Thursday, June 23, 2005

Another Sign of the Upcoming Apocalypse

Al Gore created the internet. He helped draft the 1995 Kyoto Treaty to help combat Global Warming. He and wife Tipper served as the inspiration for "Love Story". And now he materializes in a Harvard University gym to help a Muslim-American student pick up the keys she dropped while running on a treadmill. Is there anything Al Gore can't do?

Some background on Fatina Abdrabboh, the Harvard student:
I consider my appearance quite unremarkable. I'm 5 feet 8 inches, 150 pounds, fresh-faced and comfortably trendy - hardly, in my view, a look that should draw stares. Still, the Muslim headscarf, or hijab, that I wear makes me feel as if I am under a microscope.

I try to go to the gym just about every morning. Because I work out with my scarf on, people stare - just as they do on the streets of Cambridge.

The other day, though, I felt more self-conscious than usual. Every television in the gym highlighted some aspect of America's conflict with the Muslim world: the war in Iraq, allegations that American soldiers had desecrated the Koran, prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, President Bush urging support of the Patriot Act. The stares just intensified my alienation as an Arab Muslim in what is supposed to be my country. I was not sure if the blood rushing to my head was caused by the elliptical trainer or by the news coverage.
Moving onto the treadmill, she begins running hard, in part as an escape from the persecution she feels as a young Harvard student of Arab origin. Her faith in the United States has been shattered by (who else?) President Bush. Then, something happened that would change her life forever: she dropped her keys.

As sweat dripped down my face, I reached for my towel, accidentally dropping my keys in the process. It was a small thing, I know, but as they slid down the rolling belt and fell to the carpet, my faith in the United States seemed to fall with them. I did not care to pick them up. I wanted to keep running.
Lo and behold, here comes Al Gore to save the day:
Suddenly a man, out of breath, but still smiling and friendly, tapped me on my shoulder and said, "Ma'am, here are your keys." It was Al Gore, former vice president of the United States. Mr. Gore had gotten off his machine behind me, picked up my keys, handed them to me and then resumed his workout.

It was nothing more than a kind gesture, but at that moment Mr. Gore's act represented all that I yearned for - acceptance and acknowledgment. There in front of me, he stood for a part of America that has not made itself well known to 10 million Arab and Muslim-Americans, many of whom are becoming increasingly withdrawn and reclusive because of the everyday hostility they feel.

It is up to us as Americans to change how the rest of the world views us by changing how we view some of our own citizens. Mr. Gore's act reminded me that rather than running away on my treadmill, I needed to keep my feet on the soil in this country. I left the gym with a renewed sense of spirit, reassured that I belong to America and that America belongs to me.
We will never know how different the world would be if Al Gore had won his Supreme Court case back in 2000 (Bush vs. Gore). But we do know that in a tiny corner of the world--Cambridge, Massachusetts--a woman has her faith in America restored, thanks to the five Supreme Court justices (William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas) who decided not to allow a third recount of punch-card ballots in Democrat-selected counties in Florida.

Yes, Fatina, there is a Supreme Court.


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