The Colgate Scene
January 2005

Letters
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. . . Steve Steele '64 and I grew up four houses apart in the small northern New York village of Alexandria Bay. Our grandfathers and fathers grew up together. Both of our mothers died when we were 8 and our fathers remarried when we were 10. From kindergarten through high school graduation, we were in every class together. We attended the same church. As children we played together every day, swimming, fishing, skating, youth baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. We played these same sports in high school together under my father. We sang in the same church and school choirs. We dated the same girls (sometimes concurrently). We spent summers working as Thousand Islands tour boat guides, earning tuition money for Colgate. At Colgate, we were both instrumental in Colgate hockey's first two ECAC postseason appearances in 1963 and 1964. We sang in the Colgate Thirteen, and were fraternity brothers at Phi Delta Theta and AFROTC cadet mates. We both became Air Force pilots and Vietnam veterans. Steve made a career of the Air Force and I flew for Delta Air Lines. We each know what the other is going to say before his lips move.

But I never realized the depth of my friend's soul and character until Colgate Reunion 2004. Steve recognized a void in Colgate's legacy. Colgate had never formally recognized and honored her sons who were missing and fallen in the Vietnam War, as she had those of other wars. Steve met with the reunion committee and President Chopp, organizing every detail of the Vietnam Memorial Ceremony held at Reunion 2004, down to the red and yellow roses placed on a white tablecloth for each fallen Colgate son (Scene, page 19, July 2004). He found alumni who knew our 20 fallen schoolmates to give a two-minute eulogy about each. He found Colgate Thirteen alumni to perform in four-part harmony. The music was sung from the heart. The speeches were given, some with sadness, some with great difficulty, some with humor, but all with the utmost respect and honor for our schoolmates. The ceremony was supposed to last one hour. It lasted 61 minutes. At the end, no one stirred for at least a minute. Everyone in the Chapel realized that Colgate had made her connection with her lost sons, as those present had also done. Two of the 20 were my roommates and five others were friends.

I thank Steve and Colgate for paying all 20 the tribute that they so long deserved, for giving their all for the liberty and democratic thought that their country and Colgate have always represented. All Colgate alumni from 1954 through 1970 must have the opportunity to be part of this ceremony. It brings the national and campus controversy, turbulence, and sacrifice of this era full circle. For these 20 Colgate students who became more involved in these conflicting times than any other alumni, it started at Colgate and now ended at Colgate. It also allowed us to connect with, honor, and thank them in a purely Colgate way. To "Cub" Steele, I say, "Dynamite" and "Scout" (our fathers) would be very, very proud of you!

. . . In response to Joshua Knox's response to the Colgate Republicans inviting Ann Coulter to speak (Letters, September 2004), doesn't everyone who's read her column think of her more as an entertainer than a thinker? I'm no Colgate Republican, but I pop into her site now and then because she's so over the top, she's hilarious. Like Joshua, though, I do hope Colgate and the Colgate Republicans have got some thinkers in the lecture lineup.

. . . As an alumnus who studied Islam at Colgate, I would like to add my two cents to the whole Koch controversy [Around the college, Nov. 2004; www.colgate.edu Headlines, Sept. 10, 2004].

It is true that not all Muslims are terrorists, but to state that all terrorists are Muslims is misguided and naïve. Look at the IRA. Last I checked, Ireland was in the Irish Sea and the members of the IRA are Irish Catholics. And lest we forget, if those brave Jews who fought for the state of Israel had failed, they would be considered fanatics and terrorists to this day. One man's freedom fighter is, indeed, another man's terrorist. So let's forget the racial name-calling and settle for the facts.

Fundamentalist Islam is being used by unscrupulous Muslims to justify and promote hate, violence, and a political agenda that includes the overthrow of the status quo in most of the Muslim world, save Iran. It is easy to see how this can be done with ease.

Islam is a religion that insists that the Al Q'uran be read in its original Arabic, because to change it by translating it would be considered distorting the word of Allah. Thus, in one stroke you create a common language for Muslims (which facilitates the dissemination of religious ideas, based on very little information; i.e. the strict interpretation of the Al Q'uran), and a text that must be read as it was written, back in the Dark Ages. This is hardly a recipe for facing the 21st century. I would like to believe that the world has, by and large, become more compassionate, more accepting, and more open-minded since that time. And yet, Islam permits no other interpretation of a sacred message sent to a very different world. If Christianity or Judaism followed similar precepts, we would still be holding slaves and burning bulls and virgins as sacrifices.

Second, the religion of Islam has no formal hierarchy. Therefore, there is no formal control over Islam, which makes it susceptible to hijacking by any Muslim with an axe to grind. This is proving to be the case. Another consequence of the lack of hierarchy is a lack of progress and adaptation of the sacred word of Allah to modern times.

Finally, fundamentalist Islam has, through history, been used by the Arab peoples as a cure-all for a decline of Arab prestige, power, and learning since the Middle Ages. Just return to the fundamental Islamic basics, so the old saw goes, and we will be contenders again. Of course, applying dogmas from the Dark Ages hardly produces the desired results, as history has shown us right up to modern times. It does, however, produce despots and villains bent on maintaining their power. And it also produces a cycle of violence and frustration that is the root cause of so much pain and suffering. It is necessary to show our Muslim brothers and sisters that there is another way to end the cycle of ignorance and hatred. Democracy is but one. Religious reform is another. Education is a third. And there are more. What is lacking, sadly, in the Arab world, is a unified will to change, and no amount of name-calling or overt or covert racism will induce the Arab man on the street to rise up as one and demand change. This must come from within, and therein lies the catch 22: a desire for change can only come as a result of education, democratic freedom, and a certain degree of religious reform. Our role, if any, is to plant the seeds of modernity so that tomorrow the Arab man on the street can rise up and demand the changes so desperately needed.

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