Toxic Fallout

I don’t know what to say about the violence that has taken hold of my hometown this weekend — the completely senseless death of a talented young singer, the slaughter of more than fifty people in a gay nightclub — or the carnage that was narrowly averted in LA, where some deranged idiot with a carload of weapons planned to rain terror on the Gay Pride parade.

There is no rational explanation for this kind of thinking, much less these kinds of actions.

But there are two things I know with certainty — lessons learned the hard way in the past few years that apply universally — and they are: (1) that you should not, cannot, and must not, apply rational thought to irrational people (and killers are, de facto, irrational), and (2) that irrational people will say and do virtually anything in defense of their own wrongdoing. This includes using God to justify evil.


Horror like what was unleashed on the club-goers in Orlando has incredibly large circles of collateral damage. The innermost circle is, of course, the victims and the people who love and need them. The outer circles, which are too numerous to identify completely, include the people who call Orlando and its environs home, gay men and women everywhere, the medics and police who could not possibly have been prepared for what they saw, the hospital staffs, the citizens who drove the injured to the hospital when the ambulances were all occupied, families on holiday, the thousands of people who rely on tourism for their livelihood … and the Muslim men and women worldwide who, like me and you, would never — could never — conceive of violence in the name of God.

Before 9/11, when we lived overseas, our family was very, very close with a family from Pakistan. We used to  spend hours happily planning their visit to the U.S. — where we would go and what they should see.

After 9/11, these plans were put on hold. In the years since, they’ve been permanently squashed.



We are still very, very close friends. More like family, really. But the last time one of their extended family flew to the US, he was detained at JFK for over 8 hours in an interrogation room, despite having been resident in Washington, DC as a diplomat for decades previously and having no record of any kind.

This is one of the circles of collateral damage, too, then: that entire segments of the world have become no-go zones. Ironic, isn’t it, that in an age of globalization, of interconnectedness, and of immediacy, that violence has created so many impassable borders?
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When I hear about violence done “in the name of God,” I scratch my head and wonder what God it is who requires or desires such acts. It’s not any God — or god — I’ve ever come across.

The same is true for millions of Muslims around the world, whose reaction to extremism and brutal enforcement of sharia law and global terrorism is the same as mine to the Westboro Baptist Church: How dare you hijack my religion in service to your hatred? How dare you claim my God as the motive behind your madness?

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No one in the world — Christian, Muslim, or anyone else — is truly sheltered from the toxic fallout of terrorism. No matter where you are in the circles, you are still affected by the poisonous ripple effect.

And it can be utterly dismaying when you realize how quickly, and how senselessly, our lives can be extinguished in stupid, irrational, pointless and horrific acts.


But you’ve got to get up in the morning and keep going. You’ve got to try to calm the waters around you.

You’ve got to educate yourself about your fellow man — even the one who looks (and worships, and lives, and loves) in ways that are foreign to you.

You’ve got to be with the people you love and let them know they are valued.

You’ve got to extend a hand to someone who needs it without any expectation of reciprocation.

You’ve got to support those who work for the common good, for safety, for justice, for health and for healing.

You’ve got to guard yourself, so that you give no part of your heart or mind over to those whose legacy is terror; let their names be forgotten, but the memories of their victims live on.

And you’ve got to remember that we are all passengers on the same choppy passage, with the same calling and the same purpose to our lives: to love one another.

I just wish some people didn’t make it so damn hard.

Photo: The Orlando Sentinel. 



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