Jewish World Review April 11, 2003 / 9 Nisan, 5763

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Amid the ruins, a blessing | If the war is not over, the end at least seems visible. The tyrant's likenesses are coming down, the people are dancing in the streets and kissing U.S. Marines.

And perhaps in this moment, it is in poor taste to remember the ruined boy.

Indeed, some might think the mention of him dampens the festive air. But if you know the ruined boy, you know there is not a whole lot of choice. You know that he is hard to shake, that he invades conscience and consciousness, and that even at a time like this, he comes and goes as he pleases.

The ruined boy was injured in a missile attack in Baghdad. Several days ago, visitors came to see him in the hospital and he asked them a question - timidly, according to one reporter. "Can you help get my arms back?"

It seems the arms he came into the world with were lost in the attack. Also lost: his father, his brother, his five months' pregnant mother and seven other members of his family. I've seen no definitive word on whose missile did the damage, but that's beside the point.

What is important is that 12-year-old Ali Ismaeel Abbas once aspired to be a doctor, but now doesn't think he can because he has no hands.

"Do you think the doctors can get me another pair of hands?" he asked.

His plight has received relatively little attention in American media, but it has gotten big play in Europe.

So, even as American forces took possession of Baghdad, even as Saddam Hussein's regime crumbled, some people were contacting international aid organizations to donate money and others were offering to supply him with prosthetic limbs. Doctors caution that they won't be able to fit him for the artificial arms until his burns have had a chance to heal.

I'm not here to rehash the justification or lack thereof for U.S. intervention in Iraq. The issue feels academic now and even if it isn't, there will be plenty of time to deal with it later.

No, I just have a simple observation:

There is always an Ali.

Always some individual plucked from the anonymity of misery into the glare of media attention. Always some face emerging from the catastrophe that has maimed hundreds of people, burned away thousands of lives. Always some man or woman, some girl or ruined boy, made famous by the act of suffering.

And our response is always the same, too. We focus through him, concentrate through her, all our sorrow, all our guilt, all our sense of helplessness and irresolution. We touch him, we reach out to her, because we cannot touch or reach the others.

There is always an Ali, yes, but the larger fact is, there are always many like him. The only thing is, we'll never see their faces, never know their names, never hear their stories told on CNN.

So Ali becomes the surrogate, the stand-in, the vehicle of redemption. If we can just help him, maybe it will make up for all the ones we couldn't help. If we can just send him some money, provide him prosthetic arms, maybe it will in some small way balance the fact that life is not fair and innocence no guarantor of safety.

War has a way of making us small, a way of thundering overhead, as indifferent to our fears as the electrical storms that used to drive us to seek shelter in our parents' beds. Except, of course, that there is no bed big enough to hide from this.

But there is an Ali, always an Ali. We can no more give him back his real arms than we can stop the storm raging overhead. But we can give him the best arms modern medicine can provide, we can pray for him and provide for him, make it up to him as best we are able.

And maybe that is, in its way, a blessing, because it returns the thing to human scale.

People around the world open their wallets for Ali. They seek to save a ruined boy.

I tend to think he is saving us as well.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Comment on JWR contributor Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column by clicking here.

