Lassana Bathily is messing with the narrative.
Every tribe - or group with shared tradition, culture, values, and ideology - has a narrative. It’s how we talk about who we are, what’s happened to us and why we are the way we are today.
Erring on the side of brevity, simplicity and thus flawed generality, here are my one-sentence synopsis of the Muslim Narrative, the Christian Narrative, and the Jewish Narrative - the tribes who share a common orgin in the patriarch Abraham.
Membership in the tribes of Abraham is dependant upon more than lineage. It is contingent upon accepting each particular tribe's particular narrative. Threaten the narrative and the cost will be high. In some cultures, failure to uphold the narrative will cost you your life; in others, your way of life, your family and friends. Each tribe has its own means of expunging those who threaten the narrative’s preservation.
meet lassana bathily
Lassana is a 20-something, dark-skinned Muslim man, an immigrant from Mali. Last January, he worked at Hyper Cacher, a Kosher Grocery Store in the stately Porte de Vincennes neighborhood just east of Paris.
“It’s a kosher store, but not only Jews go there. I go there,” said Malik Zadi, a 25-year-old Muslim of Algerian descent. “In this neighborhood, there are Muslims, Jews, Christians. It’s like Paris. It’s a melting pot.” [Image: Huffington Post]
it was nearly sundown on a friday afternoon
Just hours before the Jewish Sabbath was to begin, a time when kosher groceries bustle with activity, Lassana was wrapping up his shift, placing the final boxes onto shelves in the basement storage. Then, upstairs. There was the unmistakable sound of gunfire. Round after round hit store shelves. And people.
In what has since become an all too familiar story, terrorists claiming ties to Al-Qaeda took responsibility for what was a series of calculated attacks; one of the ringleaders, a convict released from Abu Ghraib. On Wednesday, 12 people had been murdered at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo; an unrelated jogger was also shot Wednesday (by one of the men now in the grocery). On Thursday, a Paris policewoman, and on this Friday, four more people would be murdered in a simultaneously staged print shop and grocery attack. The assault had come at the hands of French Nationals who shared an immigrant heritage, embodying the very essence of a fractured identity that must kill off part of itself in order to restore a narrative shorn of competing clauses.
Now there was pandemonium. Store-patrons, women, children, men, running for cover. Heading into harms way, Lassana took to the stairs and began waving terrified patrons toward him. Was he a fool? Would this not lead the attackers to him? He didn’t stop to think. He didn’t think about dying. He didn’t think about what these people believed. He didn’t think about what others would say. He just knew what he needed to do.
Acting quickly, Lassana hid shoppers in a walk-in refrigerator and turned off the fan and lights so as not to draw attention. When those he'd hid refused to use the freight elevator to escape, Lassana decided to risk even more. He made a run for help. But before he could share what he knew, he was face-down, handcuffed, interrogated. For 90-minutes. (He looked the part.) Only when a coworker confirmed his identity as a store employee did the police pull up a chair to learn all they could. Though four people were already dead, the police were able to storm the building. Those who lived? Everyone whom Lassana had hid (1.9.15).
He simply did what heroes do. Adamantly denying the title, Lassana has written a free ebook, in which he says, “I did not know anything else to do other (than) to give shelter to scared customers… I knew something bad was going to happen. I had to offer shelter."
With much bravado, the French government reached out to Lassana. There was newspaper coverage lauding his bravery. There was a new job in the Paris Mayor's Office. And, there was the award of French citizenship. “I just acted,” Bathily said of his role during the attack. “I wasn't looking for honors.”
And so this narrative is troubling to those who cling to an anarchist narrative they try to pass-off as Muslim. "Yes, I helped Jews get out. We're brothers," Lassana told told BFM-TV. And that, troubles the other narrative-keepers.
narrative breakers are punished
Think Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Nelson Mandela, think Rosa Parks and Malala Yousafzai. Lassana has since been ridiculed for everything from working for Jews to defending against terrorists, to not doing anything extraordinary at all (we were never saved by a Muslim). Online, Lassana has received hatred grounded in race, politics, and religion.
Though recognized as a hero at the time, this year due to public pressure, Lassana’s name was withdrawn from the list of those due to receive the French Government’s Legion of Honor (1.2016). You see, Lassana doesn’t fit common narratives. He’s a Muslim who doesn’t hate. He was an employee of a Jewish grocer though not a Jew. He protected people at odds with his own tribe. Lassana lives beyond the common narrative.
"my philosophy," says Lassana in his book, is "mutual aid and love on this earth"
And so I pray that we do not fracture the Bathilys of the world, by making them choose between us and them, between honor and shame, between being our person or their’s.
I pray that somewhere beyond the old, old narratives that seem to bind us together (with our own) and drive away others – there is an uncommon narrative that celebrates those who cross all the lines to act with Salaam, Shalom, Love.
living the new narrative
Thank you Lassana Bathily - narrative breaker.
Find more from Melinda Bak: Linkedin, Facebook,Twitter. [Information for this article was gratefully drawn from the following sources: BBC News, Huffington Post, Times of Israel, CNN Europe, the UK Independent, and Aljazeera America.]
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