Tag Archives: Terrorism

Throwing Stones in Our Glass Houses

throwing a stone

Go ahead and set that thing down. (Image/onesteadfast.com)

I hurt my son once and had to take him to the hospital afterward.

When the little person I love most was just 3 or 4, he was doing the thing little kids do where they let their bodies go limp to protest another idiotic parenting command, like going inside the house to potty when they’d rather be outside playing.

When I went to lift him by his hand I’d been holding to get him up the back porch stairs, I yanked harder on his uncooperative little arm than I should have. He started crying and I probably didn’t care.

It didn’t take me long to start caring because he cried longer than kids do when they’re being needlessly dramatic. His elbow was hurt for real. And I caused it. Oh my God. I hurt my son.

His mom and I (we were still married then) took him to the emergency room at the local children’s hospital where I assumed I’d be arrested for child abuse, and the doctor would call me a monster, both of which would have bothered me less than the fact I’d hurt my child.

I wasn’t arrested, nor did the doc eye me suspiciously. Our son was feeling the pain of a slight dislocation so common to young children that it has a non-medical name: Nursemaid’s elbow.

By the next day, his elbow was totally fine.

But I’ll never forget how I felt in that emergency room, nor how I’ve felt any number of other times in which I’ve raised my voice in anger, either scaring him or making him cry.

It’s the same thing I felt when my wife would cry during an argument.

It’s the same thing I’ve (only on TV, fortunately) seen men do when they hit or push their wife or girlfriend resulting in serious injury or death.

One minute, you’re raging. And you say or do something that falls in the “I didn’t mean it” category once regret replaces the anger. And the next minute you feel sorrow. You feel the love and concern return, even though those feelings were absent when you were inflicting mental, emotional or physical damage.

So, which is it?

Who Are We?

Which of those is the Real Us? The angry one? Or the person insta-concerned about the wellbeing of the person they just verbally or physically assaulted?

I want to believe the genuinely concerned, not-angry version is. But I guess I don’t know.

You know what I think about people who physically hurt children? You know how I feel about men who make their wives or girlfriends cry during arguments?

I think they’re assholes, and since I generally trust my gut and opinions, the conclusion is obvious.

I’m an asshole, too.

Dear Assholes, We Can See Inside Your Glass Houses

A man armed with an assault rifle and handgun went inside a Florida nightclub this weekend and opened fire, murdering 49 people and hurting 53 others.

We hear that news, and 99 percent of all sane people are insta-horrified.

But then more details emerge:

The shooter targeted an Orlando nightclub called Pulse which is popular with the gay community.

The shooter worked for a security firm, had weapons training, and legally bought both of the guns recovered by police at a Florida gun shop.

The shooter—American-born but of Middle-Eastern descent—reportedly dialed 9-1-1 and pledged allegiance to ISIS immediately prior to the attack.

Then toss in the fact that an aspiring young pop singer was killed tragically in a random act of gun violence the night before in the same city.

THEN, add in that we’re in the most-heated presidential election in my lifetime during the age of social media.

Mix it all together, and you have a bubbling cauldron of anger, sadness, and fear, creating a massive batch of shit stew which I think might be unprecedented in size and scope from a political and social commentary standpoint.

Here’s what actually happened: A man deliberately took guns into a densely populated place where people were trying to have fun and murdered as many as possible.

What happened next was predictably stupid.

The anti-gun crowd wanted to scream about gun control. As if an ISIS-pledged terrorist couldn’t have used a bomb to kill even more people, and potentially still be alive and on the run.

The pro-gun crowd wanted to scream political conspiracy and opportunism. As if questioning whether a man like Omar Mateen (previously investigated by the FBI for potential terrorist ties) legally buying an assault weapon which he used to murder or hurt 100 people is somehow unfair.

The anti-Obama crowd criticized the president’s comments afterward, because he chose not to speculate on unconfirmed facts during a national address, and because he said things consistent with his well-established political opinions which got him elected President of the United States twice.

The pro-Obama crowd got butt-hurt about the president’s detractors as if he doesn’t have an equally well-established history of avoiding labeling acts of terrorism anything he deems politically incorrect.

Republicans blamed Democrats. If Obama and Hillary would get tough on terrorists, this wouldn’t have happened, some said. Which seems presumptuous.

Democrats blamed Republicans. Because all Republicans love gun violence, invite attacks through racism, promote bigotry by supporting Trump, and oppose marriage equality for gay couples? Please.

People internet-screamed for banning Muslims. Because Banning Things That Scare Us and pigeonholing entire groups of people has proven to be such a wise choice in the past.

