Sept. 11, 2013: A Muslim poem but no Pledge of Allegiance at Boston-area high school

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On Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the principal at Concord-Carlisle High School in the suburbs of Boston read a Muslim poem to the entire school instead of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Principal Peter Badalament has since apologized for the oversight, reports the Boston Herald. According to school district spokesman Tom Lucey, Badalament had lined up a student to recite the Pledge on the morning of Sept. 11. However, that student turned out to be busy with an internship.

“We had the well-being of students at the forefront of our thinking when we chose to acknowledge 9/11 by reading a poem that focused on cross-cultural understanding rather than unsettling words and images associated with the event,” the principal’s apology explained. Badalament also acknowledged “all those who died and suffered loss on 9/11” and “those who have served and continue to serve our country.”

Badalament managed to fail to schedule anyone else to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. He was also apparently incapable of reciting the short expression of patriotism himself on the anniversary of coordinated al-Qaeda terrorist attacks that killed almost 3,000 people on American soil.

The recitation of the Muslim poem occurred later in the day, not at the same time the Pledge had been scheduled, Lucey added.

A local school board member has now stepped up to defend Badalament from the philistines who have criticized his decision.

“I’m disappointed at the reaction of some of my community,” Concord-Carlisle School Committee member Philip Benincasa told the Herald. “I think what the principal was doing was an attempt to offer young people a glimpse of what binds us together as people. This was an attack carried out by extremists, not by a religious group that is as peace-loving and valued member of our community, our culture and our world as any other.”

The poem by Syrian-American poet Mohja Kahf is called “My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears.” It details the cultural collision that occurs when the author’s Muslim grandmother attempts to wash her feet in a bathroom at a Midwestern department store in observance of “wudu,” a pre- prayer ritual for Muslims.

The poem does not rhyme and has no recognizable metrical form. The word “American” makes three appearances in the work — two of them sarcastic observations by the narrator and the third a contemptuous reference to U.S. citizens by a character in the poem.

Here’s some sample verses:

She does it with great poise, balancing

herself with one plump matronly arm

against the automated hot-air hand dryer,

after having removed her support knee-highs

and laid them aside, folded in thirds,

and given me her purse and her packages to hold

so she can accomplish this august ritual

and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares…

“You can’t do that,” one of the women protests,

turning to me, “Tell her she can’t do that.”

“We wash our feet five times a day,”

my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.

“My feet are cleaner than their sink.

Worried about their sink, are they? I

should worry about my feet!”

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