Wed 22 Mar 2006
Some stories (this one from Ken Thomas ’93) are too good to be left in a comment thread.
Salem Gafsi ’92 died during his freshman Christmas break, in a garage in the suburbs of Washington, while trying to assemble a pipe bomb device with friends. He was, I believe, the son of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States.
According to reliable sources, a portion of the chemicals he procured for those devices– all easy to obtain– were taken from the basement chemistry storerooms in Bronfman, just down from what was then the Computer Science laboratory.
For so short a time, Salem lived in Williams D. I remember his face from “Freshman Days,” as they were called then, and it was as doe-eyed and seemingly innocent as any of ours. And I add, as a cautionary footnote, that in those years several Ephs who now lead corporations possessed The Anarchist’s Cookbook, experimented with the production of thermite, and made far more serious proposals for its use than Frank’s offhand comment above.
They did not, of course, take those plans to action.
We are all Ephs. Are we all Ephs?
Vaguely, I remember– and try to recall more of– my short conversations and interactions with Salem. In the realm of linguistic diversity, which I consider a more important and concrete goal than the forms of “diversity” we now pursue, I wonder what it might have meant if some young Eph had been able to engage Salem in Arabic.
How his history might have been different if some Eph had journeyed with him, that Christmas in the Winter of ’88. How all our histories might, just perhaps, have been very different if he had survived those dark times, if, somehow, he had come to meet and converse with Noah Feldman, if Noah had already mastered a bit of Arabic at that point.
Both John Kennedy and Jack Sawyer prayed that we would explore such paths, and solve such problems, decades before. I keep pictures of Lindsay Morehouse, Howard Kestenbaum and Brian Murphy above my desk, to remind me of our duty– and the significance of our individual and everyday actions, and the price of the correct path, when it is not taken.
Perhaps it is time to add Salem’s FaceBook picture to those memorials.
We owe them more.
Whatever our differences– whatever our politics– whatever the meaning of Wiliams’ current “Diversity Initiatives”, or the intense partisanship of the current American Congress– we owe the fallen more than our petty factionalism and ideological blindness.
And the stakes of understanding have never been higher.
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