Others internet-screamed that white Christians with guns commit way more mass shootings than brown-skinned Muslims. As if the teachings of Christ can in any way be linked to condoning murder.

And then all of that outrage caused even more “Yeah, but…!” internet-screaming.

Fringe members of the anti-religion crowd railed against Christians AND Muslims because organized religion is the real problem, they say. As if most religious people aren’t peaceful, or responsible for an ENORMOUS amount of good that’s done on behalf of humanitarian causes globally.

Fringe members of religious groups pounced on the opportunity to condemn the homosexual lifestyle. Because their sin and human failings are somehow more pure and noble than those of the gay community.

It’s healthy to acknowledge your assholeishness. You instantly become less of an asshole the second you do so, as a self-aware asshole is infinitely more tolerable than a self-righteous one.

Few things anger me like hypocrisy and unfairness. Who sucks more than the Holier-Than-Thou crowd?

The self-righteousness on display from people politicizing a mass murder is as disgusting and nauseating a thing as I’ve ever witnessed.

I hope Muslims understand why random acts of violence in the name of terrorism is a scary thing for the average American family, and ignorant people sometimes have a guilt-by-association mentality about it. I’m Catholic. For the rest of my life, I have to answer questions about the systematic cover up of a vast sex-abuse scandal within my faith.

Even though zero Catholic or Christian teachings say: “Sexually abusing kids is okay!,” and even though the vast majority of Catholic priests are fantastic, kind, principled men who make enormous personal sacrifices to serve as spiritual leaders and would never harm a child, Catholics—especially Catholic priests—must now deal with the scrutiny and questions about child molestation. It unfairly comes with the territory.

I know what it’s like to have people make ignorant assumptions about what they think my beliefs are.

I’m no expert on Islam, but my rudimentary understanding is that it is a religion which promotes peace, and condemns violence. Extremist violence is rooted in politics—not faith. According to things I’ve read, the word “Jihad,” is SUPPOSED to mean “to struggle for God.” To live well, spiritually. It’s HARD to walk the walk in our spiritual lives. It requires commitment and discipline. That’s something I understand and can relate to.

And now the word has been compromised. An ancient teaching to fight against oppression has been perverted by some into “kill anyone who doesn’t agree with us.”

People do bad things. Others get scared. The scared people do bad things in response. And round and round we go. You know, like the breakdown of pretty much every marriage that ends badly.

Every person alive is someone who had ZERO say in where they were born, who their parents are, how they were raised, or what they were taught by their childhood influencers and adult behavioral models.

I’m in no way condoning ignorance, stupidity, and certainly not behavior which harms other people. But human beings are a little bit hamstrung by the whole We Can’t Know What We Don’t Know thing.

We are born.

If we’re lucky, we have parents who love and care for us and teach us things which help us grow into functional people who contribute positively.

If we’re unlucky, we don’t have parents who do those things.

In EITHER case, we only know what we see, read, hear, feel, experience, and are taught by the people who earn our trust. We only know as much as we can with the resources of our schools, or books we have access to, or teachers who share knowledge, etc.

There are exceptions, but we by and large grow up following in the footsteps of our parents and the people who surround us growing up.

Children born to Buddhist parents in Thailand tend to grow up practicing Buddhism.

Children born to Hindu parents in India tend to grow up practicing Hinduism.

Children born to Muslim parents in Iran tend to grow up adhering to Islamic teachings.

Children born to Christian parents in Texas tend to grow up practicing Christianity.

Children born to Jewish parents in New York tend to grow up practicing Judaism.

Maybe kids raised by gay couples think having a mom and dad is weird.

Maybe kids raised by atheists need to witness a miracle to believe in God.

Maybe kids raised by liberal parents in San Francisco can’t help but think the kid raised by conservative parents in Utah is a bigoted, oppressive, close-minded and dangerous fascist, and maybe the Utah kid can’t help but think the liberal kid is a Constitution-hating, baby-killing, unholy and dangerous Marxist.

How to Be Less Assholeish

Maybe we could try not hating or being afraid of people who disagree with us. One of the best things I’ve ever done (and this is mostly in the past three years following my Ah-Ha Moment RE: shitty husbandry) is learn to embrace trying to understand people who disagree with me.

It’s hard and it’s scary, but it’s worth it.

Possible outcomes:

  1. You learn something you didn’t know.
  2. You teach someone something they didn’t know.
  3. You eliminate a false belief or help someone else do so.

All of these are good things.

People are afraid of terrorism, so they demonize religion.

