05 May 2007

"Poetry is dangerous": the commentary of a radical idealist child of the sixties

Thanks to Bridget's thoughtful response to my previous post, I decided to expand a little on the topic. Everyone has either seen or been a victim of prejudice. Sometimes, a particular prejudice becomes stronger in a culture because of actual events or threats/fears of future events. Obviously, this country was devastated by September 11, its first communal experience of the terror tactics that had been used to kill and intimidate communities worldwide for eons.

However, it was not its first experience of terror tactics. Although relatively minor (if the number of deaths and injuries determine such things), the original bombing of the World Trade Center showed us that we had very determined enemies. I think that the first real uprising of the kind of bigotry that Mr. Ali experienced was sparked by the Oklahoma City bombing. Do you remember that the first accounts said that the bombing was the work of Middle Easterners? I do. That assumption proved wrong, as we know. The terrorist was a warped, white-bread American whose name I don't even want to mention. Do you remember any widespread national introspection about the original assumption? I don't.

We all know what happened after September 11. We went to war, first against the country that had harbored the Taliban, and then against the country that hadn't. The common denominator? Muslims. Any Muslims. This administration not only did not care which Muslims it targeted (or plans to target, if the mutterings about Iran are true), but it also did not seem to care which Muslims it imprisoned or tortured. Short of protesting, backing anti-war causes, and voting to get the bastards out, there isn't much an individual can do. (I know that some will argue that point. Feel free.)

But we can speak out or act when we see or hear about more local bigotry. We risk being seen as starry-eyed idealists or dangerous radicals when we do. I've had an ongoing argument with some close friends whose values and politics usually are in harmony. Do you remember the incident at a football game when Muslims who had been praying were taken away and questioned by the FBI? I've maintained that this was racial profiling and demeaning. My friends say that the Muslims shouldn't have been praying in a public place, especially a stadium. "Would the FBI have questioned Catholics praying a rosary in a group?" I ask. "Would they have questioned Jews davening?" "They were being provocative," my friends say.

I don't know their hearts. Maybe they were being provocative in the same way as civil rights workers who sat at lunch counters or rode buses or accompanied children to segregated schools. Those provacateurs are now our heroes. Or, maybe they were just praying. I don't care which. I care about people being singled out for no good reason - and praying, my friends, is no good reason, any more than throwing papers into a trash bin.


Stephanie said...

You know that I agree completely with what you said, but just to play the devil's advocate....

In the specific case of the guy dumping the papers - I don't know exactly what was in the mind of the - was it campus security guard? - who got the whole ball rolling, but if it were me and I was a campus security guard I know I would have been suspicous about anyone dumping a large box and driving away. I think it is their job to be suspicious and pro-active. Maybe in his mind he was thinking - "Hmmm...that doesn't look right." How many school shootings would have been averted if people listened to that inner voice and did something about it? 99.9999% of the time it will turn out to be nothing but there is always a chance that it actually could be something dangerous going on. Maybe that guy was thinking he was potentially saving lives by acting on his suspicion.

I admit I didn't read the whole story super carefully so I don't really know what was in that guy's mind. Maybe he is a racist. Maybe his suspicions were heightened when he saw that the box dumper was a Middle Eastern guy.

To me, the bottom line is - no one should be the target of suspicion solely on the basis of their perceived ethnicity. However, anyone who dumped a large box on campus and then tried to drive off should expect to be stopped and questioned if the security guards are doing their jobs.

What would we all be saying about the security guard if he hadn't done anything and something tragic had happened?

Rose Red said...

Very interesting post (Bridget's too) - I don't know the answer/s either - but there are always at least two sides to every story and it seems to me that the most trouble arises when we don't stop to think what might be the "other side" of the story before we act, particularly where the action damages another person unnecessarily.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is that all people everywhere are motivated by doing what is right, not based on race, ethnicity, gender etc. But is that too much to hope for? (who is to decide what is "right" after all).

Bridget said...

Great post, Melanie!

(When the feds come for us, do you think they'll let us share a jail cell???)

Carrie K said...

I'm a wee bit on Stephanie's Devil Advocate's side. It's true the security guard probably did act more strongly because of prejudice, but we all do, in one way or another. I cross the street if a gang of guys is coming towards me. I love the comment I read that guard should've opened the box and checked. He thought it was a bomb! Nice way to detonate it.

Better safe than sorry.

I just hope we don't end up safe AND sorry.

Huzzah! I finally got to comment again.

teabird said...

Bridget, I just hope they'll let us knit in jail!

Carrie, I guess I don't think we can be completely safe. We have to have some risk if we're to protect freedom.

Benjamin Franklin:
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

KnitNana said...

I have a problem with giving up liberties in a knee-jerk reaction to try to protect ourselves.

I dislike stereotyping, too.
I was appalled when I read the original account of this gentleman's experience.

And at the same time, I wasn't surprised.

No, I don't have easy answers. But I think we can't let ourselves profile. (And I admit to doing a touch of it myself...but I struggle against it)

Your argument is beautifully written.

pixie girl said...

I can't recall the article exactly, but wasn't the man's office near the ROTC - and was it a ROTC person who called the police? Didn't the man go by it all the time?? Shouldn't he have been a relatively recognized figure in that area? Gah - I better go back to it. It just seems that it was obvious this man belonged on campus as an instructor, a student - whatever.

Paula said...

Although I can see and understand both sides of the story (the sociologist that is forever trapped inside me.) and therefore often take the middle road on hot topics.
I have to change my course on this topic and so I sure hope there is knitting in jail and we can all share the same cell because I agree with you too.
P.S. I bet they make us knit with sporks though.

It's Me, Maven... said...

This post makes me think of title of the book I just put on my wish list: "The Trouble With Poetry," by Billy Collins...