Sat. Sep 14, 2002
Tip of the Hat, Part Three: Hijacking Faith
Tip of the Hat, Part Three: Hijacking Faith – It’s turning into the Shoney’s conversation heard around the world … or misheard … or made up. Or something other than an actual terrorist plot. Thankfully.
It’s also very indicative of the changes and events in the past year.
After a long long day, we are left to believe the word of one party, or the other. Others have their opinions: "State and federal authorities said late Friday that the men were playing a joke on Stone after growing weary of being stared at by customers at the North Georgia restaurant."
As for the three men, "They denied making any comments or jokes about terrorism." They denied having blown through the toll booth without paying, saying the toll attendant was ”confused” (happens all the time at 1:00am … one car, one toll, oops, I’m confused).
They basically denied everything.
Clearly, I don’t factually know what happened. Apparently, only five people do. Two of them immediately contacted the authorities at 10:30am Thursday, and then went home. They didn’t run to the media, even in Calhoun, to try and spread the tale of their Homeland Security heroics, or talk nasty about the dark skinned men passing by on the Interstate.
They didn’t do anything but what citizens have been asked to do repeatedly, especially in a week of heightened terror alert, on the anniversary of the death of thousands due to such terror. Law enforcement officials announced the tip to the media, not Eunice Stone. Only after the men had been stopped in Florida, and the story of her initial tip broken, did the media show up in droves outside Ms. Stone’s house. Did she hold a smiling press conference on her front lawn to boast of what she’d done? No, visibly uncomfortable with all the attention, she got into the family vehicle (followed by a family member politely chastising the media scrum in a true Southern manner: ”Y’all mind if ah git in mah truck?”). She said as little as possible, and then left them there (admittedly, partially because Fox had scooped the hell out of everyone and somehow locked her up for a live interview).
And you know what? In the very first phone interview she did, one of the first things she said was ” ’I hope I haven’t done something wrong,’ Stone had told Fox News. ’I hope I haven’t caused someone problems that really didn’t do anything … At the same time, I thought, ’What if they really are doing something and I stopped them?’ ” Does that sound like someone seeking to get others in trouble so that she might glory in the media?
And the media, even today, continues to get her story wrong, as Christiane Amanpour did this morning on CNN when she very snidely said the alert was due to the word of a ”fast food waitress,” suggesting the whole episode showed America is out of control. Perhaps one should make certain of at least the known facts before one engages in speculative punditry before millions, like the fact the very very early reports that said the tipster was a waitress at Shoney’s were quickly debunked, long before we even heard the name of ”Eunice Stone,” oh, and that little fact that our country had bumped up the alert status 48 hours beforehand. Of course, those facts would tend to tear down both sides of Christiane’s point, but no matter, she’s just a pro with a bully pulpit to millions. No need to get bogged down in accuracy, it dulls the rhetoric.
In the end, I, a 44 year old who’s lived in Georgia for 24 years, am left to believe people I don’t know: either a 44 year old woman from Georgia and her son, or these three men. Now, I don’t know Eunice Stone, but after 24 years in this state, I know Eunice Stone’s type. She’s got typical Southern small town values (mostly conservative), including an inclination to avoid unnecessary confrontation (it’s not polite, and in a small town, it’s remembered), understands that people have a right to opinions she doesn’t like (as she expressed repeatedly yesterday), and when faced with such opinions is inclined to say nothing at all if she can’t say something polite, but has a well drawn line within that got crossed on Thursday. And then, Southern hospitality and manners turns into something else entirely.
I’m very thankful the day ended with no one injured, and no one even in jail. But if I have to believe one version or another of the story, I think you know which one I choose.
Of course, to many, this makes me a bigot. In addition to the relatives of the men who "suggested the three were singled out because of their ethnicity," we hear that "Altaf Ali, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida, said the Muslim community applauded the swift and efficient efforts of law enforcement authorities. But, ’there seems to be overreaction’ when Muslims are involved, he said."
I’m not a bigot. I’m a cynic, a realist, and a student of history. It has the potential to be an ugly combo at times, but it’s been pretty functional for me. It allows me to see something the relatives of those men and the folks at CAIR don’t care to recognize: if you look at the culprits of terrorism against the US over the past 20 years, while you will unfortunately find dozens and dozens of them, with a very few white bread exceptions (Unabomber, Eric Rudolph, Tim McVeigh), they are entirely Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40. I wish someone would do the math on it, but if you add up American terror deaths in the past 20 years, I’d be willing to bet 95% or more were killed by a Muslim male extremist between the ages of 17 and 40.
