In December of 1776 Thomas Paine, who is best known for his pamphlet entitled Common Sense, which endorsed American independence from Great Britain, began writing a series of pamphlets entitled The American Crises. In one of the first of these, he coined the popularly-known statement, "These are times that try men's souls." Paine was referring of course, to the situation the thirteen colonies were facing during the opening days of the American Revolution.
While there is little doubt as to the truthfulness of Paine's statement, it is equally true that these also are times that try men's and women's souls. There are events taking place in the world right now - today, that are so horrific that just having knowledge of them seems to tear at one's very soul. More specifically, I am speaking about the Israeli-instigated humanitarian crises that is taking place in Gaza, where it appears that the Tel Aviv government appears hell-bent to commit genocide against the nearly defenseless Palestinians living there. Knowing what Israel is doing is bad enough, but watching our own U.S. Senate almost unanimously support the carnage taking place there is really too much to bear. After all, to whom does a person of conscience turn when their so-called representatives overwhelmingly support such crimes against humanity; this, when an estimated 50 percent of Americans are horrified by news reports coming from that part of the world?
For me, and likely for others as well, there is a growing feeling of helplessness as each day, we hear more depressing news coming from Gaza. Here's just a sampling of today's headlines as they can currently be found at Antiwar.com:
Israel Tells Gazans to Brace For Yet More Escalation
U.N: One-third of Gaza dead, injured are children
This one is especially horrifying:
Report: Israel Forced Civilians Into Single House, Repeatedly Bombed It
It was with this ever-increasing feeling of hopelessness and impotency that I read some of the stories behind the headlines this morning. I was in the computer lab at the public library and after finishing with my reading, I decided to check one of my e-mail accounts before getting off line and heading home. Upon getting into my inbox, I saw an e-mail from the OMNI Center that spoke of a "vigil in honor of the dead and the suffering in the Gaza conflict." The vigil was set for Saturday (today) at twelve noon. I checked my watch; the time was 11:59. Quickly, I logged off the computer, ran downstairs to grab a movie to take home, and headed for the Federal Building where a group of people were assembled outside.
It was not a large group that was gathered there, but it certainly was a dedicated one. I counted about 32 participants, but my count could have been off a little one way or the other. To see that even this many people came out on relatively short notice, and on such a cold and blustery day, was heartwarming.
One of the event organizers decided to hold a Palestinian ceremony called an Azaa. This is the Arabic word for the mourning ceremony that occurs after the death of a loved one in the Islamic world. Today, in keeping with the Azaa tradition, there was a table set up for the purpose of serving dates and bitter coffee - two essential components of any Azaa.
Most of the folks who attended the event stood along North College Avenue and held signs that stated their opposition to the current war in Gaza and the taking of so many civilian lives there. A small podium with an accompanying sound system, from which speakers delivered messages and volunteers delivered prayers, had also been set up.
My whole reason writing about today's event is not to talk about what was said outside the Federal Building today, or how many passing vehicles honked favorably; rather, it is simply to congratulate the OMNI folks and all who attended the event for coming out on such a cold day in order to take such an unpopular stance at a time during which our news media and politicians are only expressing one side of this vital issue - the Israeli side.
Today's vigil in downtown Fayetteville likely won't sway our biased national news media or our bought and paid for "representatives" in Washington, D.C. who blindly bow down to the powerful Israeli lobby without ever caring to hear the other side of the story, but I can at least hope that it made the other participants feel a little less frustrated - a little less impotent, as it did me.