On the morning of March 22, 2015, I woke up quietly. I silenced the blaring alarm and snuggled further into my blankets. It was a peaceful kind of quiet on March 22 that I’m hard pressed to find in New York City. I began my morning routine: rifling through emails, reading the quote of the day, practicing my Italian, and catching up on the news.
The news. That’s when I heard. There was a terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. I jumped from article to article in my BBC app catching lines like “Brussels Bombings Leave Many Dead” and “Brussels Attacks: Latest Updates.”
Then I made the jump to Twitter. The world had rallied around Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 with the rallying cry "Je suis Charlie" and later in November of that same year with the #PrayForParis hashtag in response to more terror in France. I was curious to see what Belgium’s defining hashtag would be.
And there were a few I expected #PrayForBrussels, #PrayForBelgium, #PrayForTheWorld, #BrusselsAttacks, etc. But the one that caught my eye and made my stomach turn was the hashtag #ReligionofPeace.
Religion of Peace was a political phrase that caught on after the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City. In some cases, it can be well-meaning, as a way to present Islam as a religion founded not on violence but on peace. Unfortunately, critics of the faith began to criticize practicing Muslims using the term sarcastically. Last May, ISIS released a video claiming that Islam is not a religion of peace but a religion of war and fighting. More on that later.
Back to yesterday morning. The nationality, religion, and other affiliations of the terrorists had not been named at this point in the day. Nothing was known and people were already mocking Islam and spurring hate speech about Muslims.
“Can you imagine how dangerous the world would be if Islam was NOT a #religionofpeace?”
“3 bomb attacks so far in #Brussels #religionofpeace strikes again”
“I will not #PrayforBrussels but I will try casting a spell for I think that will be just as effective. #religionofpeace #[expletive]islam”
Since then, two of the bombers have been named, brothers Khalid and Brahim el-Bakraoui. Since then, ISIS has taken credit for the attack. Since then, peaceful Muslims, immigrants, and refugees everywhere have been fearing the backlash.
When Jim David Adkisson, a Christian, walked into a children’s play at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee on July 27 2008 and murdered two and injured seven because he hated liberals, Democrats, and gays, nobody lashed out against peaceful straight right-wing conservatives.
Seung-Hui Cho hated his parent’s strong Christian faith and even wrote a letter about disliking Christianity and rich kids. He referred to himself as Jesus Christ. When he killed 33 people and injured 17 others on Virginia Tech’s campus on April 16 2007, his religious beliefs—or lack thereof—did not pose a threat to other millennials disenchanted by religion.
In 1993 an Amish man by the name of Edward Gingerich was the first Amish person to be convicted of homicide after he brutally murdered his wife Katie. We still think of the Amish as peaceful people.
On April 19 1995, Timothy McVeigh drove a van full of explosives into the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 and injuring over 600.
If you want to be angry, be angry. If you want to be heard, speak up. But do so with intelligence. Be angry at the systems that allow young men and women to get involved in terrible groups like ISIS. Be angry at the people who encourage violence and support murderers. Be angry that something so horrific can happen to people so innocent.
There’s a problem with Adkisson and Cho and Gingerich and McVeigh that we seem to miss when we look at terrorism today. Adkisson was a white, conservative male. There’s nothing wrong with that. But he was a white, conservative male who took his hate for all things that were different than him too far. Much like Timothy McVeigh, he embodied white supremacy and refused to try to understand the life of anyone from whom he slightly differed.
In 1994, a Jewish man named Baruch Goldstein walked into the Mosque of Abraham where a group of Palestinian Muslims had gathered to pray. He killed 29 people and wounded 125. A poll was later conducted in Israel with 78.8% of Israeli adults condemning his actions. Of course, there will always be some… some 3.6% that praised him. The 3.6% that chose hate over love and political agendas over human lives.
What happened Tuesday morning, March 22 2016 in Belgium is a horrible crime against humanity and in the wake of the terror we can chose to lose our heads in tabloid paranoia or we can chose to see past the rhetoric and not use tragedy as an excuse to discriminate against the 2.2 billion people in the world that practice Islam peacefully. Judging the approximate 20% of our world that is Muslim based on the actions of a terroristic few is ludicrous.
After work yesterday, I went for a walk in Riverside Park and found myself at the General Grant National Memorial, the final resting place of America’s 18th President and his wife. Grant is perhaps best known for leading the North to victory over the Confederates during the Civil War and for being a classic war hero. That being said, the inscription on the top middle panel of his memorials reads “let us have peace.”
Let us have peace. I think that peace begins with understanding.
My thoughts are with the people of Belgium. They are also with the people of Turkey and Yemen and Syria and every other country in this beautiful world that is facing terror every day. When we pray, let us pray for all of them.
And most importantly, let us remember that the actions of a few don’t account for the beliefs of the whole.