Monday, July 24, 2006

It Can’t Happen Here

“Divided in Detroit: Arabs and Jews Clash Over Mideast War” reported last weekend’s Wall Street Journal. For at least one reader that headline conjured the image of grim-faced Hadassah ladies strapping on their Nikes and exercise togs and engaging in a running battle over the broad green lawns of Bloomfield Hills with similarly clad members of the Lebanese-Syrian Junior League.

It hasn’t come to that, at least not yet. According to the story, the “clash” between Detroit’s 300,000 or so Arab-Americans (the largest such community in the nation) and its 72,000 Jews (many of them “upper middle-class professionals,” the Journal observed) over the latest Israeli-Arab conflict thus far mostly consists of competing rallies, some provocative rhetoric, an exchange or two of profanities and the predictable doctoring of an Israeli flag with a swastika. Stuff like that.

“Some Jews say they are realizing, for the first time, the depths of their differences with their Arab neighbors,” reported the Journal, which noted that most of Detroit’s Arab-Americans---Lebanese, Palestinians and Iraqis---reside in Henry Ford’s old suburb of Dearborn, west of the city, while many Jews are domiciled in the northern suburbs, along with a considerable population of Iraqi Christians.

In Houston, of course, we have no such “clashes,” because, as we’re often reminded, one of our strengths hereabouts is our diversity, and, as this recent Houston Chronicle feature noted, we have a long avenue in town named Hillcroft (no hills that we can see, and no crofts anymore, either) on which you can buy a bagel from a Jew, a falafel pita from an Arab and a cowboy hat from a Mexican (this nicely written but surface-y treatment was marred by the observations of All-Purpose Pontificator and Master of the Obvious, Rice University’s Bob “You-Need-A-Quote” Stein, who cleared his throat to say of Hillcroft: “I want to say it is a microcosm.” Of the city’s varied ethnicities, that is. [ I want to say … ?])

Reading the WSJ story put us in mind of a drive we took the summer after 9/11 with the Israeli owner of an auto-repair shop, a ride that in fact culminated on Hillcroft. Our car had broken down near the Israeli’s garage, so we pushed it over there and after discussing the needed repairs the proprietor offered to drop us at our house, since he was headed over that way to eat lunch at an Arab-owned bakery and deli that was one of the businesses featured in the recent Chronicle story. He told us he drove over there to eat falafel at least three or four times a week.*

“Isn’t that nice,” we thought, “this Israeli guy coming all the way over here everyday to break bread with his Arab brother … ”

Then we got the rest of the story, unprompted: Not only was the falafel delicious, but the place was clean and the owners were Christian, unlike other Middle Eastern eateries in the vicinity that were Muslim-owned and not so clean and where the falafel apparently was not so appetizing. Warming to the topic, the gentleman went on to heatedly declare that most of Houston’s Muslim merchants were a sorry lot, dismissing them twice with a term we often hear on the fine HBO series Deadwood. He was quite insistent on the subject, and claimed there had been much “shit” spoken in the wake of 9/11 by local Muslims (none of which we had or have knowledge of, of course, not that it's outside the realm of possibility, or that we'd ever be informed of such by the local media).

After he let us off we had the same thought that occurred after we read the Wall Street Journal article: Do y’all have to bring this shit over here?

This same edition of the Journal contained an interview with free-marketeering economist Milton Friedman, whose idealism appears to have been tempered somewhat in the middle of his tenth decade.

You’d expect the 94-year-old Friedman to embrace the open-borders policy endorsed by the WSJ’s editorial page (well, pretty much ...), and while Friedman avers that “immigration is good for freedom, in theory,” he goes on to say: “In principle, you ought to have completely open immigration. But with the welfare state it’s really not possible to do that … If there were no welfare state, you could have open immigration, because everybody would be responsible for himself … At the moment I oppose unlimited immigration. I think much of the opposition to immigration is of that kind---because it’s a fundamental tenet of the American view that immigration is good …”

Friedman also offers some sensible thoughts on the Iraq War, which he has opposed from the start: “I think it was a mistake, for the simple reason that I do not believe the United States ought to be involved in aggression.”

He's no longer Rush Limbaugh's favorite economist, apparently.

*As usual, any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental. Slampo's Place is a work of fiction -- Hidalgo Hidalgo, publisher and executive vice-president

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