Remember Me

“The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute to the strong.”  Gandhi~

The images and the video are still fresh in my memory.  I can still picture the blue sky without any clouds that morning when I was walking into class ten years ago.  Events were already unfolding, but I still did not know yet as to the overall devastating affects.  Even today, a tear still comes to my eye as I think back to that day, and it’s immediate aftermath.  Shock and tears were all that I could find.  The entire day just seemed completely surreal.  And as shock wore off, the anger began to show.  I, like many Americans, wanted heads to roll.  We wanted those who had any part of that awful day.

But here I sit 10-years later as a changed man.  I was but a young man when this all happened, and I knew not of the world that I existed in.  In the past decade, I have broadened my understanding of the world and of the various peoples that inhabit it much like I do.  The animosity that I once held has dissolved though still always questioning and always vigilant.  All that exists now are the tears that come whenever I still see footage from that day and the memorial services that are done every year.  Back in 2001, the emotions were raw and frayed as we came together as a nation and as a people.  We huddled together near any television we could and watched the events unfold before us.  We were there for each other.  We comforted each other.  And we hugged each other just a bit more.  I don’t think I had ever heard my college campus so quiet as I did that day.

“We must become the change we want to see.” Gandhi~

Our lives have moved on, but we haven’t forgotten.  And for those of us who lived through it, we never will.  We will not forget the people who were killed instantly, or the people that were trapped and had no way to escape.  We will not forget those that rushed into the buildings to help people out though they, themselves, never did.  We will not forget those at the Pentagon who rushed to the aid of their fellow coworkers.  And we will not forget the passengers of Flight 93 who fought back for control of their plane before letting it do any more harm.  These aren’t just names or a picture of a pretty face.  These are our countrymen.  These are our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, and our friends.  And in every instance that day, we proved what it meant to be an American.  We showed that our sense of community ran deep and out weighed anything that was taking place.

As we pass this 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we must look toward the future while always remembering the past.  The events of that day should not consume us, but motivate us.  We should be more civil with each other and more tolerant of other cultures.  It is not an “us vs them” mentality that should define how we think and view the world, and stereotypes should be forgotten.  We are all one with the planet that we call home.  Let us bring about positive change that we so yearn to see.  Let us remember the unity that we shared for it shouldn’t be fleeting but something more permanent.

Our nation was attacked ten-years ago.  The events of that day have been burned into our minds and can always evoke an emotional response.  But as we set foot from this time and place, we must not lose faith in ourselves and each other.  The extremists that want to do us harm would like us to be against each other.  Maybe it’s time that we show them how their actions bring us closer together.  We should always believe, deep within each of us, that tomorrow will be better than the day before.  And as we get farther and farther away from that day, this unity must get stronger and stronger.  We will always remember what happened, the emotions we felt, and the lessons we learned.  But we must not forget who we are deep within our souls.  And as we pay solemn tribute to the lives that were lost, let us take pride in their actions… in their courage.

We will always remember…

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”Gandhi~

Advertisements

Radicalism

As the week draws ever closer to the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it is not difficult for me to sit and ponder.  The main problem is that there seems to be no answer to the questions I seek answers to.  In the aftermath of the attacks, we launched a war on terrorism and now find ourselves embroiled in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and several other places around the world.  This is all in the name of fighting terrorists.  And any time there is an attack of some kind here at home…. whether it be a shooting rampage or something even more severe, we immediately start asking if this was an act of terrorism.  I find it interesting how are mind jumps to the conclusion immediately and then settles back into other possible answers as more information usually becomes available.  Even in the immediate aftermath of the shooting that injured Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords (D-AZ), the media was already wondering if the shooter was linked to al Qaida.  Now this isn’t to say that there haven’t been times when there has been a domestic terrorist attack in the US.  I’m sure most of us remember the Fort Hood shootings.

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks (and it still takes place today), Muslims and Muslim Americans face discrimination based on nothing more than stereotypes.  As if they all had something to do with it or even condone it.  They seem to have had the stereotype fall upon them that we would put on the radical fundamentalists that carried out the attacks.  But I don’t believe in such stereotypes, and it still amazes me how many people can just toss out rational, logical thought and believe in such things.  That would be the same everyone thinking that all Christians are terrorists out to destroy those who don’t agree with them because of The Crusades.  And has anyone stop to think for a moment that the guy who blew up a federal building in Oslo, Norway and then went to an island full of kids and starting killing them unmercifully was an extremist Christian? Yeah… the extremes go both ways.  But you don’t manage to still hear the same rancor that came after the attacks on 9/11.  Maybe that’s because it was done in another country.  But what about the Oklahoma City bombing?  That was done by an American on American soil… and had no religious affiliation to it whatsoever.

Most people in the world hold their personal religious beliefs close to themselves.  And most people with even half a brain don’t follow every word to the last letter of their religion.  There is usually some discrepancies when it comes to each individual.  And most are willing to let others have their beliefs so long as it doesn’t inflict upon anyone else.  Sadly, though, it’s the radical fundamentalists on the extreme wings of the religions that have the loudest voices and have the ability to manipulate those parts of the population that are not educated or at least not wanting to think for themselves.  And as a result, all people that follow that religion are grouped into that stereotype even if they haven’t and never would do anything to the extreme and just want to live the simple lives with their neighbors as they have been doing.

