EAST AND WESTIt’s all about trustWhat would Kennedy do? [Archives:2004/710/Opinion]

February 9 2004

By Jamil Abdul Karim
[email protected]

Have you ever wondered how things would look if John F. Kennedy was involved in today's so-called war of civilizations?
The thought comes to mind over the terrible flap certain Yanks and Brits now find themselves in over those Weapons of Mass Destruction that somehow, magically disappeared from Iraq.
Politicians in Washington and London can't blame their intelligence services fast enough for leading them astray. What's perhaps more bothersome is that while everyone knows the so-called facts of Iraq's WMD program were made to fit the long-time plan to blow Saddam to Kingdom Come, few America voters, so far, seem to care.
But back to Kennedy.
“He was shrewd. He was clever. Iraq's intellectuals saw in Kennedy a different kind of leader,” is how my Iraqi colleague here at The Yemen Times views his legacy. “He wanted to avoid conflict between the West and East, that is, Russia. I think Kennedy's loss was a loss for the whole world.”

It may be true that Camelot was more myth than reality and that Jack Kennedy had some serious dents in his armour. But 40 years after his death, he's still seen as one of the tallest torch-bearers for a better world. Why is that?
In short, Kennedy was trustworthy. In fact, when Kennedy sent his emissary to former French leader Charles DeGaulle – to show photos of Russian missiles in Cuba and ask for French support during that missile crisis – DeGaulle reportedly said, “You don't need to show photos. I know John Kennedy. If he says there are missiles in Cuba, I believe it.”
That's the type of trust America needs to have, as, for now anyway, it's the world's lone superpower. Instead, we get folks like U.S. Gen. William Boykin, a top intelligence official, who, you'll recall, made world headlines, when, describing his battle with a Muslim Somali warlord, bragged, “My God was bigger than his God.”
One wonders how a top officer of, uh, intelligence, that is someone who should grasp international relations, can perform such sandlot swagger. Boykin could learn from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Jew, who, near that time, said this to an Arab-American group:
“We meet here today not as Muslims or Christians or Jews, not as people of Arab or European descent or African or Asian descent. We are children of the same God and of the same father, Abraham. We are quite literally brothers and sisters.”
And Kennedy, a Catholic, avoided war with the Soviets, and World War III, because he knew whether those atheists worshipped his God or not, they loved their children as much as Americans loved theirs.
He created the Peace Corps because he felt if we can't end our differences, maybe we can at least make the planet safe for diversity. Kennedy felt at home with his “New Frontier,” because, unlike George Bush, he actually got out to see the world.

Historical crossing
Finally, let's remember, C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor and brilliant theological thinker. If you read the education page of this newspaper, you may have noticed that some Yemeni English scholars have written about him from time to time.
Like Kennedy, he went by “Jack,” and, in one of those strange historical crossings, also died Nov. 22, 1963, the fateful day Kennedy was shot in Dallas. If you don't know Lewis, read his popular Chronicles of Narnia with your children. Or watch part of his life story in the BBC or Hollywood productions of Shadowlands.
Lewis is also known for his BBC radio commentaries, particularly his remark that “a man who was merely a man, and said the things Jesus said, wouldn't be a great moral teacher. He'd be either a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he's a poached egg – or he'd be the devil of hell.”
Lewis continued, “You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God, or else he is a madman, or something worse. But don't let us come up with patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He hasn't left that open to us. He didn't intend to.”

So, no, neither Muslims nor Christians need hide their faith's basic tenets. A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on. That's what Kennedy told us. Expressed views are the air we breathe and the strongest ones will transcend boundaries.
But great ideas need to be dressed in great humility. And in today's war of ideas, we need a stronger vision with more imagination than what anyone in Washington or anywhere else is offering.
We need someone, somewhere to figure this stuff out. It's the crisis of our time. Instead, all we're left with are memories of wisdom we've been shown in the past.

Jamil Abdul Karim is a Yemen Times editor.