Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Appointment in Samarra*

Every day we read about other people's personal tragedies in the news, but rarely do we know those involved. Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at a Christian nursing school in Oakland, California, near the nursing home where my husband Flip now lives. Seven people were murdered execution style and several others wounded, but not much else is known at this time.

What I do know is that one of the victims, Doris Chibuko, was the aunt of a young woman who works at the nursing home as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant.) Nneka is a particular friend of mine because she is unfailingly kind to Flip, and one of the three aides I have fought hard to get as his caregivers. Her aunt was the mother of three children, 3, 5 and 8, and was a lawyer in her native Nigeria. She was studying nursing at Oikos University and was two months away from graduating. She was only 40 years old. The family came to the United States from Nigeria to have a better life. Whatever brutal conditions they escaped in their country have been visited upon them here. The terrible irony in this is obvious.

Last week, Shaima Alawadi, a 32-year old Iraqi-American Muslim woman was beaten to death in her home in San Diego, California. A note next to her body called her a terrorist and said she should go back to her own country. She was found by one of her five children, a teenaged daughter who was quoted as saying, "She's such an innocent woman. Why? Why did you do that?...We're not the terrorist. You are."

The family had been here for many years, and the murdered woman's brothers worked as cultural advisers for the U.S. Army to help train soldiers deployed to the Middle East. The police are investigating her death as a homicide: "A hate crime is one of the possibilities, and we will be looking at that. We don't want to focus on only one issue and miss something else." One wonders what else it could possibly be.

In February Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old boy was walking home to dinner, chatting on his cellphone with his girlfriend, armed with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea from the local convenience store. He was shot to death by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain with a history of violence because he was black. The Florida police are still scrambling to justify the cold-blooded murder, and Geraldo Rivera has even helpfully suggested that the hoodie he was wearing in the rain was to blame. The killer might as well have been wearing a hood, a white one, because the only possible motive was racism. This country is collapsing under the weight of so much hatred, no matter how we deny it, and everybody can buy a gun. Who will be the next target? Whose child will be murdered next?

"Shaima Al-Awadi's murder, like Trayvon Martin's, was a senseless murder based upon racial animus," said Dawud Walid, a black Muslim leader from Detroit who is executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We must come together as a society to have frank discussions about the toxic rhetorical environment which we currently live in that leads to such wanton violence."

I add my tears for all these people, but have no words of wisdom. Sometimes I really fear we are a lost cause. There will always be evil in the world, and all we can do is try to be as good as we can and hope it makes a difference.

*The title is a reference to W. Somerset Maugham's retelling of an old story in which a merchant in Baghdad sends his servant to the marketplace for provisions. Shortly, the servant comes home white and trembling and tells him that in the marketplace he was jostled by a woman, whom he recognized as Death, and she made a threatening gesture. Borrowing the merchant's horse, he flees at top speed to Samarra, a distance of about 75 miles (125 km), where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the marketplace and finds Death, and asks why she made the threatening gesture. She replies, "That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."


Anonymous said...

It's just so sad. :(

Cro Magnon said...

And back in the UK they are mourning the deaths of two young men who were callously murdered by Shawn Tyson, for having wandered into 'the wrong part of town', whilst on holiday somewhere in Florida. Life has become very cheap; perhaps it always was!

nick said...

Very sorry to hear about the nursing assistant's aunt. I don't know how to stop all these bizarre shootings other than to get rid of all the guns, which of course is impossible in such a gun-loving country.

The Trayvon Martin case has (finally) had a lot of publicity in the UK media. The way so many people are trying to blame Trayvon for the murder is incredible (of course "he was asking for it").

The catalyst for all these shootings is irrational hatred of people who're different or who have somehow "betrayed" the killer. Hard to know how to wipe out such warped emotions.

Secret Agent Woman said...

It is heat-rending But have things changed? I don't know - seems like hatred and ignorance we have with us always. I don't know that we will ever learn.

mischief said...

So many sad stories. And sad that fools like Geraldo Rivera are permitted to express such ignorant attitudes as if he represent sthe American people. Of course we have some impressively stupid Canadians who represent badly too... but at least Canada has sensible gun control laws (for now).

Hugs to you Susan, and lots of love.

Anonymous said...

These stories sadden me. I am so sorry.

I cannot believe that we are still fighting the same prejudices, the same hatred, the same kind of blindness that have ravaged the hearts of man for so many years. Surely, we should have taken a step forward by now.

the walking man said...

*sigh* I hate to say this but if you live with it long enough you get hardened to it. ave you seen the youtube clip where Santorum starts to cal Obama a nigger but catches himself half way through the word so it comes out nig-uh?

yeah we can really have a national dialogue on race and issues pertaining to ethnicity when them who supposedly lead the nation in any capacity expose their thinking.

If you want to see the clip and it hasn't been cleansed yet just go to my blog very top right it the link.

Maria said...

I know...you see it every day and we as a society are so ingrained with fear.

A good friend of mine is a big black man who likes to jog. He says that nearly every time he is out jogging and finds himself behind a woman who is walking, carrying groceries, etc...that she will look nervously over her shoulder and then grab for her cell phone or shrink against a wall, etc.

We live in interesting times.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes. It truly is.

Cro Magnon,

I have the awful feeling that life has always been cheap to most people except for their immediate families and friends. If empathy were more widespread, we would have fewer senseless murders - and wars.


I fear that we are a profoundly messed-up species.


Every time it seems that we have advanced as a people, we take a couple of giant steps backward. There must be something stubbornly perverse in our DNA.


I have always thought Canada far more civilized than its neighbors to the south.


If we can't or won't learn from our mistakes, we are absolutely doomed to keep repeating them.


I did see that revolting clip, and despite my very low opinion of Santorum, I was still shocked at the blatancy of it. We are so screwed.


It's shocking how fearful most people are of anyone they perceive as "other." But what a boring world this would be if everyone were of the same ethnicity and culture -- we only learn from those whose experience is different from our own.

Anonymous said...

That was a horrific incident and I am sorry it hit close to home for you, Susan. Last thing that you needed right now. The world is, to me, becoming such a fucking vile and violent place and so many of our leaders are agenda driven and self-seeking morons that sometimes it feels tempting to just give up on the whole mess. I get to the point -- and that's a difficult admission for a longtime journalist, of not wanting to pick up a newspaper. But, I guess we have no choice but to carry on.

Claudia Hall Christian said...

We are amazing creatures, we humans. We love so deeply and create such connection.

And yet, we kill so easily and without remorse. We kill animals and bugs and worms and fish and bees and each other. It's a part of our nature that only seems to catch us when...

...the person killed is someone we love deeply.

How can such dichotomy live in the hearts of human beings?

I don't know.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I have a theory that people don't die of old age, but of despair at a changing world they no longer understand or feel relevant in.


Walt Whitman said it best:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large. I contain multitudes.)

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

My heart aches with immeasureable sorrow for each person who is killed by ignorance and hatred. There is no sanity in such a violent action.

Wishing peace and love to all who are touched by these unthinkable crimes.

Scarlett & V.