Three days before the Brussels terror bombings, an ISIS (Daesh) suicide bomber killed four tourists in Istanbul. That attack followed a January Daesh attack that killed 10 tourists, and that followed a Daesh attack that killed 103 in Ankara, our NATO-ally’s capital, in October.
Not to mention a terrorist car bombing in Ankara last week, probably by Kurdish militants, that killed 37.
One hundred and fifty-four dead, hundreds maimed, injured.
Few tears – Turks don’t look like us. They’re Muslim. Foreign. Turkey’s national colors never illume the Empire State building.
Brussels is different: It’s not the first time we mourn for those who look like us; while we all mourned for Charlie Hebdo and Paris, only some mourned Beirut. Fewer mourn for victims of Al Shabab and Boko Haram.
Fewer still mourn for Aleppo, Kunduz, Mukalla, Cote d’Ivoire: They’re not like us.
No, it was the Brussels attacks that moved America to again mourn – to mourn those most like us. American media flocked toward Belgium, quickly filling TV screens with breathless, nonstop coverage with barely a contextual pause and, with the calm exception of MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, no non-Eurocentric voices.
I’m complicit: I, too, was silent after witnessing acts of terror against non-European peoples in Ankara, Istanbul, Kunduz, Cote d’Ivoire. I knew better and was silent. I should act to shame all those who’re silent when innocents are attacked, not just when those most like us are victims. Today, I share the shame.
And it was Brussels that elicited disturbing responses from candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz who together – exhibiting limitless capacity for flagrant dishonesty and ignorance, ignoring the reality that the whole purpose of terrorism is to spread terror – didn’t hesitate to further terrorize others.
Cruz called on America to “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure (American) Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized” with Trump, who’d previously approved of a database of American Muslims, adding “I would do a lot more than waterboarding.” If we descend into such irrational fear of our neighbors, we serve only the enemy. Today, Daesh has lost more than 20 percent of its territory, Mosul and Palmyra are under siege, its financial reserves are being depleted and some combatants, disillusioned with its barbarity, are deserting.
As a result, Daesh is increasing its focus on the West and its allies – the far enemy – with attacks designed to deflect attention from major losses to its near enemy.
If we descend into fear, we jeopardize one of the elements that most keeps us safe: the willingness of America’s assimilated Muslim community to share in the communal burden of protecting us from terror, a willingness that distinguishes it from mostly isolated Muslim European communities.
Nidal Hassan’s neighborhood was Fort Hood, the Tsarnaev brothers lived embedded in Cambridge, Mass., and the Redlands, Calif., neighborhood where Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik lived was Muslim-free.
In my American world, a Muslim Molenbeek doesn’t exist.
Muslims, present for 400 years, are well-woven – together warp and woof – into the aspirations and ideals that create this nation. They’re patriots thankful for freedoms and opportunities lacking in their homelands, and most of America’s 1 percent that’s Muslim is assimilated, educated and successful – and essential to our security.
They’re like us.
George Orwell wrote, “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”
Today, too many Americans, especially those “poorly educated” whom Donald Trump so loves, are letting Trump and Cruz think for them. In doing so they’re endangering themselves, their families and loved ones who serve in our armed forces and law enforcement.
By embracing demagogues and their panels of Islamaphobic advisers like Frank Gaffney (Cruz) and Walid Phares (Trump) they’re undermining, perhaps unwittingly, not only our security but America’s very raison d’etre.
It’s such ignorance, arrogance and parochialism, not ISIS, that’s the existential threat to America.
The “poorly educated,” and those who exploit such ignorance to protect privilege, power and profit, have little understanding that Europe’s disaffected and unassimilated Muslims, mostly from nations previously colonized by European powers, are significantly different from American Muslims.
Brussels happened because Europe has failed to confront historic truths and because the continued impoverishment, marginalization and disenfranchisement of most local Muslims – and significant intelligence failures – were not seriously engaged as security issues.
In our homeland, more than 900 Muslims serve as New York City police, an essential link in the Blue Line that defends a known global target. The perhaps 10 percent of American physicians who are Muslim serve without regard for ethnicity, color or religion.
They are most like us.
Pity the poor GOP: On one hand they’re incompetently led, on the other they have to bear witness to a president they’ve never fully accepted embarking upon important strategic initiatives vital to our national security.
Obama went to Cuba to do what should’ve been done decades ago: repair ties with Cuba. It was time for a new diplomatic approach, an approach that politicians with Cuban roots should’ve immediately embraced, an approach that included cafe Cubano – and baseball.
I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Obama to continue with a baseball game – just as it wasn’t easy to play golf after learning of James Foley’s murder – after hearing of the attack and speaking to Belgium’s Prime Minister Charles Michel, but it was the right thing to do, despite the opinion of Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Haass opined on MSNBC that while Obama should not have canceled his diplomatic trip, he bemoaned the “photo ops and optics” and believed that dancing a tango in Argentina and attending a baseball game with Raul Castro were “tremendous” mistakes.
If Obama, as Haass suggests, allows Daesh to take us off our game, so to speak, they win. Daesh isn’t a nation we’re at war with. To leave Havana, board Air Force One and return to the White House Situation Room would be to give a global conspiracy of terrorists and criminals both an unimaginable victory and “inspiring” recruiting material.
Let’s remember, too, that Obama, even as the final op against Osama Bin Laden was unfolding, carried on with the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association and listened to comedian Seth Meyers offer: “People think bin Laden is hiding in the Hindu Kush, but did you know that every day from four to five he hosts a show on C-SPAN?” Actually, Osama was in Abbotabad, Pakistan, and within 24 hours he was dead.
And within 48 hours after dancing the tango in Argentina we learned that American special ops, presumably under orders of their commander-in-chief, had recently killed Daesh’s No. 2 commander, Abd Al-Rahman Mustafa Al-Qaduli, known as Haji Iman, in a daring raid inside Syria.
That’s what we need: a leader who’s vigilant, level-headed and not inclined to hyperbole, who takes the long view – a view that protects us morally and strategically and elevates us above terrorists, cynics and demagogues.
On March 15, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops unanimously adopted: “In a country still living under the shadow of the lynching tree, we are troubled by the violent forces being released by this season’s political rhetoric. Americans are turning against their neighbors, particularly those on the margins of society. They seek to secure their own safety and security at the expense of others. There is legitimate reason to fear where this rhetoric and the actions arising from it might take us. . . .
“The current rhetoric is leading us to construct a modern false idol out of power and privilege. We reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others. No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, we must respect the dignity of every human being and we must seek the common good above all else.”
We must all “reject the idolatrous notion that we can ensure the safety of some by sacrificing the hopes of others.”
Those others are us.
This column was first published in The Concord Monitor.