I wasn’t going to write again so soon, and especially not about Religion and Tolerance, but a friend of sent me a letter, supposedly written by an American Airlines pilot just after September 11, 2001, and asked me to comment on it. See the Snopes page about it here, for a copy of the letter. It was an interesting letter written to the American Muslim community titled “You Worry Me”, asking them to show him how to tell the difference between ‘normal Muslims’ and terrorists. This is my response.
That was well written, I think, and I can certainly understand where he’s coming from. It is a sad fact that too many Americans are worried just seeing someone who looks Arabic. I remember a story about a half-black/half-Scottish man, whose skin looked a little dark, who was studying photography at UW and was taking pictures of the Ballard Locks, who was interrogated by the FBI. It is sad, but do we want our law enforcement agencies doing nothing?
It is a very tough debate, and one we have been having for years. During WWII we locked up everyone who looked Japanese, even if they were actually Chinese, or American-born citizens. One the one hand it is way for the government to appear to be handling the situation, we can all look and see that our government is actually doing something. There are arrests, and interrogations and that looks like progress so the people are happy. On the other hand, though, I do want our FBI and CIA arresting people, interrogating people, being proactive to prevent a future attack.
This letter, though it does seem to embody the general fear that most Americans have, is better than that for one reason. He’s asking the right questions, or starting to at least. He is not simply saying ‘All Muslims must leave this country’, he’s asking for a way to tell the good ones from the bad ones. One might turn that same question around and ask ‘How can I tell the good Americans from the ones that are going to drink and drive and kill my little sister, or rob a convenience store and shoot my brother, or have a compound in the wilderness where they make bombs or send anthrax through the mail? How can we tell?’
The problem is that we are scared, and when we are scared we stop thinking. We want quick solutions, easy answers so that we can feel better. Unfortunately, the world is not a happy place anymore. The rest of the world has known this for a long time, but it is beginning to hit home for Americans. Israelis and Palestinians have been scared of going out in public for decades, there has been killing in Northern Ireland for years, but it has never really affected Americans until recently. We wanted to believe in our ‘Great Society’, but now we are dreadfully aware of the evil people in the world who don’t agree with us.
I would respond to the author of this letter that he can expect Muslims or Arabs to prove that they aren’t terrorists when they can expect Americans to prove that they aren’t either. We focus so much on Arab terrorism, that we tend to overlook the terrorists that are born right here in this country. What about the KKK, what about Timothy McVeigh, what about all of the murders and killings that take place every day in America, perpetrated by Americans? I would love to agree with this pilot, I would love for there to be an easy answer to identifying ‘bad guys’, but there isn’t. And I don’t think the answer is to suspect everybody of being evil. I would much rather assume that people are nice and kind and good, until proven otherwise. But proven otherwise on an individual basis, not based on the actions of others. That may be a little ‘wide-eyed optimist’ of me, but I can hope, I can dream. Until the day when people stop killing other people, we have to learn to trust other people, while still taking precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones. What did Christ teach, “be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves (Matt 10:16).” We need to be looking for the best in people, but not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of. That is a very fine line to walk. It is difficult, but it needs to be done. Life is not easy, but life is good. Life can be good if we allow it to be. I, for one, am not going to worry overmuch about Arab or Muslim terrorists, nor am I going to worry about American terrorists, or criminals. I may die tomorrow, but today is going to be a good day. We need more openness and acceptance and understanding and not more suspicion and accusation and ignorance.