Monday, April 22, 2013

Thoughts at the Beginning of a New Week

Not everything is about beauty and makeup, right? The last two weeks have left me thinking a lot about life and its meaning. That being said, two terrible events took place in the United States over the past week and have added to my introspection. The bombing at the Boston Marathon last Monday April 15th and the explosion at the West, TX fertilizer plant on Wednesday April 17th changed many lives forever.

To say that events such as these cause me to thank God that my family, my friends and my co-workers are safe is an understatement. Just the fact that these people are still in my life—-that I am able to enjoy the time spent at family events (like today's birthday party for my mother) and the camaraderie that I enjoy with the people on my team at work—-tends to make me feel so darn thankful and insignificant at the same time. The insignificance comes from the feeling that no matter what is going wrong in my life right now, it's nothing compared to those who have lost loved ones—-whether they are the parents who lost a child in the West, TX explosion, an innocent bystander at the Boston Marathon or the family and friends of the teenager currently in custody for the rampage in Boston. Despite the differing circumstances, they have each suffered a loss. And those losses are profound and immeasurable.

The West, TX explosion is a tragedy with terrifying implications. At one minute, the neighborhood is quiet as parents are putting their young children to bed; the next minute, total devastation. How can this happen in a sleepy, close knit community where people work hard and care for their families? Are we no longer safe in our homes?

At the other end of the spectrum is the world-famous Boston Marathon, an event that draws runners and spectators from all over the world. On the one hand, people generally know that at any large, public event, anything can happen. On the other, it's hard to fathom how a tragedy so monumental can take place at an event that “I” (the general “I”) attend? In this case, what makes it even worse is the potential that the bombing wasn't just a general act of violence brought about by a mentally ill person but rather a terrorist act carried out by a person, or persons, who hate us for our way of life, something that just “is.”

I admit that when I heard that there were two suspects identified, the first thing I said to my husband was, “I hope to He** that they are not Muslim.” As a person who feels compassion for the victims of such violence as well as the groups that are lumped in with the perpetrators due to some shared characteristic, I feel obligated to look beyond the stereotypes and try to understand the humanity behind such an event. But also in that simple statement is the implication that if the bombers turned out to be Caucasian, there is no way that all white people will be labeled as terrorists, unlike our Muslim brethren.

After hearing that the bombing suspects (one of whom had recently acquired American citizenship) are part of the American Muslim community, I began to wonder how long it would take before someone jumped to the conclusion that because of their Muslim faith, these men must be terrorists and the bombing in Boston must be a terrorist act. Sadly, it was a matter of minutes before I heard the word “jihad” on the news and reports of acts of violence against our Muslim countrymen. Not long after, the pundits on several news stations began advocating for background checks for all Muslims and immigrants in general. To automatically assume that every Muslim who travels to and settles in the United States is a terrorist just sickens me. I want to yell from the roof that one of the hallmarks of America is a place that welcomes people from all nations and guarantees religious freedom.

As I often do, I began thinking about the implications of such characterizations. What would happen, if wondered, if we branded all Christians (full disclosure—I am a Christian) as terrorists due to the two men responsible for the explosion at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City? Or due to the heinous activities of the KKK? How about the activities of the Nazis during the Holocaust? Or even the Olympic Park bomber, Eric Rudolph? As far as I know, none of those events in history have been labeled acts of “terrorism.” But maybe we should institute background checks for all white men under forty, due to the fact that most mass killings in the United States are carried out by such people? No? Why not? Because they're American and they were born here? Does a person of the Muslim faith, who was born in the U.S. (aka an American citizen) get to “opt out?”

Of course, there's another possibility. What if, instead of the Boston Marathon bombing being a terrorist act committed by two Muslim men, it is really a desperate act of violence, carried out by two alienated young men—-similar to Dylan Kliebold of the Columbine shootings, Jacob Roberts of the Clackamas, OR Town Center Mall shooting, James Holmes of Aurora, CO, who opened fire during a screening of the movie The Dark Knight Rises or Adam Lanza of Newtown, CT? As I was mulling over this possibility, I was directed to an article on the Religion News Service website, which strives to “inform, illuminate and inspire public discourse” on religion. This excellent article is called “10 Essential points about the Boston Marathon bombers, Islam, and America” and can be found here. It is written by Omid Safi, a Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. In it, Mr. Safi  eloquently discusses some of the points I had already been thinking about and then adds quite a bit of information about religion and society. As I am not a writer, I appreciate his ability to clearly articulate his thoughts on a difficult topic. This article is worth checking out (please do).

We may never know why the Tsarnaev brothers planted bombs in Boston last week and the events may, in fact, turn out to be true acts of terrorism. We do, however, owe it to ourselves, our families, friends, coworkers, neighbors and those who are different from us to take another look at the assumptions we make, especially when it comes to cultures we don't understand. This doesn't make the victims of these tragedies less right, less deserving of sympathy or less important; it makes us better people. For if we don't become better people and assure that justice is guaranteed for everyone in America, the rights we take for granted will eventually erode until they are no more.

As Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley said Sunday during his sermon at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross, "We must be people of reconciliation, not revenge. The crimes of two young men must not be the justification for prejudice against Muslims or against immigrants.”

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