Does that mean that all Muslim males between 17 and 40 are terrorists? Of course not. I encounter living proof of this every day here in Atlanta, and I’m very aware of it. It is affirming of the fact there is no need to be a bigot, because I encounter friendly innocent Muslim citizens every day.
But none of us, regardless of religion or ethnicity, can get away from the facts of history. All of us must act on them, in one way or another. I’m left to quote myself quoting someone else: "In this case, it’s best summed up by an e-mail posted on the site of Bob Ballard. It was originally a list of multiple choice questions, but I’ve removed the original choices. They were meant to be funny, and well, this just isn’t funny to me anymore. See if you can properly end each sentence.
1. In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by…
2. In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Iran was taken over by…
3. During the 1980’s a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by…
4. In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by…
5. In 1985 the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked, and a 70 year old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard by…
6. In 1985, TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens, and a U.S. Navy diver was murdered by…
7. In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by…
8. In 1993 the World Trade Center was bombed the first time by…
9. In 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by…
10. On 9/11/01, four airliners were hijacked and destroyed and thousands of people were killed by…
11. In 2002 the United States fought a war in Afghanistan against…
12. In 2002 reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by…
The clear and undeniable answer to each and every item? ”Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40.”
These are the facts of history, not the rhetoric of bigotry.
It should be clear to Muslims that they are in a way victims of an unprecedented form of identity theft. It may be true that 99% of Muslims have no violent wishes against Americans, but that identity has been stolen by the hard cold undeniable fact that 99% of those who’ve committed terrorist acts against Americans are Muslim male extremists between the ages of 17 and 40.
While a significant portion of me empathizes with a Muslim who is indeed an American who abhors violence, and is therefore angry that a stranger would assume differently just because of the way they look, a portion of me also despairs when I see Muslims rail against Americans because they feel discriminated against. I would be far more willing to accept such a lecture on its legitimate merits if it were coupled with a recognition and condemnation of its source: Muslim extremists hijacking their faith in the eyes of the world, and the resultant fear that smears all. That is what they must overcome, the cause of the effect they condemn.
Thankfully, some Muslims not only acknowledge it, they act on it. I was going to say there are Muslims who are just as incensed by the inhumanity of the terrorists as we are, but frankly, there are many who are far more incensed. They properly understand, not only are these terrorists horribly wrong, they are hijacking their faith, and wronging all Muslims with their heresy.
These people do things like turn in fellow Muslims who are engaged in plotting terror, as in the arrest Friday night of five Muslim men in Buffalo: "Dr. Khalid Qazi, president of the American Muslim Council of Western New York, said he was told the investigation started when the local Muslim community reported suspicious activities to the FBI."
I thank those people for what they did. They didn’t wallow in denial or pity because the men were "all U.S. citizens of Yemeni origin," they reported suspicious activity to the proper authorities, and let them handle it.
Just as it appears Eunice Stone did.
In the end, I’m left thinking that the terrorists of 9-11 may have had their greatest impact in that manner: the hijacking of faith. And not just the Muslim faith, though that would be bad enough. The PBS show Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero gathered the feelings of many people whose faith was harshly shaken that day; Muslim, Christian, Jew, even an atheist. I’ll never forget the interview on that show with the Episcopalian priest, clearly a man of strong faith, and clearly a man angry at his God.
A year later, it is long past time for all of us … Muslim, Christian, Jew … whatever … to reclaim our faith from those who tried to steal it. And I welcome anyone’s efforts to do so, most especially Muslims. Their faith is the one most at risk.
Instead of fighting among ourselves, we should be reclaiming that which was stolen. And no matter who you are, or where you’re from, deep in your heart, you know exactly who the thieves are.
And that’s why, in the end, I must leave you with the words of a man of faith, Rev. Donald Sensing, as they are hard words, but true words for me as well: "Listen up: If you are of Middle Eastern appearance and you talk or act in any way that makes me think you are a potential threat to my safety or that of my countrymen, be forewarned: I will profile your tail from here to Timbuktu. I will rat on you like the Pied Piper of Hamlin."