I have this habit of always riding in the front of the metro and train. Why? Well I have it in my head that if somebody decides to blow themselves up they’ll be in the middle for maximum effect. I figure that if I’m in the back I still have the blown up part to run into, but if I’m in the front then the blast will push us out and away. Is this a logic fail? Probably so. But it still influences my daily life.
Terrorism is real to me; it has been for as long as I can recall. It didn’t start on September 11th, but rather, simply roared into the American consciousness that day. But as far back as I can remember there have been explosions, massacres, expulsions, downed jets, and hijackings. Sometimes these were perpetrated by Arabs (the Lockerbie bombing), and sometimes they were perpetrated by white men (Oklahoma City). When I was in high school, shootings and mass rampages were the main concern. I lived through lock-downs, kill-lists and, even once, the echo of bullets as school let out. It turned out to be a focused gang attempt (as if that made it somehow manageable) but it still took place only a number of feet from me.
When I lived in the Middle East a few cities around the country underwent a rash of attacks. One man blew himself up near a governmental institution, another, with mistaken timing, exploded in a place of business. I received a number of emails from friends back in America begging me to come home. Those that knew I wouldn’t hoped I remained safe. The weird thing is, when you live in a country that experiences violent events on a semi-regular basis you develop a strange sort of apathy for it. A coping mechanism really. You either die, or you do not die. Those are the options. But you cannot stop living a normal life. Still–those acting erratically are often met with eerie suspicion in these nations. People keep their eyes trained and quickly move away, not because they are scared of mental illness, they are not worried by schizophrenia, but extremism.
In a way, the United States is still learning how to cope with this type of world. The one where sometimes things just blow up. It’s a worthy adversary to battle and I pray that no child in any country ever gets “used” to things going up in smoke. However it seems that lately we’re forgetting who the most likely transgressor is. While most in the West point to the Muslim world as the ones that cause all the explosions everywhere, to do so is both factually incorrect and short sighted.
First, to point to 9/11 as the beginning of real terrorism in America completely glosses over the vast, and pronounced history of racial and ethnic terrorism. Irish, Italians, Catholics, African Americans, Chinese Americans, Jews, and Latinos, all of these groups have experienced (and many still experience) murders, bombings, lynchings, and coordinated and systematic efforts to destroy their way of life. From the KKK to newer Neo-Nazi groups, a goal doesn’t get much more terroristy than that.
There has also been a problem in the United States with extremist militia groups and violent anti-choice movements. I want to acknowledge that the language that I’m using: anti-choice. I use this because you cannot consider yourself pro-life if you are bombing clinics, setting them on fire, and murdering doctors in front of their families. In the militia circle, you have people who are incredibly anti-government. They have developed a immense hate towards the system and seek to destroy it. Sometimes they blow buildings up (Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City) and sometimes they fly airplanes into them (Joseph Stack in Austin).
In fact, if we want to look at the hard numbers, we’ll find that Muslim terrorists commit about half as many crimes as other extremist groups. According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, since 2001 there have been 45 Domestic terror plots linked to Muslims with 80 linked to non-Muslims and 63 of those coming from anti-tax, anti-government and White Supremacist groups. It should also be noted that quite a few terrorist attempts have been foiled by Muslims coming forward, or Middle Easterners seeing something amiss and reporting it to the authorities.
Now I’m not trying to suggest that we should refocus all of our efforts onto one race, religion or political stance. To do so would be short-sighted and idealistic. However, it is time that America acknowledges that much of its terrorism problem comes from its own internal strife. This is really nothing new to a number of Western nations. Numerous countries in Europe have seen separatist and internal groups emerge and wreak havoc on the stability of their society. From Spain to France to Ireland and England (although there are certainly more), there have been metro bombings, car bombings, and plenty of innocent bystanders killed for political or idealistic gains. If these countries simply buried their heads in the sand and pretended that it was only ever Muslims that blew things up, they would quickly find themselves in incredibly precarious situations.
The United States needs to similarly concede to their own domestic issues. To ignore such threats and to only focus on the “threat of Islam” is no longer just racist and cruel, but it is downright dangerous. Hate and fear of the government, brought about by anti-tax, racial or militaristic fanaticism needs to be honestly addressed, discussed and put on par with the “dangers of Islam.”
Recently, the world saw how such terrorism can be easily fostered at a recent event at the Yorba Linda Community Center in Orange County. CAIR, a Muslim council hosted an event to raise awareness and money for domestic violence. As local families entered and left the fundraiser they were heckled, insulted, and ridiculed by a number of white American protesters. People are already coming to the casual defense of these extremists by calling them individual “crazies.” Yet this rally was sponsored by the local Tea Party group (We Surround Them OC 912), The North Orange Country Conservative Coalition, Rabbi David Eliezrie, ACT! for America and Pamela Geller (whose own fanatical group has been classified as a hate group by the SPLC). In addition, Congressmen Ed Royce, Gary Miller and Councilwoman Deobrah Pauley also joined in the melee. Is this a fringe group? Or is this getting serious? The video of the protest is right here and it clearly shows grown adults yelling insults at children, accusing these fellow citizens of unfounded crimes on the basis of their faith, and laughing and applauding the idea of killing them. Imagine if Muslims were holding such rallies against Christian groups. What would we call that?
In the U.S., many domestic terrorists have lived within a privileged bubble where we simply label their acts as that of “individuals.” The public and media often treat these crimes as though they happen in a vacuum, devoid of any sort of influence or violent language and planning. When Jared Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrille Giffords, killing six others and injuring another fourteen, Fox News was quick to peg him as an extreme liberal and most liberals were quick to peg him as a Tea Party nut. People came forward to discuss his political leanings from ten years back and segments were devoted to his state of mind. The truth is he seems to have been a very anti-government, pro-conspiracy, fear-driven individual. Whether this is endemic of the left or right wing, I’ll let you decide. However I think it’s fair to point out that when Nidal Malik Hasan took shots at his fellow countrymen at Fort Hood, there was almost no speculation over the nuance or balance of ideals that caused it. He was a Muslim and an extremist one. Case closed. No insights, no nuance. Just Islam.
Such a disparity in reporting lulls Americans into a false sense of security. It makes them think that as long as there aren’t any brown folk around, or any Muslim-looking people, then all will be well. Apple pies will continue to bake, baseball bats will crack in the summer heat and babies everywhere will be birthed by happily wed mothers. It’s a mistake, and it is one that has cost lives. How much further must this go before the media starts treating it like what it is: a connected social issue that has been spurred on by anti-government, anti-tax, and supremacist extremists. Will the United States become like the Middle East in this regard? Lulled into a state of apathetic fatalism because we are unsure what to do when the bad guys look like Ma and Pa? How long until domestic bomb plots barely raise an eyebrow with the public? It’s already happening. The MLK Parade bomb plot in Spokane was credible, real, and hardly made front page news nationwide. As long as we keep sweeping such extremism under the rug and pretending it’s all just First and Second Amendment ho-downs these events are likely to grow and expand. So for now, I guess I’ll just keep riding in the front of the train.