Tobin’s Defense from “Which Half David”

This monologue is from my novel “Which Half David” (2016) – In this scene, the American, Tobin, is speaking on behalf of a group of tribal defendants from the Republic of Sulu in Southeast Asia.


The last thing I want to do today is come here as the all-knowing, eloquent-speaking foreigner and tell you all how democracy and justice is supposed to work. I’m not here to preach, instruct, belittle, or go on indefinitely about this great American justice system the Republic of Sulu inherited from the Filipinos. I’ve lived here long enough to know that you, as a nation, have nothing to learn but much to teach. You already know what democracy is. I’ve seen it in the villages were I work. I’ve seen it in the cities where I have lived. We’ve all heard it in the sporadic demonstrations. You all know clearly what democracy and justice is. The only question you must ask yourself as a nation is whether you have the will to make it a priority. My defense attorney has already stated more aptly than I ever could the minutia of the law which, I believe, proves our case. We all heard what your constitution states about religious freedom. We all heard the testimony of the abuse of power, which was prevalent in Minao Province. And we heard the testimony of exactly what happened that terrible, terrible night. But here is the fine matter that I want to emphasize. When I first arrived in the Sulu Republic eight years ago, I met this remarkable man, Gani, and, honestly, I thought I came here to save him, to spread Christianity, and to teach him how to live a better life. But in turn, I have been profoundly changed by this amazing man. He would never tell you anything about himself. He’s too humble for that. But you need to know the type of man who made the decision that night to ‘take a stand’. He has taken on himself to make sure that every child in the village is properly fed and cared for. Now you might think that is kind of strange, and if strange means out of the ordinary, that would describe him beautifully. On Monday and Tuesday nights, he holds a literacy class where all thirty-seven children in the village show up for a three-hour lesson. And on top of that, he schedules a thirty-minute, once-a-week session with each of the children to make sure they are learning their lessons. Can you imagine that—at least twenty-four hours a week devoted to the children of the village? On Wednesday is his animal husbandry lectures he gives to the women of the village. My group introduced some basic techniques to better help the animal population of the village, but Gani, once he saw the benefit of it, didn’t stop there. He spent eight weekends in the capital at the National Library learning much more about the subject than I learned in any of my training. And he learned it all through a translator because he can’t read Sulunese. Mr. Toggi, can you hold up that notebook? This is what he created. A comprehensive animal husbandry course, adapted for the jungle and this environment, and within two years of implementing his program, the disease rate of animals in the village has decreased by 200%. So much so that when the surrounding villages heard of its success, they came and begged him to teach them the methods as well. Of course, he couldn’t refuse. So he spends four days a month traveling long distances into remote valleys just to improve the lives of the villagers. His wife died three years ago. He lost his oldest son last year. And he continues to have the widest smile, the most sincere greeting, and the warmest heart out of any person I have ever met. You see, it’s very simple, actually. Gani is a leader who truly leads. He does what he says he’s going to do. He backs away when confrontation is not beneficial. He is gracious, honest, and … and here’s truly the fine point of everything: he’s a Christian. For that fact, and for that fact alone, he has been imprisoned, threatened, bullied, and beaten by the local authorities. And yet, do you know what he did the day after Christmas this past year? I’m sure you don’t. He brought a basket of food and gifts from the village to Commander Tulok in Minao City as a goodwill gesture. Look at his face. He didn’t even know that I knew. Here’s another thing he never mentioned. Commander Tulok accused Gani of offering him a bribe and threw him in prison overnight. Of course, the commander enjoyed the generous gifts and foods that he brought. When Gani came home to the village the next day, he didn’t even tell us what had happened. We didn’t even know he was in prison until I was told about it the next time I passed through Minao City. This is the leader who is on trial today. What happens to me and everyone else is not important because we all follow Gani. He has proved himself over and over again, only to be pushed down and trampled on by the local authorities. But no more. No more. What happened in that village the night of the attack was horrific. We will never forget it, and we will always regret the outcome. But the outcome was not dependent on the brave, courageous man who is in charge of our village—Gani. He did not bring anything on anyone. And so if you are required to find a villain to pin these murders on, you will not find one sitting there. It’s your right and duty to decide all of our fate. That is the beauty of the jury system, but I guarantee one thing. If it was you that night, staring down the barrel of a gun. You would have done more than Gani. You would have reached down into your being for the courage to fight and defend what you have every right to defend.

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