People are afraid of societal desensitization to and acceptance of openly homosexual relationships, because they believe it’s immoral.

One asshole pastor in California reportedly said the shooting victims in Orlando got what they deserved. He posits that because they were in a gay club and presumably homosexual, that they were an immoral scourge on society who deserved to be murdered.

A CHRISTIAN PASTOR TOLD A GROUP OF PEOPLE THAT MURDERED PEOPLE WHO HAPPENED TO BE GAY DON’T WARRANT MOURNING.

Any Christians out there wondering why people lacking good information about Christianity who read that might frown upon Christianity and perpetuate false beliefs afterward?

Anyone wondering why gay people might feel hated or oppressed, and how that seems to clash with purported Christian beliefs?

Anyone out there connecting dots about how hateful actions in the name of other religions might paint similarly inaccurate and unfair pictures of certain people?

Anyone out there think God hates people dancing in a club, but loves church leaders who casually dismiss mass murder?

Anyone out there wondering whether THAT might be the problem?

The exact same thing that happens to so many married couples—people who VOWED to love one another forever? Is it any wonder two strangers from opposing camps or opposite sides of the world have conflict?

STOP. BEING. ASSHOLES.

We all live in glass houses, messing up, and feeling fear, and falling short.

They’re not the only ones messing up. Maybe we can encourage them.

They’re not the only ones afraid of things they don’t understand. Maybe we can comfort them.

They’re not the only ones falling short. Maybe we can let them jump on our shoulders.

And maybe they’ll offer the same in return.

And maybe we’ll have the strength because we finally stopped throwing stones.

…..

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Cancelling ‘The Interview’: Terrorism, Tough Choices and Madmen

the interview

A man holds a gun to your child’s head in one hand.

He holds a gun to your spouse’s head in the other.

“Choose,” he says. “Or I’m going to count to 10 and choose for you.”

“Please. God. No,” you beg. “I’ll do anything.”

“You’ll choose. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven…”

Maybe he’s bluffing, you think.

But it doesn’t look that way.

Maybe he feels his cause is just and maybe it even seems legit.

Maybe he feels his cause is just but he’s completely insane.

Maybe he’s just evil.

Regardless, you have a choice to make. And every option is unfair and horrible.

After a month of heavy promotion, Sony Pictures cancelled its scheduled December 25 release of The Interview—a satirical comedy starring goof-off funnymen Seth Rogan and James Franco. The premise of the film is that these two guys who work in the television news business scored an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. And the CIA recruits the two men to assassinate him.

About a month ago, hackers launched a cyber attack against Sony Pictures. Skulls appeared on Sony employees’ computer screens. Sensitive email content, including reportedly “embarrassing information,” was leaked.

The FBI has named North Korea as the primary suspect in the attack, but the country has denied it. While denying it, North Korean officials did praise the attack as a “righteous deed” while referring to The Interview as an “act of terrorism” and promised “merciless” retaliation should Sony release it.

The hackers further threatened 9/11-style terrorist attacks on movie theaters who dared to show the movie.

Upon being threatened, the three largest cinema chains in the United States decided to postpone showing the film, and Sony Pictures subsequently cancelled the movie in its entirety and currently has no (publically announced) plans to distribute it, even for home-video viewing.

The film cost $42 million to make.

The outrage from Hollywood creatives was fast and predictable.

Actor Rob Lowe wrote on Twitter: “Wow. Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow.”

Comedian Jimmy Kimmel called the decision “An un-American act of cowardice that validates terrorist actions and sets a terrifying precedent.”

As a writer, the freedom of speech I’m awarded as an American citizen is of great value to me. I can insult the President of the United States—inarguably one of the two or three most-powerful people on Earth. Right now, if I want. And the only consequence is that other people with the same rights I have can exercise their freedom of speech to disagree with me.

It’s a freedom most of us take for granted, until things like this pop up.

Here’s the problem with cancelling this film because some disgruntled North Korea lovers are offended by the premise:

Sony Pictures has now set the precedent that if you infiltrate their security and threaten to murder innocent movie goers, they will cancel a $42 million film.

A film called Selma will be released Christmas Day about the extraordinary courage of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights marches in Selma, Ala. in 1965. Looks like a good one.

Maybe some white supremacists will be offended by the premise. Maybe they’ll threaten a Christmas Day massacre on movie goers seeing it.

Should we not show it?

We watched Middle Eastern terrorists kill thousands of people in United 93 and World Trade Center.

We watched the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in the not-very-good Pearl Harbor.

