Jun 6, 2006

Things Coming Apart

Scenes from Act V. The other day I., a 12th grade student, presented his senior project on Sufism, and in particular an evangelistic sect he found in Fez. The sect is headquartered in Senegal and follows the inspiration of a charismatic who has made quite a name for himself in parts of the Middle East and Europe. The student talked to cult members and took part in some activities, including meditation. Afterwards, he seemed drawn to Sufism, its extastatic nature and its 'direct line' to God.

Mr. A was invited to hear the presentation, in part because he teaches Arabic and in part because he is the school's resident authority on Islam. I hired him myself at one point to explore certain topics in the Koran. At the conclusion of the presentation Mr. A asked the student what he thought of his experience. His tone suggested a certain answer.

The student understood and looking a little sheepish, replied that clearly Sufism is not mentioned in the Koran and by extension this is all off the Islamic mark.

"Very good," replied Mr. A. nodding his head. "Yes, exactly right." And in the silence that followed the notion was clear that "Let's remember that the truth is not with such beliefs."

It was remiscent of the Orwell incident I described so many months ago. That suggested fear of political freedom; this suggests religious intolerance. But the key is fear and regimentation, the desire for following in lockstep, for not questioning authority or presumption. As someone said to me the other day, "From the beginning we are taught to fear. Everyone is telling you stories about what will happen when you are a small child, particularly if you are a woman. Stories of being beaten as wives. Or worse. And then perhaps your father may teach you to fear him and by extension you fear teachers and police and anyone in the government. Everything is about fear."

Another scene for the denouement. Last week in class a 10th grade boy kicked a girl in his class in the stomach. This boy is very special, a great athelete, unusually personable and articulate, a model student in many ways. I wrote a strong letter of recommendation so that he could attend a soccer camp this summer in Boston and told his mother, who owns a very upscale restaurant in Fez, that I would do whatever I could to help get him into a good college in the US, if he wanted that.

But then last week he showed another side. For some reason he was in a bad mood before this class and he had particular revulsion for a classmate, an American girl, L. who is his polar opposite in all respects. She is the outsider, and would be even if she were in America. Apparently, he called her a 'cunt' in Arabic, she didn't know the word but got a rough translation, and told him to fuck off. He threw something at her; she flipped him the bird and then while she was sitting he came over to her and kicked her in the stomach. This was in Barabara's class. Then uproar, B calling for help out in the hallway, visits to Mrs. Watkin's office, rumors that the boy would be expelled, which lead to more pandemonium, tears, and enormous hostility toward the victim.... Finally, the boy was suspended for two days and then on Monday both had to stand up in front of the school and apologize to each other. She for inciting him; he for kicking her. His apology included a smirk and knowing glances from friends. Never mind that had he done this to a Muslim girl her brother would have killed him. Or her parents would have paid a doctor to find extraordinary injuries, even if there weren't any, and he would have been in court and perhaps imprisoned.... Not unlike in America. But Ms. Watkins, for whatever reason, missed an opportunity and had no understanding of local custom. She was apparently taken in by persuasive students.

Afterwards, a Moroccan American whose mother is an administrator at the university, a girl, offered some comforting words to the victim, "It's alright. We all had to go through this.'

And finally Dash... Last night, Tuesday, he explained over dinner, and tears, that he would not play in today's soccer match between his school and Azrou. He plays on both teams but was going to play today for his school. He is by far the best player in the middle school at ASI. As a boy said the other day when asked in an ESL class to describe how to score a goal in soccer, an exercise in describing process, he replied, "we pass to Dash."

But there is something else. Dash has fallen in love and a girl with him. Violetta. She is the jewel girl at ASI. Spanish, as beautiful at girl at 12 as you've ever seen, and after being here for just six months, living with her brother and a Moroccan housekeeper, while her parents occasionally visit from Spain (which is its own story), unable to speak English then, she has now mastered the language, become a top student, a top athelete and absolutely stole the talent show with an MTV like dance number she did with three other girls. She has won the hearts of faculty and students alike and then fell in love with Dash and writes him endless notes, which he has left around for us to notice. But when asked about them he took the long planned opportunity to made it quite clear that he needed "space" and didn't want us going through his mail, and otherwise we should realize that's things have changed.

Pas de problem. Except that this relationship has been discovered at school, where his classmates now tease him. Now he takes hits on several fronts because in Moroccan terms he got, as John D. MacDonald put it, "The Girl, The Gold Watch and Everything."

We discussed this over dinner and I argued that whatever he did tomorrow was fine, play or not, but that he not submit to this rabble so filled with resentment and jealousy, and ever unable to understand the dynamics of a team or a group of any kind, save perhaps sitting around with immediate family.... "You decide, don't let them decide. Lead, don't follow. Act don't react."

And all these silly things parents say to kids.

Dinner ended, conversation subsided, Dash returned to his headphones, filled with Violetta's favorite song, Avril Lavigne's hit, Complicated.

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