Friday, August 17, 2007

Crossing military and religious lines

Another of my favorite people, Dr. Don Webb -- Welsh gentleman, Methodist minister, former president of Centenary College and former officer in the British Navy -- sent me a wonderful anecdote the other day.

This week is the 60th anniversary of Pakistan's independence. The nuclear power and its government's relationship to Islamic fundamentalists has been giving our government and presidential candidates some amount of heartburn. But Webb has a different take: "Surely we've an opportunity to reach out across religious and political lines, to rejoice with them? My own early experience with Pakistanis was enlighteningly positive -- and enabled me, much later in life, to relate contentedly and constructively with local Muslims."

In 1947, Webb was a mine sweeping officer in the British Royal Navy. While his ship was being repaired, the Navy gave him a bit of a break assigned him as a liaison officer to a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Onslaught, which was a gift to the Pakistan Navy. He was to help train the Pakistanis on the ins and outs of their new ship, and spent several months in the English Channel and North Sea.

"It turned out, I was the only non-Muslim -- the only pink-skin! -- aboard: talk about differences! But we’d no time for them. We needed to become a good crew. So we did that.

The ship’s Gunner was Lt. Khan. We became friends -- and soon, so close that our differences of color and religion became obscured in our affection. I was accepted by officers and crew as a shipmate: life aboard Tugril was happy and effective. Then, Tugril went back to Pakistan, I back to mine sweeping…"
Photo: Dr. Webb from Times archives

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