Crashed on Re-entry

Did you hear? Youssif1 finally got to meet a hero.

More specifically—Spiderman. Some dude put on tights, flicked his wrist, gave Youssif a hug and made his day.

I’m happy for Youssif.

CNN is happy for Youssif.

CNN is happy for CNN.

I’m not happy for CNN.

After a two-month sabbatical from the news, I was overcome with a sense of needing to know something about my world. So I webbed over to and ran into this story. I’ll give you the rundown: Boy got burned. Badly. So to cheer him up, they brought him to America and sent him to Universal Studios. Now he’s happy.

Um, I need to say a few things now.

Let’s start at the beginning. No, before the beginning—the title. His hug from an actor was a hug from a hero? At the risk of being obvious, let me highlight the irony of this headline. How many potential ‘heroes’ has he had contact with?

  • The coalition soldiers that ‘liberated’2 him? Sorry, I can’t hold them up as the heroes to inspire him. While many of their actions are truly heroic, I’m not sure I’m ready to call them heroes. I’ll leave the determination of that to those who actually know what’s going on there.
  • The leaders who sent the coalition soldiers to ‘liberate’2 him? Um. Ditto. Only without the heroic deeds.
  • The cowering terrorists who felt the need to set a five-year-old on fire to send a message?
  • The fine folks at CNN who broke his story? Yeah, I’ll talk more about that later, but I think we all know better than to buy that one.
  • The good people around the world who contributed the funds to get him to America to get help? Sorry, can’t swallow that either. I’m certainly not speaking negatively of them (I’ll be the first to admit they did more than I), but I think hero status is reserved for those who sacrifice.
  • Spiderman, the Green Goblin, Spongebob or Lassie? Oh for the days when true heroism was prized and Lassie gained fame. Youssif met all of them on his day at the park. But, while I commend each of them for the part they play in bringing a little fleeting joy to this boy—and to thousands of other kids—their hero status is only as legitimate as they are. Youssif didn’t even pretend to think they were heroes. He knew it was just an actor. The reporter was the one who somehow got things mixed up.
  • His mother, Zainab, and his father, who cannot be named for fear of further acts of violence and oppression? At long last, we stumble across true heroism. Raising a child takes a heroic commitment. And sacrifice. Try doing it with the physical, emotional and psychological scars Youssif must fight. Think they don’t worry about the safety of their younger daughter?
  • His neighbors? Their only attempt at heroism is providing a meaningful life for their families in a land where spiteful rebels apply gasoline and matches to children without cause or meaning. And going to work every day with explosives, snipers, rebels, and soldiers doing their lethal business. In a land ripped apart by hundreds of years of repressed and flagrant hatred. And they do it all without body armor or armored personnel carriers.
  • Youssif? Most five-year-olds’ lives are hard enough. Without living in war-ravaged Iraq. Without being set on fire. Without being trophied around the news. Without being expected to have an informed opinion on war and terror. Without having an informed opinion on war and terror.

A hero definitely gave a hug that day.

And now he’s being given free reconstructive surgery and therapy. I’m glad. I wish him and his family nothing but the best as they try to move on with life. And I wish CNN would stop patting themselves on the back about it.

Youssif, the 5-year-old burned Iraqi boy….” I’m sorry, I forgot he was such a celebrity. Obviously, the five-year-old dragged into a war of unrestrained hate doesn’t need more than a catchy little tag. Why dignify him by taking the time to explain that he was doused with gasoline and set on fire by a group of masked thugs? Why not make little bobbleheads of Roman Candle Boy?

Does that offend you? I hope so.

I’d be much happier to see CNN drop the commodity and just treat him as precious.

And maybe help any of the thousands of other kids suffering physically and emotionally from the war. Or famine. Or drought. Or AIDS. Without telling us about how much they’re doing.

Or turning it into a chance to editorialize.

I’m trying not to comment on the war. I don’t think it’s really my place. I just wish they didn’t either. Case in point: They report an English comment from Youssif’s father. He surveys all the superficially happy people with all their apparent peace and contentment (OK, so at least they’re not needing flak jackets and packing fire extinguishers in their diaper bags) and says, “Iraq finished.” CNN kindly interprets his Arabic clarification as, “His homeland won’t be enjoying such freedoms anytime soon. It’s just not possible. Too much violence. Too many killings.” Call me suspicious, but I think they left something out. How “Iraq finished” becomes “Iraq is really screwed up,” I’m not sure. Unless maybe they left out the part about how Iraq is on its way to seeing improvement. As in, ‘Yeah, it’s messed up now, but when it’s finished it’s going to be great.’ As in, an Iraqi sees hope for his country. CNN didn’t find that an acceptable sentiment apparently. Glad they can be such a help to his family. I’m sure they’ll get his kid straightened out in no time.

And I’m not even talking about how ironic it is that they sent the family to Universal Studios. I’ve never been there, but I’m sure it’s a great place. And I’m sure the poor Iraqi family was appropriately dazzled. ‘Cause it wouldn’t be enough to get them away from flying bullets and all-too-free-flowing gasoline. They must become fully decadent Americans. We wouldn’t want them satisfied by little things like family and safety. No, we’ll make sure they get dazzled by something really dazzling: “At Universal Studios, he looked out across the valley below. The sun glistened off treetops and buildings. It was a picturesque sight fit for a Hollywood movie.” His real life needed a little Hollywood sparkle, apparently.

Thank you, CNN, for providing a hero to save them from themselves.

One article later, I’m ready for another sabbatical.

1The 5-year-old burned Iraqi boy.” What, you need me to be more specific? Read his story here. (back to text)
2 Sorry if it offends you that I put that in quotes. Read Youssif’s story and then explain to me how he was liberated. I know, Saddam was a tyrant. But so is too much liberty, apparently. (back to text)

One Reply to “Crashed on Re-entry”

  1. Wow! We will have to talk more when you get back, however until then this will do. Great story and so to the point, media hype is so out of place. Today there is more in the paper about a football coach than a new govenor being elected in KY. Don’t ever give up the writing for too long, short or long it serves you and others well.

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