“What do you think of the verdict in the George Zimmerman case?” asked Michael Rosenthal as he and his next door strolled leisurely to the Retro last Monday.
“I’m not sure,” Walter Mitty replied. “Sharissa was fuming on Sunday. I think she would have got up and preached an emotional sermon right off the cuff if I would have let her. You know how she sees race as the primary factor in a lot of what happens in this country.”
“The way I look at it, Walt, is that it seems like Zimmerman had a kind of Rambo mentality. You know, the fantasy that the world is being attacked by aliens and everyone depends on him to save it. If he just would have listened to the 9-1-1 dispatcher, stayed in his car, and let the police handle it.”
“That’s partly what Sharissa said, but she argued that this is just like back in 1955 when white guys were acquitted of killing Emmett Till.”
“On the other hand,” Michael continued, “Eric Zorn in the Trib said that both Trayvon and Zimmerman made terrible choices that night.”
“What did the boy do wrong?”
“I guess Zorn was implying that he got scared or angry at Zimmerman and decided to fight him.”
“You mean Trayvon felt like he was standing his ground according to Florida law? That he was being assaulted by a crazy white fanatic and he was going to stand his ground and fight?”
“Ironic, isn’t it?”
“Talking about irony,” said Mitty, “the gospel for yesterday was the Parable of the Good Samaritan!”
When Michael and Pastor Walt entered the Retro, they spotted Zaphne standing at the case register waiting on a woman wearing an hijab.
The Retro’s owner looked up and smiled. “Here come the two nicest guys in Poplar Park,” she said to the women wearing the head scarf. “Walt, Michael, this is Amunet. Just moved here from Cairo.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” said Amunet in perfect Midwestern English.
As they shook hands, Zaphne explained, “It’s really Dr. Amunet. She’s an Islamic scholar who is here for a year teaching comparative courses on Christianity, Judaism and Islam at UIC.”
“Wow!” exclaimed Pastor Walt. He was impressed by the woman’s academic credentials, but he couldn’t help noticing that she looked very attractive in her multicolored hijab.
“What Walt means,” said Michael, covering his neighbor’s back, “is that we don’t get many PhDs in Poplar Park.”
“I was just telling Zaphne,” Amunet explained, “that before I left Egypt I asked where I should look for an apartment, and the people at UIC recommended Poplar Park.”
Pastor Walt and Michael looked at each other in a puzzled way. “Really?” said Michael.
“I’ve been telling you guys for a couple years,” said the Retro’s owner, “that you underestimate this town as a place to live and work.”
Michael decided to change the subject. “So what is your take on what’s happening with President Morsi and the army and the Muslim Brotherhood?”
Dr. Amunet took a deep breath and replied, “I’d be happy to talk to you about that, but first I have a question for all of you. When you came in, I was about to ask Zaphne to explain this Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman controversy. I mean, do I have to worry about a neighborhood watch person stopping me on the street, because he profiles me as a Muslim terrorist?”
Zaphne broke the silence following the professor’s question. “I don’t think so,” she began. “We’ve had Muslims as neighbors for several years here. I mean, none of them wear head to toe burqas, but for the first time this year I’ve seen Muslim moms wearing hijabs at the pool with their children.”
“I think you’ll be OK,” said Michael, “partly because you’re a woman. You just don’t fit the profile of a terrorist that some people have in their minds.”
Dr. Amunet thought about what Zaphne and Michael had said for a moment and then asked, “So, are you saying that most Americans pay no attention to race? The reason I ask is because I’ve only been in the U.S. a few days, but I see people kind of checking me out. I assume it’s my clothing that makes me stick out, because otherwise I’m fairly light skinned.”
Pastor Walt was too embarrassed to say that some folks might stare at her because she was so attractive. What he did say was, “I guess a lot of people are afraid.”
“Afraid? Really?” the professor questioned.
“I know it sounds strange to talk about the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world that way. But a lot of people I know seem to be afraid and they can’t even put their finger on what they’re afraid of, so it’s easy to blame another race or the other political party or someone who dresses differently for what’s going on inside them.”
The conversation eventually got around the subject of Egypt and before the four residents of Poplar Park got around to discussing the situation Amunet’s country.
Pastor Walt and Michael were silent on the way home. “Funny,” thought Mitty as they walked, “here we were—a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew and who knows what Zaphne is—almost by accident getting to know each other in a little suburb outside of Chicago.”