Progressive Writers Bloc

We Have Met the Terrorists and They Are Us

By Uncle Bill Warner

Terrorism. By one definition, it is the attempt by a person or group to get what they want by doing things so horrible to their "enemies" that they will succomb to fear and acquiesce to the desires of the terrorists. It is often a tool used by the powerless who have no great military machine at their command. The 9-11 bombers didn't have an army, but they were able to make a forceful statement, "Get out of our countries. We can hurt you."

Superior military forces often use terror to intimidate populations, as in the case of the Nazi bombing of Rotterdam after it had surrendered in World War II, or the U.S. "Shock and Awe" destruction in Iraq. The name itself, "Shock and Awe," spells out our intent to terrorize the Iraqis. We never call it "terrorism", of course, when we're the ones doing the terrorizing. We just assume the ends (our ends) justify the means.

Terrorism comes in all sizes. The December 9, 2005 issue of the Visalia Times-Delta turns the spotlight on terrorism in our own community. Some teen agers at Golden West High School had been harassing two students due their race, according to the article. The old saw about "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me" is a fallacy, because words DO hurt. After a year, the parents of these two students decided they had had enough, so they pulled their boys out of Golden West. No doubt the teen aged terrorists felt they won that round.

In July, the mother, Kelly Pankey, spoke to the Times Delta about the racial taunts and threats her sons had experienced. The torments had gone beyond "mere" words: their home and car had been egged on three different occasions, one time seriously frightening their 14-yr-old daughter who was home alone at the time. (When this incident was discussed recently at the Visalia Friends Meeting, one of our members, who is also black, said her car also had been egged last summer when she moved to town. Others could testify that these are not isolated incidents.)

Egging is a nuisance. It is very difficult to clean off and it can do damage to paint if it is not removed immediately. But being targeted by an anonymous assailiant goes beyond nuisance. It is a psychological as well as physical assault. I have had my car egged simply because someone didn't like my pro-peace bumper sticker. I take it as the price I have to pay for living around small-minded people.

Terrorism worked on the Pankeys, in that they felt it necessary to move away from the harassment. I remember well the burning of crosses on the lawns of Blacks in the South by the KKK to keep them from voting. Those who voted anyway stood the chance of being lynched. The terrorists usually got away with murder, until the Federal government finally stepped in and stopped most of it in the 60's. That's over 40 years ago. Is it water under the bridge, or have things really changed all that much? I guess you could say ashes on the lawn were a nuissance, like egg on the car paint, but the psychological message is the same: "You're not wanted." If you have been the target of terror attacks you have to keep looking over your shoulder.

We can condemn the "bad apples," but how do the rest of us fit into this terror business? Many of us grew up learning to look down on certain groups like Blacks (or Italians) or groups we feared, or didn't understand, like homosexuals. We told jokes which made them look stupid or vicious. We said cruel things about and to them, never really thinking about the damage our words caused. In our own eyes, we were not the bigots. We were not the racists. But we would not want one of them marrying our sister. If we didn't actually lynch anyone we were not the bad apples. Well, maybe not, but when was the last time you stopped or reported an incident of harassment that you witnessed? When was the last time you called someone on their telling a racist joke? There are no "Black" jokes or "Jewish" jokes or "Arab" jokes. There are anti-Black jokes, and anti-Jewish jokes, and anti-Arab jokes. They are attacks.

We are all diminished by the attacks on the Pankeys. A community that does not cry out against the unacceptable behavior of its "bad apples" sends a message to the terrorists and the terrorized alike that the community condones the behavior. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem. When incidents like this occur, demand that schools and city governments take action. Psychological assault is real assault. Terrorism, huge or small contradicts American values. We need to call it for what it is and fight against it every time it crops up.

Never surrender to the terrorists among us.

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