04/08/03: Truth during war seen through prism
03/25/03: Perspective on life and freedom
03/18/03: 'Sacre Bleu!' Let Freedom Ring
03/14/03: Yes, Virginia, there is a way to determine the truth
03/11/03: A statement that fits to a 'T'
03/07/03: Driven to madness
03/04/03: Not an appreciation of Mr. Rogers
02/28/03: When TV picks at rural poor, viewers are left with even less
02/14/03: We've been through anxious times like these before
02/11/03: Virtual community failed "Ripper' is no surprise
02/07/03: 'The One' for the 'Get-Yours' generation
02/04/03: Depressing news from TV nation
01/31/03: Let's hear it for women with meat on their bones
01/21/03: Illinois governor may have saved us from ourselves
01/14/03: We must pay close attention as corners are cut and rights abridged in our names
01/10/03: This mother wouldn't let us ignore grisly ugliness of racism
12/17/02: Michael Jackson's disappearing act
12/06/02: After affirmative action, what next?
12/03/02: We deserve a break today from McDonald's lawsuits
11/19/02: On question of Megan's Law, information trumps other concerns
11/12/02: Winona, just say, 'I'm sorry'
11/08/02: Your local police, brought to you by Joe's Bar and Grill
11/05/02: A father, a son and an essay
10/29/02: Things like this don't happen
10/22/02: Real monsters look just like women and men
10/18/02: Snoop's new tune rings hollow
10/15/02: A reminder of life's random cruelty
10/08/02: He toils in the name of change because he can't just stand by
10/01/02: Sharpton, crossing swords with the white corporate dragon, needs to learn what the civil rights movement really was about
09/25/02: A skewed sense of compassion
09/18/02: On death and a pop-culture mindset
09/10/02: Inconvenience me, PLEASE!
09/06/02: Latest CBS joke isn't funny
09/03/02: A rewarding life as a working stiff
08/30/02: We infants in men's clothing
08/27/02: Sept. 11 - How much is too much?
08/23/02: Cut it out already, media!
08/20/02: Brace yourself for attacks of the stealth ads
08/16/02: Russia, please, pretty please let the rocker hitch a ride into space
08/12/02: Racial 'colorblindness' is silly
07/30/02: Oh, to be famous
07/19/02: In Pop-Music Thriller, Jacko Takes on Sony
07/09/02: The password is 'frustration'
06/25/02: My Head And Heart Are At Odds - I Can't Watch Video Of Pearl's Beheading
06/21/02: Your kid's going to pay for cheating --- eventually
06/18/02: Stuffy 'correctness' robs races of give and take
06/07/02: A gift of the Masai
06/04/02: Now what? Use your 9/11 pain to combat complacency
05/24/02: Has your life changed since 9/11?
05/19/02: New world disorder is nothing to smile about
05/14/02: White men can jump, so why do black kids come up short in the classroom?
05/03/02: Catholic Church should be ashamed for blaming abuse victims
04/19/02: A reminder of how small the world has become
04/16/02: 100 death-penalty mistakes and counting
04/12/02: Until all the bad guys wear black hats
04/10/02: Connecting with history with hope for future
04/08/02: Just me and the boys: A black father's road trip
03/26/02: It's time to give up fighting the good fight and join the masses
03/22/02: It's not the art, it's the artist who's troubling
03/19/02: Don't ask, don't tell when it comes to police work
03/15/02: Do we have an inalienable right to TV?
03/12/02: What will we learn about ourselves as war toll grows?
03/08/02: Marriage madness --- oh, please!
03/05/02: A risk free life
03/01/02: Pentagon's idea of lying to media was breathtaking' in its stupidity
02/16/02: Will the Afghans forgive the U.S. for the beating of innocents?
02/15/02: In search of manhood, some make a fatal decision
02/08/02: Time for blacks to give the same respect they demand
02/05/02: A question of character and "unlawful combatants"
01/31/02: There's only so much a parent can influence a child
01/29/02: Mike Tyson is incapable of embarrassment
01/25/02: Acts of patriotism or acts of desecration?
01/18/02: Waiting for tears in the rain at Ground Zero
01/15/02: A little cultural respect works both ways
01/11/02: Can blacks be racist?
01/07/02: What price for the priceless?
12/21/01: An intriguing study on race
12/18/01: To err is me
12/14/01: Admit it, folks, If you've ever been 16, you can probably relate to Walker
12/11/01: Blacks-on-blacks poll is a healthy project
12/07/01: The best defense against government excesses
12/05/01: Better hoist caution flag
12/03/01: Martin Luther Ka-CHING!
11/27/01: Beauty reflects an ugly truth
11/22/01: Another reason to be thankful
11/19/01: If only they knew our names
11/12/01: Watching a 'dying' man live
08/01/01: Should a man be put in jail for what he's thinking?
07/27/01: It's your responsibility to invade their privacy
07/20/01: Is optimism for fools?
07/17/01: Everybody should have a white man

© 2002, The Miami Herald