Responding to crisis with our feet on the ground

In times of crisis and media hype, clarity can be hard to find.  How do we stay grounded when the news is so chaotic?  Yet it is the midst of crisis that we need to shake of the chaos and emerge in our communities as clear-eyed guides.

When I heard about the recent sting operation against Mohamed Osman Mohamud for trying to plan a bombing in Portland, I worked hard to see with those clear eyes. I started wondering, is Mohamud a dangerous sleeper cell terrorist waiting for the opportunity to strike? Or is he a misguided youth who happens to also be Somali and who fell into a bad FBI entrapment plan?  What is right and wrong when it comes to our families’ security? Or our civil rights?

If the world gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Awful events like these are opportunities to practice courage, clarity and unity.  These are, the things we need to nurture our democracy back to life.  Here are a few thoughts for how to do that…

1. Attacks against the US indicate a very real anger at our foreign policy. In explaining his actions, Mohamud said that the attack was “for you to refrain from killing our children, women . . . . so when they hear all these families were killed in such a city, they’ll say … they will stop, you know. And it’s not fair that they should do that to people and not feel it.”

During these fearful times of global war and heightened security, our response has been to put events like this in the news 24 hours a day, then clamp down! Pour tax dollars into more security machinery! Preemptive strike! We need to keep our families safe,…….. but shouldn’t we also shine a spotlight on the real way to do that: stop our bullying abroad.  At home, we need to resist the expensive ever-growing security state in whatever ways we can. More restrictions on our rights and civil liberties is not what we need to be safe.

2. When our government and media brand a young Somali Muslim man as a terrorist, it sends a very strong racial and religious message. It greases the wheels for hate crimes, like the arson attempt several days ago against the Corvallis mosque Mohamud occasionally attended. Reversing this brand and rebuilding safety takes work.

Now is a time to bring immigrant experiences to light to reduce the isolation that immigrant communities face in our hometowns! Consider a film screening (Welcome to Shelbyville is a great one!), a storytelling event inviting Muslim community members to share their experiences, a public demonstration of peace and support.

Take inspiration from the fact that 60 people in Corvallis made it to an emergency community meeting to plan community building events after the arson, and that a vigil at the mosque in Corvallis was attended by over 300, bridging the divides in the faith community FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. National politics wouldn’t dare to give communities this kind of power.

PS. We’re looking forward to continuing this conversation, about right wing messages, the building of the national security state, and the power of community action, at our Roots & Wings event tomorrow.  Hope to see you there!