My Doctoral Adviser Once Said of Historians, "We Are the Elders; We Pass On the Knowledge of the Past"
If you know something, it is your responsibility to share it with those who lack that knowledge. You have been presented with a gift, but the terms of the bequest are clear — you must share it, pass it on, to all those who need it. That friends is what it means to be a nonfiction author for younger readers — we have been gifted with the chance to learn, to discover, to know, and thus we have the responsibility to share, to inform, to educate. This preamble applies to Afghanistan, but, I realized yesterday, also to Fort Hood. Here’s why: a columnist in Forbes raised the question of whether the killings should be known as Going Muslim — ala Going Postal tinyurl.com/yfk3rms
Tunku is a bright, outspoken, South Asian graduate of Oxford who — in the British tradition — is eager to push boundaries and challenge conventional pieties. But this piece created a storm of protest — his grad school students protested to the dean and asked for him to be censored. By contrast, this morning I received a post from a Muslim American whose brother earned several service commendations for his service in the military, objecting to the idea of associating one terrible crime with all Muslims, tinyurl.com/yl8rd9t As part of her piece, Sheila Musaji lists other recent murders — in the military and in civilian life — where the criminal was not Muslim. And that, in a big circle, brings me back to this essay and our responsibility.
Tunku’s argument is that there is a link between extremist killings and Islam, and that we are pretending that is not so, which both makes us less safe, and is likely to produce a worse anti-Muslim reaction. He is saying, lets face who really is committing these crimes. And, the terrible truth is he has a point. But here is where history comes in — America went through a wave of terrorist threats and actual bombings after World War I. Very likely the terrorists were Russian Jewish Communists and or Italian anarchists. People of those beliefs and backgrounds were in fact the pool that produced terrorists bent on spreading fear and murdering their enemies. For that reason young J. Edgar Hoover working with Attorney General Mitchell Palmer attempted to round up and deport as many of these immigrant suspects as they could. But the courts and congress stopped them. The fact that a tiny percentage of Russian Jewish Communists and Italian anarchists were criminals did not criminalize those immigrant groups.
History tells us to speak out — to tell young people, their parents, teachers, administrators that easy answers are not answers. Yes we need to be alert to real threats, and not let fears of seeming prejudiced prevent us from expressing suspicions. But we also need to remember that our grandparents and great grandparents were considered suspect in their time, and that we need to preach the same care and caution in dealing with modern Muslim Americans as our ancestors received from a Congress that stopped the deportations and put its faith in evidence, not fear.