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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Friday, December 21, 2007

3 Trains

NYC hails Muslim 'Good Samaritan'

By Alastair Lawson
BBC News
18 December 2007

A Muslim Bangladeshi student is to be honoured by the mayor of New York on Wednesday for helping three Jewish people who were being beaten up.

Hassan Askari has been described as a "latter-day Good Samaritan" for coming to the aid of the three, who were attacked earlier this month.

A gang yelling anti-Semitic slogans had assaulted them on the city's subway.

His intervention left him with a possible broken nose, a stitched lip, bruises and two black eyes.

But it was sufficient for the attackers to turn their attention on him and allow one of those who was being attacked to raise the alarm and call the police.

"I was brought up to believe that you cannot walk away from an incident like this," he told the BBC.

"I felt I could not just stand there and watch these people being beaten up without doing anything to help.

"I believe we are all members of one family, and my religion teaches me always to come to the aid of my fellow man in distress."

The slightly-built accountancy student - who comes from an aristocratic Bengali family - was travelling from home on 9 December when he saw the attack take place on a crowded train.

Mr Askari has three forefathers who were knighted by British monarchs during the days of the Raj and is a member of the Dhaka Nawab family, an important political dynasty in the Indian subcontinent.

Around 10 people were attacking the three Jews after an argument had broken out.

"As the quarrel turned progressively more violent, scores of people on the train ignored the fight and didn't want to have anything to do with it," said Marc Scheier, a rabbi from the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, who presented Mr Askari with a bravery award earlier this month.

"Mr Askari - like the Good Samaritan - was the only person brave enough to intervene.

"The symbolism of his action at Christmas time is striking - a foreign Muslim coming to the aid of three Jews in an act of kindness and cooperation.

"People often forget that Judaism and Islam aren't so far apart as the radicals from both sides would have us believe. We are both Abrahamic religions and in many respects share a common faith."

Mr Askari said that he was "overwhelmed" by the publicity his actions have generated, and "embarrassed" that the American press have labelled him a "hero of the city".

"I have friends who are Jews, Christians and Buddhists and would have acted in the same way if they were victims of an unprovoked attack," he said.

Rabbi Scheier said that he could tell from injuries sustained by one of the three victims that it was a "brutal and extremely violent" attack which would have required "immense courage" from Mr Askari to get involved in.

"He is such a humble and modest man blessed with the most extraordinary bravery," he said.

Ten people have been arrested in connection with the attack and three of them have appeared in court charged with assault and disorderly conduct.

Mr Askari is due to be presented with a medal on Wednesday that will be handed to him either by or on behalf of the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

The student - whose mother, father and younger brother live in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka - says that his long term aim is to return to his beloved home country where he grew up as a child.

"Home is where the heart is and at least there is no subway there," he said.




...when I was briefly living in Oakland, I used to take BART into Berkeley every day. I lived pretty close to Coliseum station, so I would drive down, BART in, do my thing, drive back, rinse, lather, repeat. At any rate, sometimes my commute got a little exciting when there was a game on, because a lot of people would go to the game on BART, rather than driving, which is something I generally applaud, although it did make my train trips chaotic sometimes. But everyone was usually pretty nice, and I remember once a group of exuberant young men insisted on walking me to my car because it was dark and they were worried about me, which was very sweet.

So I hopped onto the train one day and it was incredibly crowded, even though BART had added extra cars. I quickly saw that I wasn't going to be able to sit, so I grabbed a pole and made the best of it. Most of the train was in a state of high energy, obviously excited about the upcoming game, except for a handful of outliers, including a businessman sitting in the handicapped seat, reading the Wall Street Journal and jabbering loudly on his cell phone with his brief case sprawled out next to him. For some reason, no one had made him yield the other seat, let along get up for one of the older people on the train, which kind of surprised me. He was very obviously not handicapped, and yes, I know that people have disabilities which are not readily visible, but trust me on this one: he was just a self righteous yuppie, and he in no way, shape, or form needed to sit down.

So we reached MacArthur station, and a very pregnant woman got on board, along with a bunch of other people, and the train fell into a state of expectant silence, with everyone looking at the businessman, who continued blaring into his phone, obviously totally oblivious. The pregnant woman didn't kick up a fuss at all, she just grabbed a pole and stood, getting ready for the train to leave.