We watched Germany do horrible things to innocent people in countless World War II films.

Would we have tolerated threats from any of their sympathizers?

Does Sony’s decision invite more threats? Does this affect how courageous a writer or film producer is willing to be moving forward?

We won’t know the extent of the fallout for a while. But there will be one.

I stand with the free-speech warriors.

But, Wait 

What if there is credible information that if these movie theaters DO show this picture, that scores of innocent people will die?

What if the powers that be are absolutely convinced there will be legitimate terrorist-style attacks on movie theaters, killing untold numbers and effectively changing movie theater business and security forever?

If they know?

Can we blame them?

As an American, a writer and a quasi-creative, I am appalled that a group of fucksticks has threatened to kill innocent people and that that threat is being taken so seriously that a major movie studio is cancelling the release of a SATIRICAL COMEDY. It’s tragic.

But someone at Sony had to make a decision: Show it and risk feeling responsible for the deaths of customers? Or pull it, and be viewed a coward and someone who will bow to the whims of madmen?

I must admit that I may make that very same choice if I’m convinced lives are at stake. I’m not proud of it. But it’s the truth.

There is no black and white.

No right and wrong.

This is what it means sometimes to be a human being.

Making the impossible choice. Because life has never been, and will never be, fair.

The guns are still pointed at those you love most. You don’t have a lot of time. But you better do something.

“Six. Five. Four. Three. Two…”

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Sept. 11, 2001: A Reflection on Freedom

WTC memorial

What are we most afraid of? Being hurt? Or being scared?

It’s the jumpers plummeting to their deaths that I’ll always think of first.

A half hour earlier, everyone in those buildings was simply minding their own business, perhaps frustrated by a conflict at home that morning, or excited for a date that night, or maybe pleasantly distracted by the picture-perfect Tuesday in New York City.

Whatever was on their minds was quickly replaced by the commercial airliner crashing into their office building.

I imagine most of them figured out pretty quickly what had happened. I imagine many of them remained hopeful that firefighters would extinguish the flames, and that everyone would later exit in an orderly fashion.

But it couldn’t have been long before smoke infiltrated the upper floors making breathing difficult or impossible.

Desperate people were using jackets and shirts to flag for help that would never come.

The writing was on the wall. Sooner or later, they realized it. They were all going to die.

Human beings. People just like you and me watching as co-workers decided: I’m not burning to death.

“I can’t take it anymore. I’ve gotta jump,” they might have said, before disappearing out the window.

After living entire lives, dealing with the ups and downs of youth and adulthood, a typical workday turned into a choice: Burn alive or jump 1,000 feet to death?

The fall from the top of the World Trade Center is a full 10 seconds, at least.

Take a moment to count to 10. To consider the length of the fall.

What does a person think about for a full 10 seconds while committing unplanned suicide?

I didn’t shed tears for all of the people who died in the plane crashes and subsequent explosions. Not right away, at least.

But when I saw those people hurling themselves out of the upper-floor windows of the World Trade Center 12 years ago today, the tears started to fall.

The Fallout

It wasn’t good, those first hours and days following the attacks.

Everyone was scared. Uncertain.

People were afraid to fly. The federal government instituted its color-coded terror threat alert chart. It always seemed to get elevated to Orange whenever I was going through security checkpoints at the airport.

Terrorism is frightening. Because the victims never deserve what they get. Because justice can never be served.

But people tried.

Americans with small brains started to blame everyone with brown skin for their pain and anger.

Between 2002-2008, about 13,000 civil rights complaints were reported in the United States to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Imagine how many weren’t reported.

I remember feeling sorry for every Muslim-American I’d see.

But I also remember being part of the problem. I was never thrilled to see a few young men of Middle Eastern descent getting on my flights. I was, because of their skin color and/or nationality, suspicious of them. It was unwarranted paranoia. Hell, it was racism.

I remember being at Chicago O’Hare Airport once waiting for a connecting flight.

I glanced over to see a guy about my age in a suit and tie working on his laptop. He was of Middle Eastern descent. His computer’s wallpaper was the movie poster for the film Syriana—a political film about the various entities fighting for control of the Persian Gulf’s oil fields.

The movie is not overtly anti-American, but it certainly points some—perhaps deserved—fingers in our direction.

It’s not sympathetic to terrorism, but seems to suggest it is an obvious career choice for many young men growing up impoverished in that part of the world.

Here’s all I know: In that moment, I just knew that random, well-dressed Middle Eastern guy waiting for my flight was trouble.

I was afraid.

