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Free at last!

11/05/2008

When history is happening, we never notice. History just happened.

Remember this?

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream....

Martin Luther King JrAnd when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" (Martin Luther King Jr. 1963)

Forty five years is a long time to wait. Martin Luther King didn't live to see the dream fulfilled: an African American in the White House.

History just happened at the culmination of one of the sillier and more inane US presidential campaigns. The dirty art of politics is at bottom, the art of making dreams come true.

Barack ObamaDreams come true are never as good as the reality. The promised land turns out to be hot. There are more barchash flies than milk, and there is more sand than honey. Too many hopes have been pinned on this one man who inherits a mountain of problems, old and new. Most of those hopes are bound to be disappointed. Barack Obama can't really walk on water, though in a real world politics sense, he just did something almost as difficult. He will nonetheless be a flesh and blood president like any other, and he will make mistakes and compromises. None of the bad guys will give him or the American people any discounts. Great power geopolitics is still out there and that game can't be won by nice words and winning smiles. The Iranians are still be Iranians, Iraq will not go away, Afghanistan is smoldering, Hamas will not go away, the Greater Israel people will not go away, the Hezbollah are still poised to take over Lebanon, America is still broke, and the global economic disaster will not go away. There is still race hate in the United States. That has been around for a few centuries and won't be banished by a single event, however propitious, or a single man, however gifted. But this great moment in history will not be forgotten. Tomorrow we can go back to politics as usual, but pause long enough to contemplate this event, a milestone in the history of the world as well as that of the United States. We have not reached the real promised land, and we never will. Obama is not the Messiah. But America is its way, and it won't turn back.

Those of us in the Middle East who are mired in the trivia of policy making and politics and our local quarrels and fears and hates, should think about the larger significance of the election of Barack Obama: If we don't lose the faith, the impossible can sometimes happen. But before it can happen, everyone, especially we here in the Middle East, needs to focus on another part of the Reverend King's speech as well:

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Violence, once unleashed, cannot be controlled. It rots the fabric of societies. The hatred that was preached in every capital of the Middle East inevitably brought terror back to those very capitals. The violence and hate of Israeli and Palestinian societies is turning back on ourselves: Shia against Sunni, Hamas against Fatah, settlers against the Israeli army that protects them, Arab against Arab, Jew against Jew.

Yitshak RabinToday marks the anniversary of the murder of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, another man with a dream. The murder of Rabin, like the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and the murder of Anwar Sadat, was an object lesson in what happens when violence and hate are allowed to run rampant.

In Yitzhak Rabin's last speech, at a rally held under the slogan, "Yes to peace, no to violence," he said:

In coming here today, you demonstrate, together with many others who did not come, that the people truly desire peace and oppose violence. Violence erodes the basis of Israeli democracy. It must be condemned and isolated. This is not the way of the State of Israel.

He was assassinated that same night, thirteen years ago, and Israel will never be the same again.

Today a big piece of Martin Luther King's dream has come true. We must never give up the hope that one day, Yitzhak Rabin's dream will come true as well. Then we too, will be free at last.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000723.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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