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Rosalea Barker On US Elections: Friday the 13th

To mangle a line from "Casablanca": Of all the deli's in all the world I have to live above this one. The men running it are from the Yemen and display the prophet Muhammad's last sermon prominently by the cash register, the way supermarkets place sweets there to tempt you while you wait. I've noticed people often linger to read it, speaking as it does of the equality of all people, all having come from Adam and Eve, and of how "an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab".

On the bus to a workshop at the Mill Valley Film Festival on Friday morning I find myself sitting next to a young woman reading a well-thumbed prayer book. When she puts it back in her bag and brings out the Koran I wish I'd learned something lasting from "Spoken Arabic Faster Than Speed" before I'd given it last year to a NZ soldier going as a peace-keeper to the Sinai. I wonder about him. And I learn later that the Islamic Center in Mill Valley has indeed added extra prayers during the morning to make sure the Masjid al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem remains safe.

The bus goes from Richmond, where a memorial to Rosie the Riveter is to be dedicated the next day, past the Chevron oil refinery spewing pollutants over a working class neighbourhood long since run down by the closure of the shipyards, and over the John F. McCarthy Memorial Bridge to San Quentin and San Rafael, where the John Irish Auto Plaza has its flag at half-mast, presumably because of the sailors killed in the Yemen the previous day. In San Rafael I stroll past the Christian Science Reading Room where the theme for the week is the Doctrine of Atonement and the reading from Mary Baker Eddy is about the one infinite God, good, which unifies men and nations.

America takes its diversity of religions and cultures seriously. There are no religious holidays on the work calendar except Christmas Day, though people are free to take paid or unpaid leave on as many days as their religion requires. The stories I've seen so far in the local newspapers and on local TV treat each side in the Middle East conflict equally by always showing interviews with people in the Bay Area from both Jewish and Arab faiths.

The San Francisco, Oakland, Contra Costa and Marin papers I see on the newsstands on Friday all have pictures either of the USS Cole or the mob outside the police station, and it is not until someone brings the NY Times into the seminar that I see the photo of the man with blood on his hands standing in the police station window.

I am shocked. It is a deeply shocking picture and I feel sure that's why the papers I've seen so far have not printed it. At the workshop no mention is made of the events of the past day, and by the time I get home it's so late I catch only the tail end of a news bulletin.

The newsreader mentions Bush referring to this photo as he continues his campaigning speech. I am sickened and appalled that Bush thinks once again that he can use ordinary people's senseless deaths to his political advantage. Anybody's head could be put on that person's shoulders in the photograph and the blood on their hands would be just as real.

The head of the Israeli opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, springs to mind. Yasser Arafat probably springs to another mind. I'm not knowledgeable about how things are being stirred up in the Middle East, but is it really feasible that every one of those unarmed Palestinians who are in the streets has left his gun at home just so he'll look like a martyr? Could it be they have no guns? Was it ever feasible to think there could be peace and that the US could be seen as the "honest broker" of it as the Democratic administration claimed it tried so hard to be, when it so heavily arms the Israelis?

But above all, is it acceptable that hundreds of people should die because of the thwarted ambition of some out-of-Government politician? The cynical manipulation of cultural, racial and religious differences for political and economic advantage is the tool of fools, but there seem to be fools aplenty. So many Israeli and Palestinian citizens seemed to want an end to conflict that it is heartbreaking to have lost the chance forever.

On Saturday in San Francisco a pro-Palestinian march of peaceful protest attracts Jewish people as well, concerned that the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians the very things the Israelis complained were being done to them. A bystander says she thinks the situation in the Middle East has become "too politicized and all reason lost."

The presidential race will come down to who is seen to be most able to handle this crisis. Gore's intimate involvement with national security issues mean he's way ahead on experience. As a Democratic senator on "Meet the Press" said this morning, referring to Bush's performance in last week's debate: The ability to name four continents and pronounce Nigeria correctly hardly qualifies Bush for the job. The leader of the Republican majority in the Senate replied that experience does not equal judgment and that Gore's judgment is questionable, referring to a NY Times story about ongoing arms sales to Iran by Russia.

Judging by the pictures we see, I think that if there is a war maybe Rosie should get into genetic engineering this time around - the Y chromosome sure could do with some basic improvements if violence is what it needs to survive and thrive.

Lea Barker California,
Sunday 15 October,
Pacific Time
(Monday 16th NZT)

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