And I almost didn’t get on the plane.

But I did. I was nervous. I remember sitting in the back on a mostly empty flight so nothing was behind me. And, of course, the flight was without incident.

The guy probably lived in Chicago or Seattle or Philadelphia his entire life.

I try REALLY hard to be rational. To be reasonable. To be fair. To be kind.

But that’s what the terror attacks a dozen years ago did to me and many others. They mind-fucked us into judging people who deserved better. And into being afraid of everything that we didn’t understand.

I’d rather be dead than hateful. I mean that.

Lessons in Courage

I don’t know how to defeat fear.

I only know that it’s worth trying.

When I think back on my life and the things I was afraid of, fear only went away once I worked up the courage to try something and survive it.

Twelve years ago today, families and friends of the 9/11 victims were feeling all the same fears as the rest of us. Only those were the least of their concerns.

Wives lost husbands.

Children lost mothers.

Parents lost children.

Brothers lost sisters.

Cousins. Uncles. Best friends. Grandparents. Neighbors.

Gone.

Because 19 assholes believed their religious and political causes warranted mass murder.

I can’t begin to imagine the fear widows and widowers felt. The void left from divorce is brutal. What about when your partner never comes home? For reasons our brains can’t process? Due to the whims of mad men we’ve never met or heard of?

How do you pick up the pieces from such tragedy?

It’s beyond my understanding.

But people found a way. Brave mothers and fathers who were left to raise children alone. Kids who grew up with 9/11 victim tags forever taped to their backs. Firefighters who continued to run into burning buildings.

If they can make it, can’t the rest of us?

If they can persevere, can’t we all?

If they can show that level of courage and fortitude under unimaginable duress, shouldn’t I? Shouldn’t you?

The Divorce Fallout

My wife of nine years—a girl I’ve known since we were 18—and the person I trusted most in the world ended our marriage on Easter Sunday this year, and I quickly learned she was sleeping with another man.

The psychological effects of that have yet to be fully realized.

I haven’t even flirted with the idea of investing my emotions in someone else.

But sooner or later, it’s bound to happen.

Will I get jealous and paranoid?

Will I be afraid to commit?

Will I project my fears and insecurities and anger toward my ex-wife onto this new, undeserving person?

I don’t know.

I’m not in control of my fears.

These are things I won’t know until they happen.

I only know what kind of person I WANT to be.

The kind of person who doesn’t let the past poison the present.

The kind of person who evaluates everyone on his or her own merit—on the sum of my experiences with them.

I’m afraid I might not get it right. That I’ll push people away.

I just want to do whatever the best thing is, in life and love. Those answers aren’t always obvious.

And I hope you’ll join me in my efforts to not let leftover fear and scarring from previous experiences adversely and unfairly affect our future relationships.

Let Freedom Ring

It has been 12 years since the Twin Towers fell. Since the Pentagon was attacked. Since Flight 93 went down in Shanksville, PA.

Since all those brave firefighters lost their lives.

Since all those tear-filled phone calls were made saying goodbye to loved ones in those final moments.

Since those desperate men and women stuck in the upper floors of the World Trade Center decided falling to their deaths in lower Manhattan presented the least-painful, least-frightening option.

A lot of the anger has dissipated now. Perhaps not with the families directly touched by the day’s events. Perhaps not with the brave soldiers who have seen some serious shit as a result of the ensuing military conflicts. Perhaps not with people scattered throughout the Middle East who have had to endure the fallout from exploding bombs and toppled regimes.

But for typical Americans like me? We don’t think about it that much.

We’ll never forget. We promised we wouldn’t. And it’s a promise we’ll keep.

But it doesn’t dominate our thoughts anymore. We don’t freak out before air travel anymore. We don’t assume everyone with brown skin hates America.

We’ve healed in a lot of ways. And now we can live again. Pursuing our personal passions and interests. Taking vacations. Enjoying nights out. Attending weddings and concerts and sporting events and church and parties and baby showers.

That’s freedom, right? True freedom?

Not being sad?

Not being angry?

Not being afraid?

Isn’t that what all of us really want?

I think so.

This matters to everyone coping with their own brand of sadness and tragedy and life obstacles.

We can trust that time will heal. That our negative emotions will eventually be replaced by a new sense of normalcy and acceptance and hope.

Because we’ve seen it in our own lives and in the lives of brave people in places like New York, Washington, and everywhere that tragedy has struck.

And this matters for our country—and for our world.

The recognition that hate and violence and death make life shittier.

And that love and peace and hope make life beautiful.

Let freedom ring.

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