On December 2nd, 2015, two Islamist extremists opened fire on a holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The mass shooting left fourteen people killed and twenty one people critically injured. The obvious reason for the massacre was the radicalization of two people who took their Islamic beliefs to another level.
Just like the rest of us, these fourteen people who were killed had families. They had wives. They had children. Now, all because someone thought they would be in favor of their god, the surviving people of the deceased are left with open heart wounds. The surviving people of the deceased still have questions with no answers. It is without a doubt they want closure on things like: Did my loved one suffer? What were their last words? Were they ever mean to the person that decided to take their lives? If Islam is a “peaceful religion”, why are there so many who kill others in the name of this “peaceful religion”?
There will never be closure. Even now, the entire world has no closure on the final question: If Islam is a “peaceful religion”, why are there so many who kill others in the name of this “peaceful religion”?
In the beginning of all of this, I harbored a special and dedicated bitterness towards the people of Islam – the Muslim community. After all, why wouldn’t I? The Muslim radicals put people I knew in danger. Also, I come from a Christian background and the the Qur’an puts Christians and Jews at odds with Muslims. We are supposed to be mortal enemies. I fully accepted that with bitterness and hatred. Even today I find myself throwing pejoratives out about the Muslim people.
Then something happened. Every month, I make a visit to a chicken wing eatery up the street from my office. From day one, I have always known this specific franchise location is owned by Muslims. It is more than obvious, as it is family owned and the daughters and their friends are sporting hijabs; which is great because it keeps the hair out of the food. They have always treated me nice. They know me by name and face, as I am an obvious regular. They know how to prepare my meal and usually give me more than I order. I had not been for a while in order to keep my weight down. I don’t want to become some fatty because of chicken wings. So I walk in and the woman wearing the hijab waved at me and signaled my order was already cooking. I sat there with this look of disdain on my face. I wanted to spit on her. I wanted to flip her off. I wanted to curse this person. She didn’t do anything to me, but my logic told me: someone she knows that knows someone that knows someone’s brother who knows someone else, knew those terrorists that massacred the fourteen victims in San Bernardino.
Sounds crazy, but in my mind, I would have to believe most middle eastern Muslims know each other somehow. I walk up to pay and the cashier greets me and wait. I can see the woman in the back preparing my meal looking at me ever so often. I wondered if she could read my mind, or my face. Even if she could, she still smiled. It was genuine. One thing about Muslim women is they are not flirtatious or slutty since they prefer people of their race and religion for the most part. I knew she personally wanted to hand me the food she made. She came up to me and smiled. She was extra kind this time and I could read her face. I could tell she made sure she showed extra gratitude because anything she could have done would set any home grown American off. She read off my order, handed it to me and told me she added a little extra. I genuinely smiled back. Somehow I followed her lead in kindness.
Once I got in my car and left, I headed towards my office. I sat and thought about that whole scenario and I totally broke down. I was torn. It was in that moment that I realized, I can’t hate these people. Every single one I have ever known has been kind and considerate to me. So I thought about it and realized: Maybe I never actually hated these people in the first place. Maybe this was coming from something else.
Then it hit me. Much of my anger, rage, subtle and not so subtle pejoratives – they were out of fear and the fact that my trust in the Muslim community had been broken. Maybe it should have been long ago after 9/11 but, it hit me differently as this last attack was too close to home for me. I thought about it for a moment: FEAR and DISTRUST. Don’t we go through this in other situations? Don’t we eventually forgive? I mean, that is what we should do. Any good human being, Christian or not, would forgive someone that wronged them. So, why not a Muslim? Sure, the magnitude of the situation is in a totally different context, but really, it is all relative in terms of how the deal is closed.
I am not going to lie, I am scared. I am angry. I am scared and angry because I don’t know who to trust. I am scared and angry because I have children to take care of and now I have to look over my should every time I see someone carrying around a prayer rug. I can’t risk being shot or beheaded because some Muslim guy wants to find favor with his god.
But really, it goes both ways right? These truly peaceful Muslims also have to look over their shoulder now, right? I would if I was a Muslim. Especially when I live in a country that is on high alert because people in my religion killed multiple people in the name of my religion.
I think it is fair to call this a conundrum. How do we separate fear from partiality? The people who are afraid are being called racists. The people who are part of Islam are being called killers and terrorists. I am not sure there is a happy medium. If I could give any consolation to this conundrum, it would be to seek the answers to your problems. Are you afraid which leads to partiality? Or, are you angry which leads to partiality? I am still trying to stifle the anger and confusion within myself; but taking on the realization that I do harbor fear has made the chunks I am biting out much easier to chew.
I am not going to tell you I know everything about Islam – because I don’t. I don’t want to. I don’t need to. It is not my place or religion and in turn, they do not want to or need to know about my faith. It not either of our places and truthfully, I have yet to get into a discussion with the many Muslims I have known over the years about my faith – or theirs. They know where I stand but they know it will lead to an argument which says a lot.
If there are Muslims that read this, I, personally hope you understand that this isn’t about hate – it is about fear. This isn’t about shutting down your mosques, it is about protecting the people of the country you have flourished in. No one will shut down your mosques. It isn’t about hunting you down, it is about protecting ourselves as Americans. I am not going to hunt you down. I don’t have this sentiment of wanting to kill all Muslims anyway. I am not white trash enough for that, but I do feel I have to side eye everyone now and it sucks. I hate having to do that. I hate that I have to start pointing my back towards a wall where ever I go so I can see everything going on. I hate having to explain to my kids that only some people of this religion are bad, but not all. I just want you, as a Muslim, to understand the chaos much of this has caused and how it ripples through people and families everywhere. At this point, I am more angry about how our leadership has dealt with this by begging the nation to treat Muslims right, which to me is almost a silent request to not. I hate how our leadership wants to disarm us – including Muslims. So again, please understand the chaos it has caused. I am sure you too are feeling it on a totally separate level.
I want to end this piece with a passage from the book I use, which speaks volumes about the various reactions we all have seen, including my own:
“Evil men do not understand justice,
But those who seek the Lord understand all things.”
– Proverbs 28:5 (NASB)