A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
What’s in a name? If Army Major Malik Nadal Hasan’s name were “Smith,” we’d be talking about him as a soldier who snapped under pressure, a lone gunman whose fear of deployment to Afghanistan sent him over the deep end — as fear tends to do.
Predictably, however, within minutes after we learned that the gunman in Thursday’s Fort Hood, Texas massacre was named “Hasan,” Islamophobes were spewing their hysterical venom across the Internet. Suddenly, Maj. Hasan’s name transformed a “mass shooting” into a “Muslim Terror Attack.”
Bloggers are going wild. “Just another Islamic terrorist waiting to kill for their cult,” one wrote. Others spoke of “sleeper cells” and said al-Qaeda had ordered extremists in the U.S. to infiltrate the U.S. military. Allegations that he shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) as he opened fire now make him not another mass murderer, but a “jihadi.” Someone called for Muslims to be banned from serving in the U.S. military. Another predicted that “the liberals” would caution against racism, as if that were a bad thing.
Humanity never fails to amaze me. Have we learned nothing from the lessons of the past? During World War II, we in the U.S. turned on our Japanese neighbors, locking innocent people in prison camps for no other reason than our own fear. Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s “Red Scare” of the 1950s ruined lives and careers, free speech be damned, because of hysteria over a — feared — Communist takeover of the United States.
When I was in school, my teachers talked proudly of the U.S. as a “melting pot,” in which American-ness comprises people of all nationalities, religious faiths (and lack thereof), and races. But has it ever been true? For too many of us, American means white, of European descent, and Christian. Like chickens, we’ll peck to death anyone who differs from the norm.
As terrorist suspects are increasingly arrested on U.S. soil, I worry less for our safety than for our culture. Too many of us are willing, eager, even, to give up our most precious of freedoms — freedom of speech — in order to placate those whom we are certain will react violently if we offend them. Too many others leap to judge Islam and its adherents as “terrorists,” insisting that all Muslims want to take over the world. Both attitudes, born of fear, are dangerous, racist, and in violation of American ideals of equality and justice for all.
“These times are too heavy for skittishness.” Sinclair Lewis’s utterance has been on my mind lately. Courage is what we need now, not childish finger-pointing, or hysteria. We need to take a collective deep breath, summon our reason, and reject the call to hatred that blares ever more shrilly from the fearmongers. If we are, as they claim, engaged in a battle of good vs. evil, that fight is not taking place on an Army base in Texas or in the desert in Iraq or in the hills of Afghanistan. It is happening within each of us, right now, wherever we happen to be.