Filed Under:  OpEd, Opinion

Yielding to terror

30th November 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Dr. E. Faye Williams Columnist

It is doubtful that anyone will dispute that the ultimate goal of terrorism is to create unmanageable, disorganizing fear. Terrorists revel in the idea and actuality that they have injected disruption into the lives of individuals, communities and countries. This disruption causes people to accept policies that negatively alter their lives. Each act of terrorism encourages us to withdraw into the shells of our individual fear and suspicion. Our world becomes a less-optimistic, more cynical place.

While the American general public reels from the attack on Paris and demonstrates the commonly associated fear, a certain group of Americans looks upon this terrorism as an extension of their collective experience. Whether occurring in a rural area or in an urban center or perpetrated by assailants in uniform or civilian clothes, most Black people have a personal or individual experience with terrorism. While the world focuses on ISIS, ISIL, DASH or whatever acronym one chooses, Black people, better than most, understand the goal of terrorism as disrupting and bringing fear to the normal order of things.

As an African-American woman who has lived under the shadow of home-grown terrorism for the entirety of my life, I want to use my voice to discourage the knee-jerk reaction of fear and suspicion of ALL who worship under the faith of Islam. I’ve been distressed and disappointed by the virulently negative characterization of Muslims and by the absolute rejection of the common-sense understanding that ALL cannot be disparaged by the actions of the FEW.

The philosopher, Bertrand Russell said, “Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of great fear.” This was clearly demonstrated by the call of the “new” Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, to end the relocation of Syrian refugees in the U.S. until we can be “absolutely certain” that no terrorists had infiltrated their ranks. There is little question that his statements were motivated by “great fear.” Moreover, his demand for absolute certainty established an unattainable objective.

As Ryan and others call for closing our borders, they should remember, if they are not Native Americans or descendants of slaves, that their forebears came to this country fleeing something or harkening to the call of security, opportunity and a better way of life. This is consistent with sentiment expressed by the immigrants to whom I have been exposed and with whom I have interacted. Our national ethos and values dictate that we stand firm in the principles of “The Welcoming Door.”

With absolute certainty, we don’t want to admit anyone into the country who desires the collapse of our social order or the breakdown of civility. It does, however, seem hypocritical to demand from immigrants what we tolerate and excuse from those already present. The actions of Timothy McVeigh (OKC), Cliven Bundy (NV), Ted Kaczynski (Unibomber), Dylann Roof (Charleston, SC), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook) and a myriad of unnamed others are testament that evil already lurks within U.S. borders. It seems to me immoral to close the doors of refuge and humanity to all because of a stereotype that some wish to embrace.

Reality dictates the admission that none of us can live a sterile life devoid of concern, challenges, conflict, risk or danger. Most U.S. urban dwellers will freely admit to such concerns often.

Our greater challenge is to create a society that does not play into the narrative presented by the radical fringe to characterize our relations with the rest of the world. Our challenge is best described by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people, but the silence over that by the good people.”

Dr. E. Faye Williams is President of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. (202) 678-6788.

This article originally published in the November 30, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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