Does that mean their aren’t religious fundamentalists out there that are willing to harm us?  Not at all.  We must always remain ever vigilant, but we must also remember that it’s usually not the average person that we must watch out for.  Rather, it’s those that can’t think for themselves and must be told what to think and when to think it… and how they should feel.  Yes, it is hard to identify such people from the average person, but that still does not give us the right to treat any group of people under an umbrella stereotype.  We all know that we wouldn’t like it if it was done to ourselves, and it’s always possible for us to be lumped into something simply because of an overreaching stereotype.

Hate can be a powerful tool… and even more so with the tools of religion.  Anything can be drastically warped to fit into the minds of those people who are looking for someone to blame their problems on.  The problem is that the population has to be willing to step up, ask questions, and not believe everything that they hear and read.  The radical fundamentalists that are trying to hijack people’s minds and use it then to terrorize the general population are betting on us not being able to do it.  When we lose the ability to think for ourselves… when we lose that ability to ask questions… when we succumb to grouping an entire group of people (based on religion, race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, etc) into one generic, overreaching stereotype, then we have fallen into the abyss that the extremists have wanted us to fall into.  And it’s at the moment that the leaders of those movements can warp minds and bend any information to fit their overall goals.

So let me ask you this as we are now in our tenth year in our ‘war on terror’.  Is it actually possible to win this war or is it just to make the general population feel good that something is being done?  And how do we know that we’ve won or lost?  Is it possible to root out and defeat all terrorism in the world?  Is the previous question a sign that we are bringing terror to a part of the world?  And this leads to the ever-bigger question… What is terrorism and a terrorist?  How do we define these two broad words?

As we approach the tenth anniversary, we need to take a good long look at how the past ten-years have unfolded.  Are we a fair and just people?  Have we made the right decisions along the way (even if we have killed the al Qaida leader that orchestrated the attacks)?  Have we developed our communities and our society in a way that we are inclusive of those that aren’t just similar to us but to also those that are different?  Do we attempt to broaden our understanding of those things that are different from our own… whether it be other religions, other countries, or other cultures?

And though we must remain ever vigilant against those that would do us harm, I still feel that it is important to not lose our overall core values.  Each of us has the right to be judged on the person we are and not by the actions of others.  The radical fundamentalists want to group everyone into two categories… for or against.  There is no middle ground.  In regards to religious fundamentalists, this doesn’t just come from those that are Muslim.  It also comes from Christians and Jews.  Fundamentalism is never based with one group and not another.  All groups have their fundamentalists that are willing to go to the extremes to get what they want.  It’s up to those of us that can think for ourselves… those of us they consider moderates (or just the average person) to make sure that our voice gets louder so that their evil messages can’t gain any ground.

So let me leave you with one last question through all of this.  How can we protect ourselves from any and all radical fundamentalists, or is it even possible?  As I said at the beginning, there are no easy answers to the questions that I am asking.  But then again, maybe there aren’t supposed to be easy answers in this situation.  For there to be then there would be no overall conflict and no reason for this entire entry.  As we continue to move forward, we must always be willing to ask ourselves the tough questions, to not follow blindly, to shape our society in a way that we can be inclusive, and we must not hate.  For as it has been said by Buddha, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.”

Let Us Have Peace

Let us have peace.”  Ulysses S. Grant~

Who could have imagined that yesterday, May 1, 2011, would end up having historical significance not just for the United States but also for the world?    It was announced that the United States had finally killed terrorist and al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden… the mastermind behind embassy bombings in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and the 9/11 attacks.  For those of us that can remember these events, the news of the day brought great celebrations from the Atlantic to the Pacific and amongst our various world allies.  But within our euphoric celebration, we must also remember to be humble.  Yes, this man was seen as the embodiment against all our freedoms and yet, he was still just a man.

After the 9/11 attacks, we watched many Muslim people celebrate in that part of the world to the catastrophic events that were unfolding upon our soil.  (Note… not all Muslim people celebrated.  So don’t start going off into stereotypes.)  And yet, almost ten-years later, upon hearing of the death of its great mastermind, our people take to the streets to celebrate and be damned with the consequences of how this will look to the rest of the world.  In essence, we were quite hypocritical during the first moments of euphoria.  Instead of celebrating in the streets over this news (and thus celebrating our freedoms), we should use this time for reflection and contemplation.  The attacks on September 11, 2001, brought our nation together as very few events ever had before.  It was a time of patriotism and pride in all things that make our nation great.  And on this new day many years later, we should contemplate again what it means to be an American and how we now progress forward.  The war on terror is not over just because we chopped off the head of the serpent.  We must continue to be ever vigilant in our efforts to protect ourselves from those that would do harm unto us.