At this point, a thuggish young hoodlum tapped the businessman on the shoulder. And I mean thuggish. Not wannabe ghetto, seriously thuggish ghetto, as in probably packing a gun that he knew how to use. The kind of person that you would cross to the other side of the street to avoid.

The businessman looked up irritably after about thirty seconds of tapping, and said "what" in a snarling, hostile kind of way which actually kind of impressed me, given who was tapping him on the shoulder. Now the train fell into complete silence, so silent that you could almost feel the tumbleweeds blowing down the center aisle.

"Yo, dog," the thug said. "You gonna move for that pregnant lady?"

"I wasn't planning on it," the businessman said, which amazed me even further.

"Yo, dog, can you read? This sign says "disabled" on it. You disabled? 'cause you don't look like it, man."

The businessman held his ground, silently, as an even larger thug slid up behind thug number one.

"The man asked you to move," he said, very softly. "You should stand so that nice pregnant lady can sit down."

The pregnant lady was mortified at this point over the fuss, while the train's passengers were waiting with bated breath and dropped jaws.

"You best git out o' dat seat," he said, a little more loudly. The businessman ruffled his paper defiantly...

...and thug number two literally lifted him by the collar and deposited him in the aisle as the train exploded in laughter and the businessman's cellphone went skittering to the other end of the train. He started indignantly boiling over while another standing passenger helpfully handed him his briefcase and the two thugs escorted the pregnant lady to her seat. Eventually the cellphone made its way back to the businessman, who stopped sputtering and sat in humiliated silence on the floor while everyone congratulated the thugs and starting high fiving each other from sheer exuberance.

When the businessman finally got off (12th Street), thug two looked him in the eye and said:

"Next time I see you takin' that handicapped seat on this train while someone who needs it is standing up, I'll shoot you, dog. Then you'll really be a cripple."

And the doors slid closed while the train continued on its way.

This, my friends, is why I love Oakland.



Deaf, blind or just oblivious?

I refer to the letter "Expecting a seat? Fat hope" (Dec 17). I take the bus and train daily and often see pregnant women and the elderly having to stand.

While I make it a point to offer my seat to them, I feel more people should do so, especially the young. Many pretend to sleep, or are just too engrossed in video games or sending messages on their mobile phones to care.

I don't know if people are oblivious or are just intentionally uncharitable.

Recently, a teenage couple in the bus seat designated for the disabled refused to give up the seat to a blind man. Several passengers had to guide him to an empty seat further inside the bus. If you are willing to let a blind man grope his way around to find an empty seat, I despair for you.

What surprised me is that nobody told the couple off, not even the driver. I am ashamed to say that I am one of those people who did not do anything. Being a foreigner, I felt obliged to do as the locals do.

However, I now realise that if the local culture involves keeping silent in the face of such behaviour, I would rather speak up.

Does the bus captain have the authority to tell able-bodied passengers to vacate such seats meant for the disabled or elderly?

It is surprising that many people complain about smelly and noisy buses and trains but few speak up when they encounter such discourteous behaviour.

When my Singaporean colleagues ask me what I miss most about my country, I tell them I miss the acts of common courtesy. I miss being in a place where men still open doors, give up their seats for women, children and the elderly, and where the young help the elderly. We don't have to tell people to be courteous because it is already practised.

Christina P. Ondevilla

(Ondevilla, Christina P.  Letter.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore] 19 Dec. 2007:  32.)


Expecting a seat? Fat hope!

Few offer a place to sit on MRT, says pregnant mum.

According to the report, "Retiring early low list" (Dec 13), charity and volunteer work is No 7 on Singaporeans' list of "dreams." I am seven months pregnant and my dream is that Singaporeans will find the charity to volunteer their seat on public transport.

I get offered a seat only once a week. And this week, despite 15 trips on the MRT, I have not received a single offer. Almost every day, I have been pushed aside by others while boarding the train as I prefer to wait for exiting passengers to alight.

I believe a pregnant woman will go into labour before she is offered a seat in Singapore. This is a sad indictment of the psyche of people here.

It does not take much to perform small acts of charity, such as offering help to people around you or volunteering once a month.

It would be nice to see more compassion in Singaporeans' everyday actions and behaviour.

Penelope Bennett

(Bennett, Penelope.  Letter.  "Voices."  Today [Singapore] 17 Dec. 2007:  19.)


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