Humanity in an Age of Fear
A New Hampshire freshman on the bus home from high school, I read through the day’s CNN push notifications on my phone. I read, unsurprised and admiring, of the Ethiopian Lelisa Benti and Kenyan Rita Jeptoo’s victories in the Boston Marathon, going on only an hour away from home. Without warning, more notifications poured in—reports of an explosion at the marathon’s finish line. I sat stunned and looked around the near empty bus at the oblivious faces.
The Boston Marathon bombing was the talk of the school for the next few weeks. “Boston Strong” shirts trended and all of New England became tense as the manhunt proceeded. My Economics teacher remarked that only Bostonians know how to get it done; the whole city was shuttered as police swept through their leads. All of a sudden, we were all proud to be New Englanders and then Americans.
Such feelings of unity and patriotism surge after acts of terrorism. As Muslim extremists and as “foreigners” (Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became a naturalized US Citizen in 2012, his brother Tamerlan had permanent resident status at the time of his death), the Tsarnaev brothers easily aroused the country’s anger. But what about “domestic” terrorists? American-on-American terrorism is disorienting. As much as we all may differ in our views, it is an American principle that life and liberty are “inalienable rights,” that personal beliefs should never be subject to coercion.
The UNABOMBER, Oklahoma City, Charleston Church, Pulse—all hearken to mind scenes of unspeakable violence. The motives behind these acts include anarchism, retaliation against government actions, racial superiority and Islamic extremism, respectively. But each are done with the intention of frightening people and the government into compliance with a personal ideology.
On an April day in 1995, an explosion rocked the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. One side of the building collapsed and the offices within were left a smoldering heap of metal. A veteran of the Gulf War, Timothy McVeigh wanted revenge for government conduct in Waco, Texas and in the Randy Weaver case. His further criticism of American ownership of weapons of mass destruction and consumption of neo-Nazi tracts fueled his hatred of the government. His thoughts manifested themselves in violent action and he and a partner detonated a car bomb in the Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, to garner attention to his cause. Three months before the September 11, 2001 attacks, McVeigh was executed.
Common morality would condemn McVeigh’s actions. He targeted government employees uninvolved in the events he protested. In his mind and the mind of other terrorists, foreign or domestic, the cause was greater than the individual—and the victims. Another event often unconsidered in the discussion of terrorism is the Harper's Ferry raids. The abolitionist John Brown had already killed pro-slavery advocates in the mini-civil war of Bloody Kansas. Brown wanted to incite a slave revolt across the South by seizing weapons and ammunition at the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Frustrated at government slowness and infighting regarding the slave issue, Brown tried to force the issue.
Brown is often justified in his actions for the righteousness of his cause, in spite of the deaths it cost. McVeigh is condemned. Why is that? Brown blasted the injustices and atrocities of slavery; McVeigh protested the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the deaths of (some) innocents in Waco and of Weaver. When we consider Islamic terrorism, do we remember the Crusades or the Inquisition? One might argue that Catholics had subverted the Bible to support their beliefs; then what of Muslim extremists?
I am not trying to equalize these situations. That is the danger of revisionist history—of seeing and judging the past in the conceptual lens of a modern worldview. However, I challenge everyone to consider all sides of the terrorist issue and the mental processes of those corrupted into believing that the propagation of ideology overrides the right to life. I will forever condemn terrorism. However, there is a clause in the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act that permits incarceration without trial of those suspected of terrorism, ties to terrorists or terrorist tendencies. A fellow Adventist, looking to the potential future, warned me that this clause might be abused to persecute religious groups into submission. Coupled with the President’s cultivating of media outlets, I fear the potential for those who stand for God to be libeled and defamed in the media in order to justify their persecution.
In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous “Four Freedoms” speech articulated these human rights: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Besides freedom from want, I see the other three increasingly violated in the divisiveness of American society. Racialization, political partisanship, religious tension and xenophobia all contribute to an atmosphere of fear which encourages government and popular encroachment on human rights.