The New York Times told a story recently that I can’t get out of my mind. A 23-year-old Egyptian man named Hemeida was described by neighbors as devoted to his parents, looking forward to a normal family life for himself, enjoying pleasures like soccer and the beach, but consumed by what he saw on television of the suffering of the Palestinian Arabs. He carried a Koran in his pocket and was said to be devout, but not a zealot. One day, he heard the silent call of jihad and answered it by pushing past Egyptian guards into the no-man’s land separating Israel from Egypt. He ignored warnings until an Israeli soldier shot him dead, as Hemeida, who carried no weapons or explosives, had evidently intended.
Hemeida learned the basic skills in a primary school funded by American aid, which was intended to build good will between Americans and Egyptians and seemed for a time to be succeeding. His father spent all he had on Hemeida’s further education. The young man was said to be ambitious, but found no suitable opportunity for his talents, and in the end could do nothing more constructive than bring about his own death in a way that might take him to the Muslim paradise, although it is not certain that he even believed that.
Neighbors and relatives did not blame Hemeida for betraying his parents and doing nothing to help the Palestinians he supposedly loved. Instead, they turned in fury against American reporters, saying, “Those Israeli bullets are paid for by the United States!” I suppose the reporters were too sensitive or fearful to ask whether, if Israel were out of the picture, the young man would have found some other reason to kill himself. Local teachers voted to name a school after Hemeida, who is now celebrated in Egypt as the first in an anticipated new line of Arab martyrs to the Palestinian cause.
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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