Ideas live on after the man

November 29, 2003

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SANA’A, YEMEN – Call me a dreamer, but ever wonder how things would look if John F. Kennedy was involved in today’s so-called war of civilizations?

“He was shrewd. He was clever. Iraq’s intellectuals saw in Kennedy a different kind of leader,” is how my Iraqi colleague 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.”

This, from an Arab-Muslim. True, Camelot was more myth than reality. Jack Kennedy had some serious dents in his armour. But, this week, 40 years after his death, he’s still seen as one of the tallest torch-bearers for a better world. Why is that?

Why aren’t more upright Americans, like U.S. Gen. William Boykin, respected, let alone admired, by Muslims?

You’ll recall Boykin, a top intelligence official, and conservative Christian, made world headlines recently. Describing his battle with a Muslim Somali warlord, he 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 stupid, sandlot swagger.

Boykin could learn from Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Jew, who, near that time, told 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.” Kennedy, a Catholic, avoided war with the Soviets, and the Third World War, because he knew whether those atheists worshiped his God or not, they loved their children as much as we love ours. He created the Peace Corps because maybe we can make the planet safe for diversity. Kennedy felt at home with his “New Frontier,” because, unlike George W. Bush, when younger, he actually got out to see the world.

Finally, there’s C.S. Lewis, the Oxford professor and brilliant Christian thinker. Like Kennedy, he went by “Jack,” and, in one of those strange historical crossings, also died Nov. 22, 1963. If you don’t know Lewis, read his Chronicles of Narnia to your children.

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. 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, Christians need not 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, indeed, the strongest ones will transcend boundaries. But great ideas need to be dressed in great humility. We need a stronger vision with more imagination than anyone in Washington or anywhere else is offering.

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November 29, 2003 • Posted in ,
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