This is not a time for one party to claim victory over another party.   The capture or death of Osama bin Laden has been a goal through several presidential administrations… both Democrat and Republican.  Through the valiant efforts of our intelligence community, this day has been brought to us.  And they, along with our armed forces, deserve our utmost gratitude.  It is for the love of their country and countrymen that they serve us today… and most of them will never be known to us.

As we begin our march through the days and years ahead, let us remember what this man’s death meant to our nation and to the rest of the free world.  But let us not get caught up in the stereotypes that have plagued the efforts over the years.  This was just a man in charge of a small group of radical fundamentalists and should not be considered any further.  We should show the world that we have the ability to be humble in our times of great success while enjoying the patriotism that will unite us as a people once again.  The words of Gandhi come to mind at this time.  “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”  As we continue our efforts before us, let us not lose sight of who we are as a people and as a nation.  The principles upon which we stand for should never be sacrificed for the greater good, and we should always remember to hold ourselves to the high standards that we expect other nations and other people to live up to.  We are all one in the same… even if we see ourselves as different.  Let us remember that in this moment and for the times ahead.  That is how we can truly win.

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln~ (March 4, 1865)

Freedom of Speech

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. First Amendment~

Freedom of Speech came into the spotlight once again last week as the Supreme Court handed down a verdict in the case of Snyder v. Phelps.  The Westboro Baptist Church, led by Mr. Phelps, is known for protesting anything that stands for LGBT-equality but also for protesting the military funerals of our fallen soldiers.  Communities and states have rallied over the years to enact laws that give those from the WBC a time and place where they can protest without interrupting the services of our fallen soldiers.  But that still hasn’t stopped various lawsuits from going forth against the WBC to try to get them to stop altogether.  But the Supreme Court has ruled (8-1) that the protests are protected by the First Amendment… the Freedom of Speech.

I would tend to think that there are not too many people that like what the people of the Westboro Baptist Church do.  In fact, the congregation is mostly made up of the Phelps family… and probably some confused, narrow-minded people.  At least locally, media coverage of them protesting a military funeral is close to nothing at all… which is probably as it should be since they probably want all the media attention.  And the local LGBT-community is not afraid to stand up to their protests and counter-protest their hate speech with that of love.

When the verdict was announced, most people I know where outraged.  But where others were giving in to their hatred for the WBC, my mind started to think.  Sure, my opinion of the WBC and those that believe in what it preaches is the lowest of all lows, but do they have the right to freedom of speech with the message they are sending out to people?  I surely thought so.  Freedom of Speech is Freedom of Speech, whether we agree with it or not.  Right?  Not so fast.  Upon having a conversation with my friend Deborah that evening, who has studied constitutional law, there is more to this.  And this entire issue is not as cut and dry as one might think.

In the case of Chaplinsky vs. New Hampshire, the Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect against what it called “insulting or ‘fighting words’ — those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” (315 US 568, 572 [1942]) Chaplinsky was a Jehovah’s Witness who had been arrested by a New Hampshire town marshall after he tried to prevent Chaplinksy from preaching… after which Chaplinsky spouted off by saying “You are a God-damned racketeer” and “a damned fascist.”

If you had noticed earlier, I said that the verdict was 8-1 in favor of the WBC.  It was Justice Samuel Alito who dissented… and it was on this very clause that he did so.  Justice Alito said that the WBC was not protected under freedom of speech because he likened the protests to fighting words and of a personal character.  The other 8-justices disagreed ruling that the attacks were protected because the attacks were public and not personal and that there are local laws that can shield those attending the funerals from the protesters.

A point I want to make with this last piece of the majority’s reasoning.   Just because local laws are in place that can tell the protesters where and when they are allowed to protest, that shouldn’t be used as part of the ruling.  This wasn’t so much a case that was challenging the local laws, this was a case that challenged whether the WBC had the right to protest and say the things it was saying.

Other than the “fighting words” judgment from the Court in 1942, I also can’t help but think now of defamation.  This was something that was taught to me in my Media Law class back in college, and to which my college professor would probably be proud that I remember this.  Defamation requires an allegation of a fact that is actually false and harms the reputation of an individual.  This can come in two forms… spoken slander or written libel.  Could it be considered defamation when the protesters of the WBC hold up signs with the deceased’s name on it and saying that that particular person in in Hell.  Technically, they don’t really know where we go when we die and where this particular soldier’s soul is, and they are harming the reputation of this fallen soldier.  Defamation is also why you can’t claim freedom of speech when you put up a huge billboard along the interstate claiming your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend is a child molester or a rapist when they are not.  So there are limitations as to what you can say or write about people.

So, did the Supreme Court get this decision right?  My initial reaction was yes, but after further reviewing case jurisprudence, I think my answer does switch to the negative.  It would appear that I agree with Justice Alito that the attacks are very personal in nature.  And I might also add that some of what is being said and written borderline on defamation of character.  But what do you think?  Are the protests of the WBC during military funerals protected under the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech or do you think later Supreme Court decisions restrict them?

%d bloggers like this: