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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Going too far

I should've known better.

It's a safe bet that most, if not all, extended families have that special member. Said Relative (hereafter referred to as "SR") is probably a good person, having led a good life, working hard and being a good provider to their family. They no doubt have lots of amusing anecdotes culled from a long life to share with others. Unfortunately, over time they have also accumulated a life's worth of biases and prejudices arising from ignorance and reinforced with the stubbornness that comes with age. Back when I was much younger, my own SR would frequently employ the "N word" when talking about African-Americans, a fact which made my mother feel uncomfortable and which my father would try to explain away as the result of an upbringing in a southern state. Cut to the present day and the age of social media, and SR is out there, churning out a constant stream of rants and raves on a daily basis and "sharing" them with the rest of us through the good graces of Facebook. The "N-word" is no longer employed, but judging from the tone of SR's anti-Obama postings, it's pretty obvious his differences with the president are not merely over ideology (need I point out he's a birther?). As we all know, our chief executive is a closet Muslim, which brings us to another of SR's pet peeves - he's no admirer of Islam, to say the least.

Yesterday, I shared a Washington Post article on the difficulty some Americans are having in trying to categorize the Boston Marathon bombers. SR is one American not struggling when it comes to labels. He responded to my link with...well, I'm not sure what to call it (if the link doesn't work, consider yourself lucky). He's compiled a long list of "crimes" committed by "Muslims" (or "Palestinians", or "The Nation of Islam"), complete with ESPN-like stats, with little attempt made to provide further (as in crucial for understanding) details about the particulars of the case. The cut-and-paste job followed a self-penned commentary basically holding all Muslims, and Islam in general, guilty for the sins of the extremists. In SR's world, there are no Shias, or Sunnis, or Sufis, no disagreements over interpretations of the Quran and no differences in the way the religion is practiced in that long swath of countries ranging from Morocco to Indonesia (not to mention in other places in the world, including the U.S.). Islam is a monolithic entity that threatens the rest of us, and every Muslim, if not to be held accountable for the acts of the extremists, must at least be viewed with suspicion until the violence stops. And as SR once remarked when the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya was attacked last year, "force is the only thing those people understand". 

My mistake last night was in bothering to respond to SR. For facts, logic and reason do not engender a worthwhile dialog when someone else's prejudices are set in stone, and it's too late in their lives to think things over again. The result from SR was a constant stream of personal insults, bizarre analogies and just plain irrelevant weirdness. Alas, I let myself get drawn in, and I'm afraid I ended up responding, if not exactly in kind, then with snide remarks of my own that weren't really necessary. The best thing to have done was to have walked away and let the old man enjoy himself on Facebook. As I said before, SR is basically a decent and good man at heart, the kind of person you wouldn't hesitate to invite to gatherings of extended family members.

Just don't invite anyone of the wrong color, political affiliation or religion to the party. Or if you do, keep them away from SR and/or try to keep the conversation away from anything that might set him off. Let your SR believe that having operated a business for 36 years means they are always right about everything, and peace will be maintained.

As you may have guessed from the photos above, I was in Washington, D.C. this afternoon. Only I wish I hadn't gone. Not because the Marine Corp Memorial isn't worth visiting - it is. It's just that the walk to there from the Rosslyn Metro station gets a little tiring when you've only just started doing physical therapy on your surgically-reattached ligament in your left knee. As I'm typing this, I'm sitting in an armchair with an ice pack on my knee as a result. One has to know one's limits. Still, the Iwo Jima Statue, based, of course, on Joe Rosenthal's iconic photograph, is an impressive sight, especially on a beautifully warm day like today.

I also limped over to see the Netherlands Carillon. This 130 foot (39.6 meters)-high tower is a gift from the Netherlands in gratitude for American aid during World War II, and the view from the top, when it's open, must be stirring. I didn't get to go up, but the flowers at ground-level, and the expansive lawn, made for a quite pleasant atmosphere.

UPDATE: Apparently, I inadvertently pushed a deep-rooted psychological button with SR (whose name, for the record, is Roger Hendrix), for a few days ago he posted another message on Facebook filled with nasty personal insults directed at yours truly. While I can take the venom (I've been called much worse by much smarter people) and elected not to respond in kind, a line was crossed - RH used a very offensive racial slur ("mail-order bride") when referring to my Taiwan-born wife, whom he has never met (in the process, he also insulted my father and my daughter). If this is how RH wishes to live out the last years of his life, so be it. I, however, will no longer have anything to do with him, ever again.

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