On Terror Attacks, Refugees, and Ignorance

I’ve always meant for this blog to be a place where I can get my thoughts out via original content whenever something is weighing on my mind, and now, finally, here it is, my first original blog post!  I’m going super serious here, because there is some super serious shit happening out there.

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Yesterday morning my boyfriend hugged me close and said, “Please don’t get killed by a Muslim terrorist today.”

And I replied, “Oh yeah, ISIS is promising to attack D.C., right?”  And then I pretty much shrugged and moved on with my day.

It’s not that ISIS isn’t evil and scary.  It’s not that they can’t deliver on their promises, because 150 dead in Paris last week would beg to differ.  It’s not that Washington, D.C. isn’t a likely target.  And it’s not that I’m not likely to get hurt if such an attack were to occur; I work in downtown D.C., halfway between Congress and the White House, in a government building, in an area heavily populated by restaurants and tourists, and I take the metro every single day past the Pentagon.  By this criteria, sure, I guess I should maybe be scared.

But the reality is, I am far more frightened of the evildoers and religious extremists we already have in this country.  Washington, D.C. as a city acts as a scapegoat not just for foreign powers who hate America, but also for Americans who hate their own government.  Every single day when I go to work might be a day that something bad happens.  A couple years ago I was sitting at work when all of the computer monitors started shaking and wouldn’t stop.  And my thought wasn’t “earthquake,” (the true culprit) because that would be illogical since we don’t typically get earthquakes here.  It was “bomb,” because in this city, that’s not an unlikely scenario.  And that bomb could be planted by anybody, including, yes, people like the Tsarnaev brothers, but more likely people like Timothy McVeigh, James Wenneker von Brunn, and John Patrick Bedell (Fun fact!  I was in the Pentagon metro stop mere minutes before Bedell’s shooting!)  So when ISIS says they want to hit D.C., my thought is, “Meh, alright, get in line.  I think Clive Bundy has dibs.”

As if by providence, today I stumbled upon a New York Times article from June that claimed, “The main terrorist threat in the United States is not from violent Muslim extremists, but from right-wing extremists.”  The bulk of their statistics come from a study they conducted with the Police Executives Research Forum, but they also brought in supporting data from the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database and the New America Foundation’s International Security Program.  Yes, there is a small number of Muslim extremist attacks attempted each year, but there are far larger numbers of American anti-government extremists carrying out more frequent and deadlier attacks.  The article states that “Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years.  In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.” (In the grand scheme of things, even these numbers are negligible.  The article states that, “For every person killed by Muslim extremists, there have been 4,300 homicides from other threats” in the United States since 9/11.”)

Think about that.  Really think about it.  Your wacky neighbor with a giant Don’t Tread On Me sign in their front yard is far more likely to cause serious and violent harm than the refugee family whose only goal is to try to get their children out of a war zone.

Confusing escaping Muslims with ISIS Muslims and thus labeling them as dangerous and unwanted makes absolutely no sense if one pays any attention to what ISIS is actually doing: they are accepting Muslims who agree with them, and killing those who do not.  All of this is explained very thoroughly and clearly in this article found in The Atlantic last spring.  True ISIS sympathizers are not fleeing Syria- they are flocking to it.  So why the fear and hatred for refugees who are trying their best to get away from the conflict?

This issue of refugees is near and dear to my heart, as is evidenced by this article I wrote for Latvian Online about my own people’s refugee experience.  The coldblooded hypocrisy of those who would be hateful towards refugees is well summed-up by fellow Latvian Erik Lazdins in his Facebook post:

Both of my grandparents were refugees. They fled from a country torn by war and Stalinist oppression. Latvians, like the refugees of today, faced questions about their true loyalties. After the war, some gave into fear and attempted to paint many Baltic-Americans as possible Nazi sympathizers. Today, politicians will attempt to deny Syrian refugees resettlement on the grounds that jihadists will slip through a (strict) two year vetting process.  Latvians were afforded asylum and opportunity in the United States of America. If you are the descendent of a refugee, don’t turn your back on those who flee tyranny and war today. Instead empathize with their struggle.

Of course, today’s Facebook news feed is full of people such as Lazdins debating some Americans’ knee-jerk reaction against Muslim refugees from Syria.  Unsurprisingly, in the thick of the fight against compassion is that lovably hypocritical hate-mongering douche-nozzle Mike Huckabee, the same man who is selling a collection of animated cartoons teaching children whitewashed American history that focuses on Christianity’s upstanding role in our country’s founding by showing a little black girl happily hanging out with the signers of the Declaration of Independence (newsflash, little girl:  These dudes don’t want to help you, they want TO OWN YOU, and sell off your entire family, and live in mansions paid for through your free labor, and probably rape you and then pretend your kids aren’t theirs).

Mike Huckabee and people like him are who I really fear, because their indoctrination is based on purposeful ignorance, and indoctrinating others with this same ignorance.  To me, this level of ignorance is much more terrifying than an improbable Muslim terrorist threat.  In my mind destroying education is more dangerous, in the long run, than destroying people.  It sounds like hippy nonsense at first, but it is not.  A gun can kill a person; stupidity can kill an entire society.  If this were not the case, then we would have no reason to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl whose home was destroyed by the Taliban, and who was famously targeted by them for having the nerve to, gasp, demand an education.  According to Yousafza’s autobiography, the way that a narrow-minded religious extremist group managed to take control in her homeland was by starting at the root of the population’s knowledge: by shutting down some schools and taking over the rest, thus instilling their own ideology in the minds of the children there and removing outside, contrary influences.

