Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Missing the obvious

I was in the Woman Cave doing some sewing the other day. As usual, the radio was on WGGL, the NPR station from the Michigan Tech campus. They carry a 2-hour talk show, "On Point," from 10 to noon every day. It being only a couple days after the event, it was no surprise that the first hour was devoted to a lot of bloviating about the bomb detonated in the Chelsea neighborhood in New York City. Two things struck me.

First, the complete sense of self-delusion and denial in the repeated statements that the U.S. will not give in to fear, we're going to respond with resolve and courage and general bravery. Bullshit. Osama won 15 years ago. Ever since 9/11 as a country we've been running scared. We see terrorists and potential terrorists every time we hear an Arabic name. We freak out when we see a woman wearing a hijab -- if head scarves scare the crap out of us, just how brave are we? We collectively agreed to treat a handful of fanatics as though they posed as existential threat, which is nonsense, and have been paying the price ever since. We're more risk of being shot by accident by a toddler who found a parent's unsecured handgun than we are of being the victim of a terrorist attack. Nonetheless, we talk a lot about how brave and courageous we are while behaving like the world's biggest cowards.

Second, the complete cluelessness about motive. Lots and lots of bloviating about the influence of on-line recruiting and the possible impact of trips the man made back to Afghanistan, as if all it takes are words from an outside source to inspire someone to turn radical. Neither of the so-called experts said one word about the fact that for words to have much impact they have to land on fertile ground. At the same time that news reports discussed the fact the man's family experienced harassment and discrimination on a pretty steady basis for years because they were Muslim, the experts were musing about what could possibly have turned someone who'd been in this country since he was 7 years old into a "terrorist." The stupid it burns.

The big question isn't what might have motivated a 28-year-old man who'd been in this country for 3/4s of his life to turn radical. What turned a person described by the neighbors as an "ordinary kid" into someone buying bomb components through Ebay was a whole lot of little incidents that eventually hit some trigger point. And it wasn't stuff happening in some Arab country -- it was what was happening in New Jersey. It was day after day, week after week, month after month of Islamaphobic neighbors calling in bullshit noise complaints, it was the city hassling his family's restaurant if it stayed open one minute too late but ignoring other restaurants in the same neighborhood doing the same thing, it was being repeatedly being accused of being a jihadi or called a raghead simply for looking Arab -- although Afghanis aren't Arabs, but most Americans are too dumb to know that.

There's a well-established principle in sociology and education: if you label someone and if you label them over and over again, sooner or later they're going to decide to live up (or down) to the label. Tell kids they're smart and they start to behave as though they are. Tell them they're dumb and before long they can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Tell young men they're not wanted because they're terrorists and, what do you know? They start buying 6-quart pressure cookers and filling them with shrapnel.

Of course, it's a whole lot easier to blame videos produced by Da'esh than it is to do some serious soul-searching here at home. Experts aren't going to get booked on to talk shows if they're honest enough to say we're fucking ourselves -- everyone wants a scapegoat after all -- so we're going to keep right on fucking ourselves. Once again I'm really happy I live in a rural area.


  1. Amazing, isn't it? After a while, people start to fight back. Then they are labeled terrorists even more. Our own home-grown terrorists along with Indigenous North, Central and South Americans, Palestinians, the Middle East in general. WE create the problems and blame the victims.

  2. Well said! Posting this to Twitter.


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