but I’m pretty drunk and if I do slip up and say it, I don’t mean any disrespect to you.”
He nodded and we continued chatting.
“So, uh,” I began, “are you here on vacation or you workin’ in Beirut or what’s up?”
“Well, actually I’m sort of in exile. You see, I can’t really go home at the moment because I don’t have enough bodyguards. Before coming here, seven of my bodyguards were killed in gun battle while fighting one of my enemies. They were able to kill thirteen of his bodyguards, but were not able to kill my enemy himself as planned. So now, without adequate protection, I don’t feel safe going home because I fear he will seek revenge.”
“Ah,” I casually nodded as if I heard that sort of thing all the time, “I see.”
“Yeah, so, that’s why I’m here right now.”
“Damn,” I let it soak in for a second and went to say what I normally would in that situation, “you’re one crazy motherfu…” I stopped myself, figuring this might not be the type of guy I wanna piss off, “…dude. You’re one crazy dude. See! I caught myself there. You like that? You proud of me?”
“Yes, yes. Well done,” he chuckled. “Let’s get another round of drinks.”
After getting a few more whiskeys in my system, I started talking about all the heavy shit that I probably would’ve been too timid to bring up if I hadn’t been so bombed.
“Yo, bin Laden was a fuckin’ asshole.”
“Are you kidding me?” he replied. “Bin Laden was a good guy. Bin Laden fed the poor.”
“Bin Laden killed a bunch of innocent people, man! He’s a fuckin’ terrorist asshole!”
The kid laughed.
“Listen Tim, why don’t you see it from my point of view for just one moment? Bin Laden didn’t do anything to your country that your country hasn’t been doing to every other country in the world since it came to be. Your country kills innocent people all the time in my country with their drone attacks. Your country dropped not one but two atomic bombs on Japan, killing a hundred times more innocent people than bin Laden ever had. How is that not terrorism?”
I took a deep breath, thinking of something to say.
“And then all of a sudden someone like bin Laden stands up and gives America a taste of their own medicine and what happens? They’re in an uproar about it. Politicians are swearing vengeance on whoever did it, citizens are outraged. But no one there stops and thinks that maybe that was the vengeance. That America is not some innocent victim being attacked. That all along America has been the bad guy who bullies everyone else and 9/11 was the payback that it deserved. Have you ever thought about that?”
“But what did killing more innocent people accomplish?”
“Nothing. That’s the way of the world. An eye for an eye. Generation after generation the pattern is repeated without consideration. And it’ll never stop. But you haven’t answered my question. Have you ever thought about that possibility or are you just as blind as everybody else in your country?”
“No, I never have thought about it that way before.”
“Well,” he concluded, “there’s something for you to think about.”