I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to suggest that similar results could happen here in America, but perpetrated by right-wing Christian fanatics.  For one, it is already happening.  Fanatical Christians such as Huckabee are trying to indoctrinate a radical and skewed form of Christianity upon the rest of the nation by doing things such as infiltrating school boards to change textbooks and curriculums, where science would be replaced with Intelligent Design, sex education would be replaced with abstinence-only training, and history would ignore anything that seems un-patriotic, such as slavery, indigenous genocide, wartime internment of loyal citizens, and so forth.

The damage from these religious fanatics pushing for purposeful ignorance is already showing, such as in studies that show that areas with abstinence-only education have the highest teen pregnancy rates.  If this ignorance doesn’t seem dangerous to you, realize that, according to a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study, nearly one percent of teen pregnancies in this country occur to women who claim to be virgins, because their education about basic things like how sex works was replaced by bullshit faith-fueled chastity pledges.  Over a quarter of those girls’ mothers claim to not have enough information of their own to pass on to their children, so just imagine how much more dangerous this cycle could become as generation after generation of people don’t even know basic things such as where babies come from.  That is insane.

At this point someone might say, “Whoa now!  I am a Christian!  But I am nothing like this!”  You may even be angry.  And you should be, because these fanatics are giving you and your peaceful religion a bad name.  Some idiot on the internet has started a ridiculous viral campaign against Starbucks for their cups not being Christian-enough (even though they are Christmas colored and the store sells Christmas Blend coffee and has a big chalkboard sign with pictures of Christmas trees that say “Bring the Merry With You” and THEY SELL ADVENT CALENDARS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE you can’t get more Christian than celebrating the Advent), and meanwhile you are thinking the same thing as my thoughtful and rational Christian friend Alan A.C. Coleman, who writes “Here’s the thing. Most people don’t care about this. The only people that do are the ones in the extreme minority who are the loudest of us all. That’s how it always is. It’s not a controversy, the media just gives a voice to the extremely vocal minority.”

Surely, then, other religions work the same way, yes?  The majority of people are peaceful and rational, and a small minority is just nuts.  You see where I am going with this.  ISIS and groups like it are violent followers of Islam, who interpret Islam very violently, while others are peaceful followers of Islam who interpret Islam peacefully.  Reza Aslan said it best while being interviewed on CNN:

Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace.  Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it.  If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent.  There are Buddhist, marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children.  Does Buddhism promote violence?  Of course not.  People are violent or peaceful, and that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.

In the same way that Christians would not want to be labeled as stupid based on the minority of stupid Christians who are upset at Starbucks, fleeing Muslims do not want to be seen as dangerous based on the minority of Muslims who are dangerous.  But that is the exact hypocritical attitude that is occurring in the United States right now.  Not only is this reaction kinda mean and unfair, it is downright dangerous, as President Barack Obama warned when he said of Republican presidential candidates, “I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for ISIL than some of the rhetoric coming out of here in the course of this debate. They’ve been playing on fear to score political points or to advance their campaigns and it’s irresponsible. It needs to stop because the world is watching.”

How is it dangerous?  Waleek Aly eloquently explained it on Australian talk show The Project:

ISIL’s strategy is to split the world into two camps… They want to start World War III, a global war between Muslims and everyone else… They want countries like ours to reject our Muslims and vilify them…  ISIL’s leaders would be ecstatic to hear that since the atrocity in Paris, Muslims have reportedly been threatened and attacked in England, America, and here in Australia, because this evil organization has it in their heads that if they can make Muslims the enemy of the west, then Muslims in France and England and America and here in Australia will have nowhere to turn but to ISIL…  If you’re a member of Parliament or a has-been member of Parliament preaching hate at a time when what we actually need is more love, you’re helping ISIL.  They have told us that…  Or if you’re just someone with a Facebook or Twitter account firing off misguided missives of hate, you’re helping ISIL.  They’ve told us that.  And I’m pretty sure that right now, none of us wants to help these bastards.

Right on.

Let’s bring this all back to my original interaction yesterday morning.  If ISIS is actually dangerous, then why is it not them that I fear?   Why is my greater fear extreme right-wingers right here in America?  It is because ISIS is quite smart, and American bigots are quite stupid, and it is the American bigots who will cause ISIS to have destructive power by predictably playing into their hands.  Their stupidity is already causing young women to not know what is actually happening when someone has sex with them.  Their stupidity is already causing folks to proclaim this a Christian nation and closing it off to neighbors while not realizing that there is nothing more Christian than loving thy neighbor.  Their stupidity is already causing domestic terror attacks in the United States.  And if they continue, their stupidity could bring more destruction from the very forces they are trying to combat.  Ignorance is the most dangerous weapon on the planet, and we have it in spades.

The bottom line is this:  let’s open our hearts, stop being a bunch of dickbags, and get ourselves educated instead of indoctrinated.  I’m thinking “the birds and the bees” is a good place to start, to be followed by “nuanced global conflicts.”

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