A few weeks ago the hashtag #IstandwithAhmed didn’t even exist. Now it is the latest viral hashtag to take twitter by storm. The incident in Irving, Texas has drawn attention around the world. Prominent names from a wide range of professions have weighed in on the incident. President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, comedian Bill Maher, scientist Richard Dawkins to name a few, have all shared thoughts on whether Ahmed Mohamed was in the right or wrong and whether the local school and police were out of line in how they handled the situation.
By now opinions have been formed and lines have been drawn. My hope is that as much as this incident might have already cemented positions. It might also – and more importantly – be an opportunity to engage in dialogue about the deeper reality of fear and suspicion which consumes our society.
Ahmed’s story went viral the week I had planned for our high school youth to talk about racism and Christianity; our curriculum theme for the month is what it means to be Christian in relation to variety of social issues. I was impressed with depth of conversation, the wrestling with complex issues, and walked out of church with hope for the future.
As we wrestled with what happened we agreed for the most part, if it was it was September 10th, 2001 Ahmed would not have been handcuffed, nor suspended from school for three days. To uphold the suspension after the device was discovered to be a clock went overboard.
However, on the flip side, we also wrestled with the fact that if the school wouldn’t have checked out the suspicious device and something did happen. The school administration and staff would have been crucified for their lack of vigilance in our society which is quick to point fingers and assign blame.
And this is the challenge of the social reality we live in today.
Suspicion is encouraged as a virtue. Always be vigilant. Whether its in the airport, school, or professional sport’s activity. If you witness suspicious activity, tell someone immediately. And in light of the horrific events in recent years, it’s legitimate to be concerned. I am not suggesting we should stop encouraging people to report suspicious activity.
What I am suggesting is suspicion comes with a cost. Isaac Newton’s third law of motion states when an object collides with another there is an equal reaction in force. Fear thrives when life is lived in a constant state of suspicion. The more suspicion is emphasized, the more fear thrives and the more likely incidents like Irving, Texas will continue to happen.
A phrase used in remembrance of 9/11. A day which lives in infamy and many has suggested has changed reality for all time.
It’s how we remember this event, which is crucially important, as what we remember!
Theologian Miroslav Volf writes about the importance of how we remember events and our memory in his book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. In times of violence we cannot live by a selective memory of our choosing. Honoring the courage and bravery of the first responders and others who gave their lives as they entered into the burning twin towers to help is one of the healthy ways we have remembered this terrible event. But, there is a long and unhealthy shadow growing from 9/11.
To often this unspeakable event is cited whenever the argument is made these are “different times” we live in. Suspicion and fear and incidents like Irving, Texas are unavoidable. Yes, times and technology have changed, however. Fear is a well-worn road our country has traveled down before.
Less we forget the 1950’s and the McCarthy era. One didn’t necessarily need evidence to accuse a person of being a communist. And for the accused the accusation led to at the least an investigation, if not an arrest regardless if there was evidence or not. If a person was a Japanese or German immigrant, or of Japanese or German descent, living in the United States of America during World War II, he or she was most likely confined to an internment camp. It’s estimated over 127,000 Japanese United States citizens were imprisoned regardless of whether or not they had made any threats against the nation. The list could go on.
The reality is people who uphold an Islamic faith tradition are the latest incarnation in a long list of those who have been stereotyped and feared throughout history. And fear of religious extremist like ISIS is warranted. What should not be sanctioned is lumping every person who upholds to the principles of Islam with these violent religious extremists.
Perhaps this is why Jesus’s short stories, his parables, remain so timeless. Every generation has its groups who are less than cordial to each other. Groups which need to hear and be challenged by the parable of the “Good Samaritan”. To be reminded as Pope Francis reminded the United States of Congress last week, and really all of us. Jesus called us to, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
How I respond to my fear is a choice.
I won’t deny the hard road is to follow Jesus and respond to fear with love. It’s much easier to sit back and let suspicions fuel my fear to unjustified conclusions. It’s a well traveled road leaving many in its wake unjustly accused and unjustly imprisoned and saddest of all many unjustly dead.
But, to travel this road I would then have to confess I am no longer following Jesus. I am called to be, if not more so, vigilant in my love than in my suspicion of my neighbors.