Fleeing America to save a child A fable: Once upon a...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

May 06, 2000

Fleeing America to save a child

A fable:

Once upon a time an Iraqi Shiite Muslim woman came to the University of Maryland as a graduate student. To the surprise and honor of her family in Baghdad, she fell in love with and married an American Christian man.

They had a son and lived together for three years just outside College Park, but all was not sweetness and harmony. The couple divorced.

Although the mother had custody of their son, the father had significant visitation rights, which he exercised often and lovingly.

The boy loved both his mother and his father.

The mother became increasingly concerned over the threat she believed American secular society posed to the health and welfare of her boy. She was horrified by the drugs and violence she saw around her.

She read in responsible newspapers with incredulity that 12- and 13-year-old children were engaging in oral sex. Columbine made her blood run cold.

She canceled her cable television contract when she saw "dirty dancing" simulate sexual intercourse right in her living room.

The public school system was weak academically, but worse, it had no emphasis on moral values. The situation she observed seemed intolerable.

She quietly plotted and, shortly after her son's fifth birthday, left the country illegally.

It was against the law for her to violate the divorce agreement and remove her son from both Maryland and American jurisdiction, but she was desperate to escape an oppressive society.

The mother and son flew to Zurich and then on to Istanbul. From there, the mother contacted her relatives, who were overjoyed to hear of their cousin's return.

Her parents had died while she was in America, but her first cousins on her father's side were more than eager to embrace their long-lost American relative.

It was bad luck that on the very day of the mother and son's border crossing between Turkey and Iraq, Kurdish separatists ambushed the town just inside the Iraqi border. The mother was killed, but the 5-year-old boy survived.

He spoke only English, but in the midst of bad luck he was lucky.

One of his cousins had traveled to the border town to embrace the mother and son.

He, too, survived the attack, and he spoke a broken form of "Valley girl" English from his year at Stanford University in California. He, too, had fled the "American Satan" dismayed and frightened by what he saw as a morally corrupt and licentious society.

Meanwhile, back in the secular United States, Dad was an emotional mess. "Where is my son?" he demanded to know.

Eventually, with the help of the FBI, he traced his former wife's steps, discovered the tragedy of her death and learned of the whereabouts of his son.

"I want my son back!" he demanded.

"Nope," said the Iraqi cousins, "America is a corrupt and evil society. Children become killers. Drugs are everywhere. Small children have sex. Television and the computer screen had become Gods. Americans worship at the altar of the dollar.

"The citizens are brainwashed and cannot escape the power of the culture. We must save this boy from a horrible, decadent, godless life. You cannot have him back. Your system is evil. You are evil.

"He needs to be here. That's what his mother wanted, and we want to honor her wishes. She died to give this boy a chance for a moral, godly righteous life."

The father was outraged.

Americans protested.

The president spoke in bombastic terms.

The boy stayed in Baghdad. The father never saw him again.

The boy is a good Iraqi Shiite Muslim. He doesn't take drugs. He doesn't dirty dance.

And most everybody (except that corrupt American father) lived happily ever after.

Archibald R. Montgomery

Baltimore

The writer is headmaster of Gilman School.

Many kids face violence, need help

Many city children experience the same trauma that Elian Gonzalez did: forced entry, guns drawn.

They also see parents arrested. All before breakfast. Amazingly, they even then go on to school.

Teachers and social workers in the city's public schools can attest that this does not make for a good school day. But it's a testament to the kids.

I am not writing to minimize Elian's trauma. But why are the politicians concerned only about this one child's horror?

Shame on them for their narrow vision.

Elian will get the help he needs. His father and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno will see to that.

What of the countless children who live in areas with constant violence and danger?

Children we city staff see on a daily basis can be remarkably resilient. But to be that way, they need help from caring adults.

A good start would be to see that city schools have the support staff that the children need and that schools are geared to nurture traumatized children.

Courtney Petersen

Baltimore

The writer is a social worker for the Baltimore City Public Schools.

Tall ships will return to harbor

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