Two weeks ago I mentioned the beginning of my charitable donations from the blog — 10% of all blog revenue will be donated to charity.. Between donations from the blog, our 8-year old son, my wife, and me, we’ve now donated to Hurricane Harvey relief twice. Part of that went to H-E-B disaster relief, and part to the Houston foodbank (subscribe to receive my upcoming newsletter to learn the exact blog revenue).
This is the third in an intermittent but recurring series. Find all of them here.
I was frequently called a “terrorist” in high school. The name calling was often accompanied by laughter, and usually a joke about how I was going to blow someone or something up. It wasn’t every day, but it was often enough that I came to expect it.
It never upset me. Not only did I expect the comments, I actively participated in making them.
These jokes were all with my close friends. Not pseudo-friends who only socialized by being mean — real friends. Some of these individuals are still my closest friends. One acted as best man at my wedding.
We made these jokes in part because we knew that people with easily stereotyped appearances and names like me were commonly stereotyped as terrorists. We also made jokes because terrorism wasn’t real for us.
The first World Trade Center bombing had already occurred — a “failed” attempt by Muslim terrorists to attack and kill innocents. The Oklahoma City bombing had also occurred — a “successful” attempt to kill innocents by homegrown, White terrorists (though the media initially portrayed Muslims as the offenders).
Terrorism was only indirectly impacting us; it certainly wasn’t being perpetrated by us. Making it into a joke was an easy way to dismiss it all — the terrorists, the stereotypes, and any discrimination any of us may have felt.
A Moment in Time
I was a senior in college when 9/11 happened — I recall exactly where I was when I heard. It was not a special morning in any other way.
I was in my apartment bathroom, shaving. My roommate (“Goose”) told me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Terrorism was so far from my mind, I naively thought at first he meant it had crashed by accident.
Watching the news, I learned the truth. I remember going to campus to start my day, while trying to keep up with the news of what was happening around the country. My business school teachers seemed unsympathetic to the world-shaking events. One refused to turn on the TV to watch any of the news. A second made us take an already scheduled exam (I did not do well on the exam; also yes, I was a business major and obtained a business degree).
I lived far, far away from the sites of the attacks, and I did not have any friends or family physically hurt by them. While the attack was physically distant, it felt much closer than anything previous to it.
A few weeks later, a friend of mine (white, non-Muslim) joked that I should dress for Halloween as a plane crashing into a building. He had heard me make terrorist jokes in the past. “Too soon” doesn’t accurately describe how inappropriate that joke felt at the time (and still feels).
The 9/11 Memorial
Last year my wife and I had the opportunity to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum in NYC. I had no pre-conceived notions of the experience.
Spending a few hours inside was emotionally exhausting, even without a close connection to someone who died in the attacks. The 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks just passed. It’s becoming part of our history, when it’s still part of our present.
A couple months ago my wife and I visited London. We walked over the London Bridge where just few weeks prior a terrorist had killed innocent bystanders by driving a van on the sidewalk — an increasingly common (and frighteningly easy) mode of attack.
The jokes I made 20 years ago don’t seem as funny now as they used to when I was a teenager. It isn’t only that terrorist attacks perpetrated by people in the name of Islam have become more commonplace — it’s that every attack feels more personal.
I have never had a friend or family member be a victim or even be close to an attack, but as I’ve grown older the world has shrunk, my consumption of world events stretches to distant corners of the globe, and I feel a stronger connection to many people I’ve never met.
Rogue One, Two, and Three
We have three kids. Our 8-year old is old enough to watch the news with us (though the recent election cycle burned us out on television news for awhile).
As far as I know, no one has ever called him a terrorist, nor has he ever joked about being one. His first name isn’t as much a give away for the religion as mine, and because of his mixed ethnicity, he has lighter skin and hair. It’s a bit harder to stereotype him.
We’ve never had an in-depth discussion about terrorism. We have had brief discussions about people killing in the name of Islam. We’ve covered the obvious talking points about why it’s wrong and how they don’t represent the teachings of Islam, but we’ve yet to delve into nuances.
On the rare occasions I’ve heard him making jokes about killing someone it’s been in the harmless way that kids pretend to shoot each other while running around with Nerf guns. Despite how innocent it is, I don’t like to hear it.
The comments and the fake guns — episodes like the killing of Tamir Rice make those things seem close to home, even when they aren’t. If he joked about being a terrorist or blowing something up I almost certainly would reprimand him.
His jokes are not my old teenage jokes where we mocked something we didn’t fully appreciate. His are the regular ones of an innocent kid playing cops and robbers (or Iron Man vs. Captain America or whatever).
Unfortunately, I’ve grown up. Growing up makes it harder to appreciate the innocence and joy of childhood, and it colors my parenting in a negative way at times.
The Names That Bind Us
Our Muslim faith doesn’t make us responsible for terrorism. Sharing a racial background and a religion with someone else doesn’t mean you can connect the dots and make a straight line between us. The world has too many dots for that to work.
Being an individual of the world makes me responsible for making the world a better place, regardless of my religion. That includes trying to help those around me, regardless of their origin, and avoid hurting others, regardless of their offenses.
That’s the lesson for our children.
Most people will pay lip service to that philosophy, but most don’t live it. I do try to embrace it anytime I am working in the ER — it’s hard to function in an ER if you don’t adopt the philosophy that everyone deserves your best effort.
Yesterday a patient’s mother yelled at several staff members and me because the roast beef sandwich we ordered for the child was cold when it arrived from the cafeteria. The child (a pre-teenager) then proceeded to yell and make snide remarks about the sandwich as well.
I really wanted to offer to spank the child for being so rude. It sure would have made me feel better (just saying it, not doing it). Maybe it would’ve gotten the point across to the mother that both she and her child were being wildly inappropriate. Maybe it would’ve made her slow down and think about how poorly she was treating the ER nurses. The nurses working with me would certainly have appreciated it
But the moment passed and it was too late (also it may not have gone over well).
I don’t live this philosophy every moment of every day — I’m not a saint or a prophet. I probably don’t live it most moments of the day, but I think it’s a wonderful aspirational goal.
Despite that goal, sometimes I feel like I should be making more off-color or inappropriate jokes. My wife has reigned me in a little, but I’m also more cognizant of who is around when I make off color jokes.
I would never make a terrorist joke around my young children (I would be mortified and in big trouble if they heard me make such a joke). However the world brings us enough seriousness and morbidity, and some humor is still needed.
So I’m going to leave you with one bad joke, and an an inspirational quote from the Quran:
Q: What do you get if you cross Islam and Capitalism?
A: No more jokes about the profit.
Whoever kills a person [unjustly]…it is as though he has killed all mankind. And whoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved all mankind.” (Qur’an, 5:32)
How do you discuss difficult events or dealing with difficult circumstances with your children? Please comment below.