One Day in America

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It’s all in how you look at it, isn’t it? “Oh, a few people got stabbed in Ohio. Big deal.” Or this:

In Columbus, Ohio, yesterday (Thursday) evening, a man entered a restaurant named Nazareth, armed with a machete. The restaurant serves Middle Eastern food. It is owned by a gregarious man named Hany Baransi. A short review of Mr. Baransi, based on what others say about him and what he says about himself, quickly reveals that he is a man of many loves. He loves his restaurant, and he loves making people happy with the food that he loves. He loves America, where he has lived for thirty-three years. He loves Israel, the country he came from. He loves God, specifically as a Christian (and his ethnic background is Arab).

He’s quite something, this guy, if you are looking to someone to be a symbol. He personifies a thread of love between things that many people would consider mutually exclusive. He’s an ambassador of an allegedly irrational but rather beautiful cohesion.

He’s also first and foremost a human being, of-course. And that man who entered his restaurant yesterday evening with a machete first asked to see him, personally. That man’s name was Mohammad Barry. He had come to the U.S. from Somalia. No one apparently knew him at the restaurant. The owner, Hany Baransi, was not at his restaurant that day. He had been feeling ill and had stayed home: a rare event. Mohammad Barry went away then, but came back half an hour later, drew his machete, and proceeded to slash customers at Mr. Baransi’s restaurant. He wounded four people. People responded, throwing chairs at him. He exited and was then pursued by police. When they ran him off the road, he emerged from his vehicle lunging at them with his weapons and he was shot dead.

I guess if this had happened in Paris yesterday it would be a terrorist attack. Here in America, will it be characterized that way, or will it be one of many comparable incidents passed over as the random act of a disgruntled passerby? We’ll see.

Does it matter? Does it matter what anything means, or do we just exist in a world of random luck: good luck, bad luck, success, or sudden violent death?

I don’t think it’s a random kind of world. I don’t think Mr. Baransi does either, although in some interview footage from a local outlet, he hesitates to preempt the authorities in attaching motive to the attacker.

Watch the full interview embedded at bottom (it will take you about 10 seconds to understand what kind of man Mr. Baransi is), but here are some quotes:

Baransi: I know we see it and we hear about it and stuff, and I come from the Middle East: I’m from Israel. And this has been a big thing here because people ask me, “Where are you from?” “I’m from Israel.” And sometimes it offends people or not — I don’t know — but I still am, I’m not going to change, I am what I am. And this is America, you know? Thirty three years I’ve been in this country.

Q: Do you think that you were targeted specifically because of who you are, where you’re from, and the kind of things that you serve here?

Baransi: To be honest with you, as much as I want to think and say and do about it — I said the fact that has happened, and we can all take it, but at the same time I’m sure there are a dozen people right now in the police department and the FBI now working on it, and I really would like to give them their chance to do their investigation, so before I open my mouth and start saying … Do I feel it? Yes. I hope I’m wrong, I hope it’s not the case, and if it is, I hope it’s a one time thing.

What made this place is my customers. And my customers is American. And American to me is all America: white, black, tall, short, whatever, you know? And it’s been a blessing. That’s what keeps me coming. Seven days a week, 12, 14, 16 hours a day, when I see the customers are happy, I forget about the hard work …

It might take a day or two to get ourselves together, but we’ll get over it, and we are Americans, and we are resilient, and we’ll fight back, and we will not let anything like this affect our lives.

We’re going to be more cautious, and how can we — well, I don’t know, but there is a God, you know, and we’ll be alright.