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This 9/11, the terrorists I fear are at home

Sit-in during a rally against police violence, San Francisco, July 2016. One person standing holds signs reading “Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud!” and “White Supremacy Is Terrorism!” Photo by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Like millions of others around the globe remembering 9/11, I recall exactly where I was when it happened. I was living in Berkeley, and it was my weekly telecommute day. I had not yet quite gotten out of bed when the phone rang. It was my boss, telling me the news. “Don’t come in,” he insisted.

I told my then-new partner Ziggy, who had spent the night, and went to turn on the TV. Both towers had fallen by that time. Ziggy’s father worked at the Pentagon; fortunately, his sister had already texted to say “Dad=OK”. My mother and grandmother lived in Pittsburgh, which was in the news as it was the nearest major city to where the fourth plane crashed; I checked on them as well even though they were nowhere near the area.

As I watched the mayhem on TV, I turned to Ziggy and said I was afraid. He replied that I should not live in fear. He said that we should go out and be with others in the community. So that evening we attended a candlelight vigil on the UC Berkeley campus, sitting quietly while people took turns at the mic with words and songs.

In time, I felt that Ziggy was right; I should not live in fear. And yet, seventeen years later, I still fear for my life, and for the lives of others. The source of that fear is not extremist Muslims invading from afar, but racist, sexist, and xenophobic people born and bred right here in the United States.

I fear white police officers who shoot unarmed black people with impunity, even in our own homes. (Maybe now Ziggy will understand why I always double-check that our apartment door is locked, even in our “good” San Francisco neighborhood.)

I fear Vice President Mike Pence, whose antipathy to the LGBT community is well-known, and who is poised to roll back our protections further if President Donald Trump is prematurely ousted from office.

I fear bigoted Christians (like Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions) whose version of “religious freedom” means freedom for anti-abortion, anti-LGBT Christians to discriminate against everyone else.

I fear national security advisor John Bolton, who thinks the U.S. should not be held accountable for war crimes. While as a pacifist I feel that war itself is a crime, Bolton’s statement made me more fearful and ashamed to be a US-American than anything uttered by Trump since his election — and that’s saying something.

Some might argue that the examples above don’t really constitute “terrorism”. I’m not interested in quibbling over the exact definition of that word. My point is that marginalized people live in fear every day; fear of being killed by the police or the U.S. military, being the target of a hate crime, or being denied life-sustaining medical treatment. I’m far more likely to die in any of those scenarios than to be killed by someone who claims to be fighting for Islam.

As I’ve posted frequently, I am an independent voter, not a Democrat. My fears are not partisan in nature. Both major parties are guilty of warmongering and of embracing diversity only when it suits their agendas. Democrats are more in favor of gun control for civilians, but that means nothing when the police and military are the ones doing the terrorizing. I don’t want guns “controlled”; I want them gone.

When so many oppressed people have lived in fear throughout U.S history, what would it take for America to become truly “great” — for the first time? I don’t think we’re the best country on Earth, by any measure; I don’t like the idea that there even could be such a thing. Rather than compete with our fellow Earthlings, we should respect and learn from them — not only from humans, but from the other living beings with whom we share this planet.

I’ll close with a passage from a Buddhist text, The Dhammapada (129–30):

All beings tremble before danger, all fear death. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.
All beings fear before danger, life is dear to all. When a man considers this, he does not kill or cause to kill.