Every spring, I write about terrorism in the U.S. My articles began with the domestic terrorism of the Oklahoma City bombing more than twenty years ago on April 19. I became the community/media liaison for Oklahoma’s Tulsa Jewish Federation shortly after the bombing destroyed the Murrah Building and so many lives. I felt compelled to investigate what led to the deadliest bombing, prior to 9/11, on our native soil. The violent hatred that I saw has not only continued, but has expanded globally, and in 2017, it encompasses the entire year.
As a favorite target of online hate groups, I sat spellbound with various movers and shakers of Chattanooga’s Jewish community as we listened to Jonathan Vick, Assistant Director of the Cyber Safety Center of the Anti-Defamation League. Founded in 1913 “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” ADL’s tag line is “Imagine a World Without Hate®.” ADL began reporting on digital hate groups in 1985, exposing and monitoring groups such as StormFront created by KKK leader, Don Black. StormFront was popular with white supremacists, neo-Nazis, bigots, and anti-Semites. In recent years, StormFront has moderated its language somewhat to appear more mainstream. It’s membership has grown to almost 300,000 despite reports documenting one hundred homicides committed by StormFront members (Southern Poverty Law Center). Not surprisingly, I see very little difference between hate groups and terrorists.
All of a sudden, the French find themselves front and center on the world stage: continued slow economic growth, the surge of refugees across Europe and now, dealing with the aftermath of November 13. Since the carnage that hit Paris, President Hollande has been on hyper-drive: air strikes in Syria, intensified security, and persistent lobbying among key world leaders for a coordinated war against ISIS.
The “Us vs. Them” mentality is universal. It’s embedded in how we define ourselves as individuals and as communities. For every “Us”, there’s a “Them”. Whether by nation, region, religion, language, or religion, it’s human nature to differentiate. Fortunately, while the phenomenon is a given, the related actions are not. In a world where limited resources can whither away communities, cultural differences increasingly generate violence. Watching the news today is an exercise in confusion as to which war we’re seeing, which era, and which players are currently killing each other off with a seemingly endless supply of arms. It’s tempting to think that little has changed. Yet, the attack on the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, compels us to re-examine the change that impacts us all: technology.
There is nothing dignified about death. I am not sure why I went, that first time, to the place of implosion. I guess I had some idea of standing there amidst the debris, my hat in my hands, saying a silent prayer for those who had left us. In its stead, a quarter mile away from the actual site, a rank odor announced itself like a foreboding. As I got closer, the mélange of rotting potatoes, overheated engines reeking oil, charred eggplants the color of ash settled like a second skin making me heave. I grabbed a tissue, forcing down the bitter taste of vomit in my mouth and went back home.