The Diverse Face of Terrorism: Thoughts on the Planned Parenthood Shooting

We don’t know much, in these early hours after the shooting at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado. But here’s what we know for sure.

The terrorist was white. And American. And most likely, Christian.

Not a faceless boogeyman in a turban. Not a young black man with droopy pants. This guy was your neighbor. You pass him on the street as you walk your kids to school. You wave on the way to the mailbox.

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You might even sit by him at church.

Lest we forget–lest we ever forget for a minute that terrorists can be

white.

American.

Christians.

I know you know this. But in our current climate of political fear mongering and hateful exploitation of otherness, it bears repeating again and again. And again. Violent extremists come in all sizes, colors, and shapes of belief. Repeat this truth to yourself, when you start to worry about the bad guys “over there.” Repeat this truth to your friends and family who worry about our borders, and the violence that might come with immigrants from Mexico. Repeat it when the headlines blaze misinformation about Muslims in general, and Syrian refugees in particular. Say it again when another white cop shoots another young black man, and the media wants to know, again, what drugs the victim must have been on, what scary weapon he must have been carrying in his sagging pants.

Meanwhile, can we acknowledge all the ways this horrific shooting might have gone down differently, if the shooter had been a different-looking kind of guy?

I read somewhere about a 5 hour stand-off with police. A FIVE HOUR STAND-OFF, after he had already shot some people. Do you suppose a black man who ACTUALLY shot and killed innocent people, including a police officer, would have emerged from this ordeal, and lived to stand trial? That is an entirely rhetorical question, of course.

How about this–let’s imagine for a moment that a Muslim foreigner had shot up a clinic–or any other public venue, for that matter. There would be cries for the immediate exile of ALL THE MUSLIMS. There would be protesters with signs and assault rifles. There would be political posturing, pandering to the most ignorant, most fearful of the voter base. There would be no rest until “justice” was brought down, not just upon the perpetrator, but on any who shared his belief and skin tone.

We are kind of irrational like that.

What about a Mexican immigrant? Just look what trash we are letting through our borders! 

But it’s never on us, is it? It is never the guy next door, who looks like us and believes basically what we believe, just maybe a little bit more fiercely. It’s never the fault of our own climate of fear, entitlement, and rigid religious dogma.

Even when it’s right here, staring us in the face, I am certain that the headlines these next few days will say nothing of “terrorism,” “extremists,” or “war.” We will talk only of this one misled white guy–I’m guessing we’ll call him “mentally ill.” And discussions about where and how he got that weapon? And how many others like him might have their own cache, in dark corners of suburbia? Nope. That is completely off the table.

Terror does not discriminate. Violent extremists do not care who they hurt, who they kill. The more bloodshed, the better. The more indiscriminate destruction, the more glory to the cause.

But the spirit of hateful doctrine that makes a terrorist–it does not discriminate, either. It will take hold of any one, any age, race or creed. Let’s not forget that, ever.

Meanwhile–we have GOT to find a better way to talk about abortion. That is a post for another day but… it is still a present shadow in this latest act of horror. A certain socially acceptable line of belief fueled this tirade, and will support others like it. Maybe many more, depending on the fate and fame of this man. Most of us agree that abortion is sad and awful and there needs to be much, much less of it. Heck, none would be better. But the voice of fundamentalism wants to criminalize poor women instead of making life more fair for them.  And it is fundamentalism–and the fear it relies upon–that draws black and white lines between realities, and prohibits any more life-giving kind of conversation.

We cannot continue to let that voice drive our narrative. We can’t deny it’s power in our own culture and communities, and we can’t pretend it is someone else’s nightmare.

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