Monday, October 22, 2007

HOLY LAND FOUNDATION TRIAL: the verdict is "peace"

The joy is palpable:

Shukri, Mohammad, Abdulrahman, and Mufid are free. Ghassan's situation is not changed.

Exactly what happened in the courtroom today is not clear. Judge Fish’s tight control over the proceedings seems to have slipped through his fingers at the very end—which, for those of certain philosophical and theological beliefs might be evidence that he never was really in control—and the rules suddenly seemed no longer to apply.

Those of us waiting in the 6th-floor cafeteria heard first one announcement read from someone's cell-phone (thank goodness for text-messaging) and then another seemingly contradictory announcement. And then nothing was making sense. The jury had changed its mind? The end of this trial came about as close to chaos as the well-oiled machinery of the American judicial system can come.

And that is only fitting. A trial in which many rules of common decency and fairness had already been flouted ended when three jurors said, “Wait, that’s not what I voted for.” That is, most likely, an indication that nothing was right about it from the beginning.

The United States of America, for all of its current and past ignominious trampling on the rights of the weak (whether or not we want to own up to that truth) still has a paradigm of value hidden in our collective memory (or at least in our deepest desires) to look to for guidance. It is a paradigm of equality and liberty that very few of us ever really experience, equality and liberty whose very names were penned by a man who owned slaves; equality and liberty in the name of which our ancestors drove indigenous peoples from their lands; equality and liberty in the name of which, in our lifetime, we insisted that our brothers and sisters of Japanese ancestry be herded up and sent off to desert camps; equality and liberty in the name of which many now hold Muslim Americans and Arab Americans in suspicion and hatred. But they are equality and liberty that are larger than our weakness, equality and liberty that are stronger than our prejudices, equality and liberty that will last longer than our selfishness, our fear, and our pride.

We are still growing into the equality and liberty that Mr. Jefferson said we hold to be self-evident (if they are so obvious, why are they so amorphous as to disappear when we need them most?). Mr. Jefferson wrote better than he knew or acted, and we read his words better than we understand or fulfill.

But once in awhile, in spite of ourselves, a glimpse of equality and liberty breaks through. It may be in the unsatisfactory verdict of “mistrial.” It may appear at a moment when the “system” seems to have broken down. It may be, no, it almost certainly will be, in a situation over which we think control is lost.

But it is most likely precisely in moments when we think we have lost control, willingly or unwillingly, that the best that we can do will break through. We control best what we try to control least.

The only thing left to say is to Shukri, Mohammad, Adulrahman, Mufid, and Ghassan. Peace, my brothers. Peace.