When the man came to, he asked why Smith had beaten him unconscious. "Because I'm Christian," Smith said.
The anecdote comes from a story about alleged prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay written by my colleague, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, and published earlier this month. Her report, based on recently declassified notes taken by lawyers representing the captives, included other claims of religious intimidation. Prisoners say their American captors kicked and stomped Korans, cursed Allah and denied them pants, knowing Muslims are prohibited from praying with bodies uncovered. A man who refused to surrender his pants said he was gang-tackled, beaten and pepper-sprayed.
Still, it's Jumah al Dossari's alleged encounter with a military policeman he knew only as "Smith" that leaps out.
Why did you beat me until I blacked out? he asked Smith. "Because I'm Christian," Smith said.
Yeah, I know. Dossari's probably no Boy Scout. Maybe had his hand in some major nastiness. Maybe isn't even telling the truth.
But his character is beside the point. And as for truth, well, this account sure jibes with those of other Muslim detainees who described brute force attempts to make Christians out of them.
Add to that last year's whiny complaints that saying "Happy holidays" as opposed to "Merry Christmas" somehow threatens the foundations of Christendom. And the caterwauling crusade to force public display of a rock bearing the Ten Commandments. And recently renewed attempts to force schools to teach so-called "creation science."
What you get is an unsettling picture of intolerance and arrogance under the guise of faith, renewed proof that religious people are often the worst advertisement for religious life.
Then, there's Ashley Smith.
She is, of course, the 26-year-old woman from Duluth, Ga., who was allegedly taken hostage this week by accused rapist and escaped Atlanta courtroom shooter Brian Nichols. Smith knew even before this what trouble is. Her husband was stabbed and died in her arms four years ago. And The New York Times reports that she has a history of petty crime — arrests for shoplifting, drunken driving and assault.
Then, says Smith's family, she found God and, through God, change. They say it was what she knew about hurting, about life at the end of your rope, that enabled her to reach out to Nichols. By her account, she talked to him about God. She encouraged him to think about his purpose in the divine design. She reminded him that the people he is alleged to have killed were loved. She made him pancakes. In a word, she ministered to him.
And he, in response, let her go.
Compare this Smith with the one at Guantánamo. It's hard to imagine a starker contrast.
I am loath to question anybody's bona fides where religious beliefs are concerned. Still, if the Smith at Guantánamo Bay embodied the faith he professed, might not Jumah al Dossari have wound up asking different questions?
Might he not have said, Smith, why do you treat me decently? Why do you respect my religion when the others don't? Why did you stop them from beating me?
Then it would have made sense, would have been a stirring affirmation, for Smith to reply, "Because I'm Christian."
As it is, this Smith affirms only the niggardliness of spirit that so often masquerades as faith. I could spend the rest of the day explaining why niggardliness and faith are mutually exclusive, could fulminate in righteous rebuke of religious bullies who see faith as a license to mistreat instead of as an obligation to serve.
But it is enough, I think, to point to this other Smith, making pancakes for a man with a gun, seeking humanity in the despicable.
I can't put it any better than she already did.
Leonard Pitts Jr. / Syndicated columnist
Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr.'s column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org