Via Basel: Just Mercy

In December 2016 my friend Emil handed me a book as part of our annual book gifting in the holidays, assuring me that it will leave a lasting impression. I had just read The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson, about the great migration of African-Americans from the South to the North, Midwest, and West spanning half a century from the 1920s to the early 1970s, which coincided with my arrival in the United States as a new immigrant. As a lover of history as well as a citizen I was attempting to fill a major gap in my education and understanding of the issues of racial injustice, economic inequality, and civil rights in my country.

Of course I was aware of the historical past, slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow, as well as Martin Luther King, Jr. and civil rights of the 60s, but I was not prepared for the near past, the 80s and 90s, when I was living and thriving and idealizing this country of wealth and opportunity. By the time I finished reading Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, it had shaken me out of my stupor and ignorance and confronted me with the painful reality in my adopted country that I love, cherish, and am so grateful for all it has offered me.

Last week I experienced the movie version of the book. Not being a movie critic I feel inadequate to give a professional opinion on the technical aspects of filming or acting skills (superb quality nevertheless) but the content was jarring, unsettling, and provocative. Of course it mirrored the book which deals with Stevenson’s work to counter racial prejudice and injustice in law enforcement, especially in capital punishment.

The past identifies us. It can control and hold us hostage. That is, until we confront it head on, accepting responsibility for its consequences, and take redemptive and corrective actions. Only then can we move on to brighter and more hopeful future. The alternative is stagnation and festering wounds that will never heal. This applies equally to individuals, institutions, or nations, and so are applicable to Basel Al-Aswad, the Boeing Corporation, and the Catholic Church, as well as the United States of America.

Almost half a century ago I chose to become an American. Young, energetic, and idealistic, I embraced this country as she provided me with opportunities I could never have imagined. My love and appreciation never wavered. As the years and decades went by I realized that my idealistic image was just that, an image for the future. The present reality was more complicated and painful. This realization did not diminish my feelings of love, loyalty, and gratefulness, but is in fact exactly why I challenge and critique her. To remain silent would be an insult to the principles and visions on which she was founded. And, to quote Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

On this day commemorating the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I resolve to be part of the continuing struggle for an America based on Equality, Justice and…Mercy.

No matter what your race, ethnic background, religion, or politics, please take my advice: see the movie, read the book, or both.

Basel Al-Aswad, father of EIL founder Christopher Al-Aswad, is a yogi trapped in an Orthopedic Surgeon’s body. His loves in life include reading, hiking, enjoying nature, meditation, and spending time with his large Iraqi family, and now, retired, he will have more time for that. And for the next adventure.

Via Basel: A Letter on Martin Luther King Day

Letter from Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.


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