Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Full service…

Here’s a conversation I unexpectedly endured at the drycleaners last week. It was the day after the shootings in San Bernardino, but before any information about the attackers had been released save for their names and his place of birth:

Drycleaner employee, “Shame what happened in California.”
Me, “Absolutely!”
Employee, “I think they’ll find it was terrorism.”
Me, “Oh? Uh, All mass shootings are terrorism.”
Employee, “Sure. But his name. It’s so foreign…”
Me, “Umm...he was an American, born and raised, right?”
Employee, “But the Muslim name; it’s gotta be like Paris.”
Me, “There are Muslim Americans.”
Employee, “I’m just saying. His name’s suspicious.”
Me, “I don’t want to talk about this with you.”
Employee, “Listen, the name…”
Me, “I said I don’t want to talk about this.”

The employee awkwardly- and loudly- said thank you as I quickly left, growling. The word “bigoted” escaped my mouth, louder than I anticipated.

Of course, the employee happens to have guessed right, in part. We now know that the attacks were carried out by people with affinities toward radical, violent Islamic ideology. I further read that they were planning other violence, but got sidetracked by this workplace dispute. Not, shall we say, a stereotypical terrorist event. Tragic nonetheless.

That said, I remain angry about the employee’s behavior. The reason, I think, is obvious: Calling an Arabic-sounding name “foreign” is bigotry. And especially when the tone of one’s voice treats “foreign” as akin to “malevolent” or “untrustworthy,” which this person made clear was the intent. I don’t care if the killers did, in fact, intend to commit terrorism. The employee had no grounds for making that huge leap, and severe moral condemnation, other than these folks’ names.

I mean, consider the consequences if we accepted that reasoning. Then, any neighbor named Mateen or Sadia, Abdeel or Yasir (i.e. Board members for our local, friendly Mosque) would be legitimate objects of suspicion, worth keeping at arm’s length, needing a close watch. After all, it would be argued, some radical Islamic terrorists had similar-ish names. They aren’t included in what we call “normal.” Who cares if their grandparents were born in St. Cloud?!

Well, I certainly care. My sister lived in San Bernardino for years; her father still does. That doesn’t make me any more interested now in painting all Muslims with the broad brush of “terrorist.” I mean, I didn’t feel that way about “Roberts” or Christians in the aftermath of the Colorado Springs (where I went to college) Planned Parenthood shooting either. Thus, I won’t start acting more apprehensive about Muslim neighbors- citizens or immigrants- because a misguided couple perpetrated evil.

Yet I’ve heard anti-Muslim rhetoric escalating. My encounter at the drycleaner. From politicians and pundits. Liberty University’s President, Jerry Falwell the Younger, encouraged students to carry concealed weapons so they can, “End those Muslims before they can come in and kill.” I read that he misspoke, meant to say ‘terrorist.’ The slip-up is telling. This is, alas, normal human behavior. When we get afraid, we look for someone to blame, to demonize. Normal human behavior and Godly human behavior are NOT, however, always the same.

Indeed, consider this. One of the worst things ISIS does is see the world in black-and-white terms: “We are Good. Everyone else is Bad.” Hence, they can kill whomever is not “Us,” whomever doesn’t share their beliefs and values. We should never do that, never see the world so simply, treat God’s children so cavalierly, regard unknown neighbors so judgmentally. Jesus said to “pray for our enemies,” i.e. recognize their humanity, see God’s image in them too. I’m convinced we can do that even while we oppose their violence with force. The point it is, when we follow the lead of ISIS-type terrorists and pretend we’re in a clash of civilizations, good guys v. Muslim evil guys, we feed their propaganda. What’s worse, we alienate decent neighbors in the process, and so act like bad Christians.

Soon, I’ll go get my laundry. I hope that employee isn’t working. But suppose so…What do you think I should say? Anything? In the meantime, may we all pray for peace.

Grace and Peace,
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