In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful
This was published on the Chicago Tribune’s Religion Blog, The Seeker
I truly was shocked beyond words when I learned that a member of Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot outside a grocery store in her district by a gunman. And I became horrified when I found out that six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, along with more than a dozen wounded. As a father who has lost his own child, I know all too well the terror of having to bury your own baby in the ground, and my heart and prayers go out to all of the victims’ families that they may be comforted by the Holy Comforter On High.
It has disturbed me truly beyond description that the environment in our country has become such that a member of Congress can be gunned down in her own district. Of course, it is always possible that a gunman may open fire in any public place in our country; it is part of the risk of living in an free, open society. Nevertheless, it angered me deeply that someone did this, and justice – along with common decency – demands that he be held accountable for his actions. That he was stopped because he paused to reload his weapon of mass destruction adds to the sheer devilry of his actions, and if convicted, he must pay a heavy price.
Yet, as the shock and horror of what happened slowly subsides, and the fog of melancholy slowly lifts, the calls for civility, compassion, and mercy come into sharper focus. The President, in his moving remarks in the Tuscon memorial service, said, “at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -– at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -– it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.” More importantly, he reminds us: “what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do.”
We must take this message to heart. As many in the punditocracy are trying to deride the idea that the crimes of one man should not be cause for blame against an entire segment of the population, let us apply this truth to all segments of our society. Indeed, it is easy to succumb to the devils of our nature and react with rage at those whom we feel are “responsible” for a tragedy such as this. Indeed, it is easy to react with hostility and hatred and demonization.
But, being upright citizens of God sometimes calls for doing things that may be difficult. Being upright citizens of God sometimes calls for what the Qur’an says: “But [since] good and evil cannot be equal, repel thou [evil] with something that is better and lo! he between whom and thyself was enmity [may then become] as though he had [always] been close [unto thee], a true friend!” (41:34)
Indeed, all Americans who call themselves Conservatives are not to blame for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner. They do not deserve to be demonized or terrorized for his actions. They are our brothers and sisters, part of our American family. Along the same lines, that woman who is wearing a Muslim headscarf, shopping for groceries or taking a walk in her neighborhood, is not to blame for the actions of a criminal acting in the name of her faith. Her house of worship does not deserve to be desecrated or attacked for the actions of terrorist criminals. That woman in a headscarf is also our sister, part and parcel of the American family as well.
Usually, people in this country come together in the wake of tragedy, and it is part of the beauty that is these United States. The challenge is whether we can stay together as a people as the memories of this tragic incident fade in the coming months and years. Never did I feel more at home as an American as I did after the horror of September 11. Now, however, there are those in my country, even members of my Congress, who intimate that I am not an American because I am Muslim.
These forces of division must not be allowed to win, because, as the President said, “for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” I will never forget the scores of fellow Americans who formed human shields around mosques in the wake of 9/11, just as Egyptian Muslims did the same for their Christian brethren last week. Let us continue to form human shields against all those who seek to divide our people along artificial lines of demarcation, whatever they may be. Our people will be all the better for it.