Fourth of July: Reflections on fireworks and choices


Fireworks go off randomly throughout the night. Facebook fills up with photos and with complaints from people whose dogs cower under the bed, whining. Once in a while, a mild reminder that not only dogs suffer from sudden, loud noises — veterans, too, may brace themselves for the 10 p.m. barrage or wake in terror at the 2 a.m. explosions.

Post traumatic stress: a reaction to trauma, to being shot at, to being hit by shrapnel, to witnessing a bombing, to seeing people killed in front of you.

On June 12, Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 53 more in Pulse, a gay Orlando nightclub. The trauma reaches beyond those present in Pulse, touching everyone who identifies as LGBTQ, touching family members and friends, touching all of America (except, maybe, the Republican members of Congress).

Every attack renews the trauma for survivors of past attacks — in San Bernardino, in a Sandy Hook school, in a Charleston church, in Umpqua College in Oregon, in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, around the country in places wracked by gunfire and explosions, in homes battered by domestic violence.

Outside the United States, terror attacks are larger and more frequent. On June 29, suicide bombers killed at least 45 people in the airport in Istanbul, Turkey. On July 2, 20 hostages and two police officers were killed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On July 3, a car bomb in Baghdad killed at least 187, many of them children. On July 4, just as the Ramadan fast was ending, a suicide bomber struck near the Prophet’s Tomb in the Muslim holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia, killing four security guards.

We know about terrorism, we know about war, but trauma also reaches into our own communities and neighborhoods. In Minneapolis, one person was shot and killed today, another last week on Thursday. The community still grieves others, including Birdell Beeks, a 58-year-old grandmother shot to death in her minivan on May 26.

Sometimes the violence is political. Yesterday in Brooklyn, Buzzfeed reports, “Two teenage Muslims boys were viciously beaten outside a Brooklyn mosque early Sunday morning as their attacker called them terrorists…” The attacker fled when the noise brought worshippers out of the mosque.

Hate and fear come not only from random bullies, but from pillars and protectors of the community. Last week in Avon, Ohio, a 41-year-old businessman from the United Arab Emirate, in the United States to seek medical treatment, was handcuffed and held at gunpoint by police officers. “He collapsed at one point, apparently feeling ill, and emergency workers took him to a hospital. He had previously suffered a stroke and was not armed,” reports the Washington Post. His offense? “He was wearing a flowing white headscarf and a full-length white robe at the time,” and spoke on his phone in Arabic, thus arousing the suspicions of a hotel clerk, who called police.

We try to deny, to say it cannot happen here, that we are different, that the hate is somewhere else, someone else’s community. And then it happens here. On June 30 in Minneapolis, reports the Star Tribune, “an assailant allegedly made disparaging remarks about Muslims before opening fire on five young men clad in Muslim prayer robes called qamis. Two of the men, ages 22 and 19, were wounded when bullets struck them in the leg.” The young men “had left the mosque after earlier prayer sessions to play basketball before coming back for sunrise services” held during the month of Ramadan.

We try to distance ourselves from the hate. “It’s only a few bigots,” we tell ourselves. “It’s not my family, not my neighbor, not anyone I know.”

“It’s only fireworks,” we tell ourselves. Until we know a friend in danger, until we lose someone we know or love, until we hear the gunshot or the explosion.

Last week, when the airport in Istanbul was bombed, I knew two people who might have been there. Thanks to Facebook, I soon found both of them safe. One of them, a former student, later wrote an eloquent Facebook post, in which she talked about the hatred she sees within her country and also from “many Westerners who were happy to see us bombed as we are Muslims and ‘deserve it.'” She described the hate that underlies the violence not only in the airport attack but in attacks around the world and in the ongoing wars:

“Our hate for each other feeds the beast. Maybe ISIS and such are the dark faces of us, borne and arisen from the sprouts of hate we have for each other. In that case, do we deserve this? If not, what do we have to counter?”

We can counter, she believes, “if all CHOOSE to unite, in a loving and accepting way, despite the divisive, abnormal and saliva dropping weirdos in power. Your choice.”

I choose to believe with Ceren, to try to unite rather than divide, to nurture love rather than hate. I’m still trying to figure out how to live that choice in daily actions.

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