The Terrorist Within

I’m a bit amazed at times that as individuals, and as a country, we often look at the horrific actions in the name of hate and religion in far away lands or cultures with dismay, and yet somehow we miss the reflection of ourselves.

Both history and current news cycles make clear that we may label our hate and religious ideology in terms more palatable, but the similarities between hanging or burning southern blacks in the sixties bear a remarkable likeness to the beheading and burning of people today in the Middle East. The hateful bombing of a mid-western mosque that claims innocent lives is no less the actions of a terrorist simply because the bomber wore no suicide vest. And since we’re so big on our Christian superiority, what is it that God said, something about casting the first stone?

First published the week after 9/11 (taken from the web and submitted to the newspapers by someone unknown to me)

The Terrorist Within

Beyond the physical annihilation of what was once a twin symbol of American prosperity, the horizon of an era draped in a cloak of false security disappeared behind a landscape of horror and overwhelming sadness off the harbor of Manhattan. Still in the grips of unimaginable human loss at the hands of cowardly foreign enemies, we struggle to endure the waves of emotion that build in our hearts and seep through our tears resurrecting not only our greatest strengths, but also our darkest weaknesses.

I reflected upon an earlier time some months ago when the evening news displayed chants of hatred towards the United States from the streets of a Palestinian community, and I remembered the unbridled hate clearly visible from the faces of their youth. How, I wondered, could those so young understand enough about life to hate us so, looking forward in fact to the day they would avenge their nation and take part in our destruction? Of course, how clear it is to us, the Americans, that the children of Palestine, as with children of other anti-American nations, believe what they are told and what they are taught by those whom they turn to for truth…their parents, family members, religious figures and political leaders. They are, I declared in that moment, casualties of misguided anger; children who we understand without question will one day grow up and collectively follow in the footsteps of such hate against us…a generation of children blaming us now, we the Americans, for the poverty they suffer, the ache of their bellies, and the loss of their loved ones to endless generations of war in the name of liberty and freedom…or so they were taught. “Terrorist in the making” ran through my mind as I watched the images on the screen.

I was reminded of those images when I opened the Special Edition of the Sacramento Bee on the afternoon of September 11th. Their faces appeared once again, children rejoicing in the streets of Jerusalem at the news of a successful attack against the dominating and repressive Americans. “Do they even understand the grief of American children tonight, children who have lost their parents?” I wondered. Do they, as children, really have the capacity to hate with such passion as to dismiss the pain involved with such an event? How, I wondered, could parents teach such hate.

Three days have passed now and I have opened my eyes to how such hatred could and does, live within the capacity of all of us…shamefully taught through ignorance and complacency to the children of the United States. A hate for others who are different from ourselves so much a part of our everyday lives that we fail to even recognize it as hate, but more so an underscored belief that we need not define… for individually, and collectively in some circles, we have our reasons.

My neighbor and friend called me this evening to ask, if it were necessary, could she and her family find refuge in my home should danger and hatred fall upon them. My friend is from India, a hard working woman whose sacrifices for her children are equal to any mother’s I know. She and her husband work 14-hour days, 7 days a week to ensure a college education for their three young sons, but now close their store early each night because of verbal insults and threats upon their safety. My fears had become instant reality; they had become targets for anger so immense with no place to hide.

We Americans call it simply “bigotry” in our everyday lives, a term we have somehow become accustom to accepting, perhaps because it’s easier than considering ourselves to be “terrorist.” But let there be no doubt in our minds, when we deliver hatred and terror to the doors of our neighbors here at home out of some self-justified bigotry based upon fear, we are indeed, terrorist. When our children hear us speak out of pain and suffering from this week’s horrific events, words of hate and racial degradation, we are teaching terrorism to their young hearts. When they look to us for guidance through the pain our country suffers, and more specifically, listen for reassurance of their own safety, but hear in the background our wishes to destroy other nations in harsh verbal terms beyond those suggestive of a just and civilized people, we are teaching terrorism. When it is easier to hate all those from similar cultures with similar features or skin tones than it is to discern the rightful enemy, we are directly or indirectly just the same, teaching terrorism to our children. Our children’s war zone becomes a classroom, a playground, or a neighborhood street; all in need of defense against those we have collectively titled “the enemy”.

President Bush said today that “…the greatness of America is shinning forth,” but we, as Americans, cannot claim such glorious righteousness if every piece of stone and steal lifted by fearless rescuers is thrown somewhere else in our country in the name of hate, thrown at our own neighbors who are of middle-eastern decent and equally devastated by this week’s tragedy. More specifically, when our children throw verbal stones that echo what they believe to be true, words that must be true because they came from the foundation of their truth — their parents — we have nurtured terrorism in our own children’s hearts. Least we not forget that it was our “greatness”, our provision of freedom from tyranny that drew such people to our shores. We must, if we are to be truly a great nation, be willing to defend the honor of all of our citizens regardless of their nationality.

Many claims have been made as to the similarities between the attack on Pearl Harbor and the devastating attack on our soil this week; the banding of all Americans to fight for liberty, freedom, and justice against evil. Interesting now to also reflect on the racial hysteria from that time, a time in which out of fear we imprisoned those of Japanese decent in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, long time citizens of our country, and a majority of which were American born children. I shutter to think there is more to that correlation than the “brotherly unity” we speak of now, and I pray that I’m wrong.

The United States must take strong and swift military action against the war crimes inflicted upon its people, but if we are to create a world in which our children can one-day peacefully exist as adults with the grown children of other nations, we must recognize our own teachings of terrorism here at home. If we cannot find within our greatness to face our own “terrorists within” and eradicate it first from our own hearts and children, then our greatness will always be simple rhetoric brought forth at times in which it serves our purpose.

So I ask all parents tonight, “How great is your belief in the ideals for which this county represents? Will you fight for them as valiantly on our own shores as quickly as you commit our troops for the same in distant lands?” I plead with you to teach your children well and remember that your lessons are not always found within your purposeful words, but also within your silent thoughts and actions.

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