My usual city bus ride to work consists of trying to carve out my own two inches of personal space and burrow into my music to drown out the school kids yelling. But in the aftermath of yet another attack on innocent people, this time in an airport in Istanbul, the mood was decidedly different. Or maybe it was just me who felt different. Regardless, the bus was somber, quiet. Interactions on the bus were laser-focused. There was a sense of: “it could happen to us right here, right now.” We could be the next victims of a terrorist attack.
On the heels of Orlando, any layer of security we may have felt about being in America and hence removed from the epicenter of terrorism, has been ripped off like a big bandage from a hairy arm. Even those of those who witnessed firsthand 9/11 have some amnesia, the pain and fear dulled over 15 years’ time.
But the vulnerability is palpable now. You don’t have to be on the battlefield or attending a protest or committing a crime to be shot dead or blown to bits. You could be at the airport heading to visit your mom, at a nightclub dancing with your friends, at work.
That fear is very real. And I can’t help but feel it acutely right now. And yet, as a white, American woman, I have far less to fear than my Muslim and Muslim-looking friends and neighbors.
When I boarded the bus this morning, I sat across from a young Muslim woman. She was wearing a head scarf and a long skirt and held a Nature Valley bar in her hand, fumbling with the wrapper, but not opening or eating it. I watched as a bulky white man got on and walked towards the back of the bus, where we were both sitting. I saw his eyes scan her, his energy was aggressive, suspicious. The young woman visibly shifted in her seat, clearly nervous. She had good reason to be scared; the man easily outweighed her and could have snapped her in half if he wanted to.
Thankfully, the man proceeded to take a seat and didn’t engage. The woman relaxed a bit, but I realized that the resolution of that potential situation was not the most disconcerting part of her day, it was just the beginning of what may have been little acts of targeted, bigoted microagresssion that didn’t stop until she got home at night. Every time she walks out the door, she likely has to fear for her safety and over compensate to show that she’s not a terrorist. It’s possible that she’s an American citizen, born and raised here. It’s possible that she’s already suffered through unspeakable horrors in her home country and took her first free breath when she was granted asylum here.
The more we fear someone with brown skin might attack us or our families, the more likely it is to happen because we’re marginalizing a group of people.
When we point fingers and direct negative energy and surveil, spy, arrest, torture, blacklist and kill innocent people in the name of freedom, not only are we responsible for furthering the same violent environment that allowed existing terrorist mentality to form, but we’re also lowering ourselves to their level.
In this era of heightened terror, our best defense is love. We must protect the young Muslim girl on the girl so she doesn’t become a victim of a hate crime, or a body in an unmarked grave, or a deportation that sends her back to a living hell. If you won’t do it for the sake of saving humanity, do it so that her brother doesn’t seek revenge when we do something awful to her and become yet another man with a gun and a hateful agenda.
Violence and hate will never end suffering. We must turn to kindness and compassion. We must put ourselves in the shoes of the young Muslim girl, the gay Latino man, the Iraqi child who watched American bombs kill his parents. We must love our neighbor no matter their skin color, religion, origin or creed, and seek to learn about our differences, which will help us realize just how similar we are. A human being is human being, a life is a life. No one is more valuable than another.