Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Innocents Abroad 3: A Gun Assumption

Growing up on a farm in Indiana with my brothers involved a lot of war games. Many times I would be mortally wounded and the gun from my hand would go flying as I would tumble down the side of the ditch and end up in the muddy water, seemingly dead. My brother would rescue me and shoot the enemy while dragging me from certain death. I would retrieve my gun and commence shooting again until it was time to save him in his dramatic tumble into the ditch. Our guns were fashioned sticks and our enemies disappeared from our minds when we started home in our drenched clothes laughingly pulling leeches from our skin.

At the airport in Cairo we saw armed guards but we see them at airports in the States now. Outside we see taxi drivers with pistols on their hips. On our bus we pass by farmers with rifles strapped to their backs. At every tourist site were armed Egyptians both military and civilian. We passed check point after checkpoint and more than a few times had to show our passports to armed security. We were told to make sure we take no pictures of them as we passed or as they questioned us. One in our group was so nervous at a check point that when a friendly guard asked “Where are you from?” while she sat strait and still in her seat. She nervously whipped up her arm saying “HERE’S MY PASSPORT!”

Our trip across Egypt to Sinai and on to Jordon included our own personal security. A young man who was drafted without a change of clothes and with little notice to sit in our bus and hide behind his pressed suit and sunglasses. The goal was to make him laugh over three days journey with him but the bulge of his automatic weapon under his suit barely let him crack a smile.

During our trip we saw guns, guns and more guns; from all the check points to our security guard, to the heavily armed border crossings. In Israel the guns seemed to be carried by teenagers, and I am sure some of them were since mandatory service goes from 18-20 years old for both men and women. I had to wonder that these “kids” were not too much older than me and my brothers as we played our war games on that farm in Indiana. A typical picture in Old Jerusalem was a Sabbath teaching of young kids by their Israeli Sabbath School Teacher. There were 30 or so kids with a few adults mixed in to keep order while the teacher was giving his lesson. Yet each of the adults had an automatic weapon strapped to their back or sitting on their knees. I have a hard time picturing our Sunday school classes in the same way. I talked to an Israeli about this and his comment stuck with me. He said “Guns give us the assumption of safety. Without the guns we feel we are not protected, not safe.” So everybody carries guns.

In the States we have the opposite assumption. We assume guns mean there is no safety. Without getting into a gun control argument I believe there has to be a line somewhere in between that needs to be walked. I was innocently shocked by the guns everywhere I looked but I also understood the need. They make the assumption that guns mean safety but that also means they make the assumption that their neighbor is trying to kill them and the threat of killing them back is the only thing that prevents that. A mini Cold War rages in our assumptions. What a beautifully fallen world it is that we live in.

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