Three days after the World Trade Center, Pentagon — and, arguably, any delusions of government as protector Americans still clung to — lay in ruins, Congress hastily granted the president the power to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks.”
In fact, that congressional vote would have been unanimous, if not for Representative Barbara J. Lee, whose single tally in dissent admonished the proposal since military reprisal would not secure safety for the United States. Further, she offered the keen adumbration that “as we act, let us not become the evil we deplore.”
At the time, she might have seemed absurdly over-cautious to her colleagues — and, likely, ridiculously unpatriotic to citizens breathlessly anticipating retribution — but Lee’s unintentional prognostication, had it been heeded, could have saved countless millions of lives.
Yet, stunningly, fourteen years later, ‘Americans’ have learned nothing from that eager belligerence; nothing concerning actions’ consequence — and, to their utter detriment — not the faintest detectable cognizance of the repercussions U.S. hubris can impart. And it is this exact inability to learn from our mistakes of action and attitude that brought the rise of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL, IS), and the subsequent quagmire in Syria and numerous other regions in the Middle East. Further, that refusal to grasp the lessons of the past is reflected in the exponential increase in hate crimes within the borders of the United States.
Since the December 2nd mass shooting in San Bernardino by a pair who ‘supported’ the ideology of Daesh, hate crimes — those motivated by prejudice and bigotry against a person’s religion, national origin, etc., which usually employ violence as a means of intimidation — against Muslims in the U.S. have dramatically spiked. In just the past week, a spate of inarguably terroristic acts against Muslims mirrors uncannily the pervasive, accepted culture of intimidation against African Americans in the U.S. South during much of the 20th century — so much so, that the largest white supremacist organization in the country reportedly had to upgrade its servers to cope with the spike in traffic to its website.
All of this, of course, is rooted in intense fear of the ‘other.’ Xenophobia — defined as “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers or of that which is foreign or strange” — grandfathers many of the dangerous ‘isms’ that tend to birth violent action. More insidiously, though, xenophobia weaves itself into common and popular culture so thoroughly that those who aren’t its target are often oblivious to — and thus most often in denial about — its presence. This explains systemic racism rather handily. It also explains why Americans largely manage to pull off the appearance of being tolerant and accepting of each other for extended time periods — until incidents like San Bernardino rip off that mask; or, worse, a public figure like Donald Trump entreaties the populace to pulverize it.
Suddenly, bigotry laid bare has become not only publicly acceptable, but arrogantly — and disturbingly — ‘normal.’ But it is neither of these things.
There isn’t anything acceptable about bigotry when it translates into fear-motivated action against an entire group — whether in Trump’s absurd Ban-All-Muslims! immigration push, or in this stupefying (and likely quite incomplete) list of crimes since the California shooting:
- 12/4: Nearly half of all the windows of the Palm Beach Islamic Center broken overnight; furniture overturned inside
- 12/ 4: Man threatened to “cut off Muslims’ heads” should they come to his home, voicemails to the St. Louis Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) revealed; FBI arrested a suspect, but he likely won’t face charges
- 12/5: Man yelled “I kill Muslims!” while repeatedly punching a Muslim store owner in Queens; incident being investigated by police as a hate crime
- 12/5: Muslim congressman from Indiana received death threat, according to TPM
- 12/5 – 12/6: Woman driving away from New Tampa mosque in a hijab cut off and nearly run off the road by man who then threw stones at her car
- 12/6✱: Sikh temple in California defaced with graffiti slurring Islam and mentioning the Islamic State
- 12/6: Woman yelling anti-Islamic slurs threw hot coffee at group of Muslims praying in a park
- 12/7: A Gwinnett County teacher asked a 13-year-old, eighth-grade Muslim student if she was carrying a bomb in her backpack
- 12/7: Man charged with a hate crime after asking employees of a Manhattan restaurant if they were Muslim, proceeding to slap one of them; he returned later to break a glass partition
- 12/7: New Jersey mosque received several hate-filled letters, including one calling Muslims “evil”
- 12/8: Pig’s head left outside the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in Philadelphia; surveillance video shows head being thrown by someone in a pickup truck overnight; FBI and police conducting parallel investigations
- 12/9: Seattle ride-share driver attacked by passengers who accused him of being a terrorist; police investigating the beating as a hate crime
- 12/9: Man confronted a woman at a Brooklyn bus stop, saying, “I can’t wait for the U.S. to get rid of you trash,” then kicked her in the leg; police investigating as a bias crime
- 12/10: CAIR offices evacuated after receiving a letter containing white powder with a note that read: “die a painful death, Muslims”; substance later tested and found not to be dangerous
- 12/10: The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix had its windows and a light smashed; incident not being investigated as a hate crime
- 12/10: Man charged with arson for setting fire to a Somali restaurant in Grand Forks, North Dakota — days after it was spray-painted with Nazi symbols and the phrase “go home”
- 12/10: Muslim woman’s car came under gunfire as she drove away from a mosque in Tampa, reported CAIR of Florida
- 12/10: Muslim family in Plano, Texas had windows of their home broken out two times in two days — just six weeks after moving to the area
- 12/11: 23-year-old man arrested and charged with a hate crime after trying to burn down the Masjid Ibrahim Mosque in Coachella, California
- 12/12: Armed
intimidationprotest by around 20 people held outside Dallas, Texas, mosque
- 12/12: Punjabi clerk shot in the face during armed robbery in Grand Rapids — suspect used ethnic slurs, called him a “terrorist,” said: “I used to kill people like you in Iraq with no problem”; police are investigating, but “are not prepared to call this a hate crime”
- 12/13: Fence graffitied with the word “Jesus” and a plastic replica hand grenade found inside Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baitus-Salaam Mosque in Hawthorne, California; “Jesus is the way” painted in front of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne
✱ It should be noted that people’s ignorance of other cultures often ends up targeting groups who have nothing whatsoever to do with their already baseless hatred — Sikhism is not Islam. Both religions employ headcoverings, but appearance does not equate the two.
Soberingly, Barbara J. Lee foresaw the inherent pitfalls of declaring war against something as laughingly nebulous as the term terrorism. The painful, sick irony in this string of continuing crimes, is the fear driving them — paranoid fear that ‘other’ group could be terrorists — has turned those very people into terrorists, themselves.