I will not be terrorised

The world at the moment seems awfully scary and intimidating and violent. That violence appears utterly random at moments and widespread, even amongst those of us who live in relatively safe zones (e.g., not in places like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, for a start).

After last week in Charlottesville, after Thursday in Barcelona and after yesterday evening’s knifing closer to me in Turku, the only thought I have is, ‘I will not be terrorised’.

Am I afraid?

For humanity, yes, indeed, I am. But, I refuse to cower in fear that something ‘might’ happen. That the boogeyman de jour will leap out from behind some imagined barrier wielding a weapon of choice. I refuse to look at another individual, different from me, and think, ‘Aha! That is the boogeyman we’ve been warned about’, and continue to eye her/him suspiciously.

Years ago, I had a business trip to Israel, where I spent a lot of time at Hebrew University and travelling to and fro on various buses for meetings with colleagues and to attend special events. It was an incredible trip really, and introduced me to a part of the world that is unimaginably beautiful in its stark, barren, brutal reality. In many ways, I fell in love with the country.

But, whenever our group was together, armed security guards accompanied us, in itself rather shocking to me. By armed, I mean, bulletproof vests and semi-automatic weapons as well as Glock-9s at their sides. Never mind their ammo belts. Several trips required traversing routes twice as long as the direct route, simply to ‘avoid’ certain areas perceived as particularly ripe for attacks from Palestinians.

Because this trip coincided with an uptick in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the early 2000s, my boss at the time, an Israeli from Jerusalem, mentioned that there was chatter and concern that ‘something’ might happen. And, several times during that two-week trip, every single mobile phone my fellow passengers carried on various buses rang seemingly simultaneously. I learned quickly that when that happened, there had been some tragedy elsewhere. In fact, three suicide bombs exploded during that trip, two of which rather near to and soon after we’d be in various spots. [Several weeks after that trip, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria at Hebrew University, a place I’d had more than one lunch at during that trip.]

Was it scary? Yes. But, more so, it was sad. It was profoundly and deeply troubling to see the affect it had on those who live that reality every single day. Suspicion and fear weighed heavily, and the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians seemed to become more prominent. Talking with various vendors along the edge of the Arab market in the Old Town in Jerusalem or colleagues and friends from various parts of Israel, everyone wanted the same thing: peace. To live in a world free from the random acts of violence that plague us all. To allow children to be children, and to know a world in which they needn’t fear or cower depending upon their own identities. To live in a world free from those learned identities.

That trip was difficult, but it was also one of the most amazing trips of my life.

What gave me hope then and continues to guide me on the darkest of days now is the knowledge that not everyone is a maniac hell-bent on destruction. Not everyone is so consumed with hate that they seethe with rage at the mere mention or glimpse of their imaged enemy. Not everyone sees diversity as a scourge that should be forever eliminated.

Not everyone is a terrorist. Not every Arab or Muslim. Not every black man. Not every left-wing liberal or so-called antifa. Not every conservative or Republican. And, not every white boy with a Southern drawl.

Yes, at the moment, I am scared. More so because we seem to be less-inclined to learn from or engage with on another and prefer to categorise those who are different as ‘the other’ and, therefore, evil or our enemy.

But, rather than be terrorised, I’m going to continue to live my life as if that fear did not exist at all. I will not assume that every act of violence is a terrorist attack.

Months ago, after yet another horrid incident, I hoped that we could figure this shit out. I’m still hoping and believing that we can. We. All of us. But, if we are to do so, we must stop being terrorised.

On Charlottesville…

What is there to say or write, really?

Like much of the country, my country, I’m rather stunned this morning, and yet not. I’m heartbroken, again, to see hatred and bigotry out-screaming and dulling the goodness and diversity I love about my country. I’m rather out of words.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to catch ‘I Am Not Your Negro‘ in the theatre at its only showing in Finland. James Baldwin’s words are more than moving, and more relevant than anything written today, to my mind. Given the time between when they were spoken or written, their relevancy today seems almost prophetic, yet its indicative of what we haven’t achieved.

Indeed, given yesterday’s events, it seems we’ve regressed.

Those of who have nothing to lose must speak out. We must stand up to bigotry and hatred and injustices that take place every single day. And, we must listen.

It will be scary. It will make us uncomfortable. And, it will exhaust us unimaginably. But, if we are to move beyond this madness and mayhem, we must. 

Kaep & NFL hypocrisy

Yesterday, I posted an image to my Facebook page which featured NFL players Michael Vick, someone else I don’t know (Rice?) and Colin Kaepernick. Two players were convicted of felonies, served time and then were granted multimillion-dollar contracts to return to the NFL. Colin Kaepernick, in case like me you have been living under a rock and don’t follow American football, kneeled during the national anthem at several NFL games last season to ‘protest police brutality and social injustice’. As a free agent this year, he remains unsigned by any team in the NFL. 

Before yesterday’s post disappeared into the virtual black hole, I didn’t get a chance to respond to a few comments. Several of these touched upon various issues in the blacklisting of Kaep and the utter hypocrisy of turning a blind eye or dismissing bad (and to my mind) worse behaviours vis-à-vis players like Michael Vick since ‘they did their time’. Because this entire story equally fascinates and infuriates me, I thought I’d move the conversation here.

First, yes, indeed, Michael Vick served time. And, he’s spun that tale of redemption. But, honestly, his words and deeds still make me sick. That he’s been rewarded obscenely so makes it all the worse. To me, his post-prison personae shows very little contrition or humility in the sense that he knows he did something bad. Rather, he laments getting caught, rather than committing the crime in the first place. He regrets his prison sentence rather than abusing and killing dogs.

Another comment suggested that the NLF lost money this past year due to the actions of Kaep. I don’t buy it (no pun intended). Evidently, even as an unsigned player, Kaep falls 39th on the list of 50 top-selling official player merchandise. Do a search on Kaep and a slew of articles pop up blaming him for the NFL’s falling attendance and popularity, but they all appear to be from similar sources and those who disagree ideologically with his message rather offering any real figures or data. Thus, despite his popularity with audiences, Kaep is a convenient scapegoat. It’s convenient as a headline and that’s about it.

Another point was made that Kaep and others who do peacefully voice an opinion / raise awareness as only they can given the platform and audiences at their disposal should just accept the consequences when they voice unpopular views and are ridiculed or ostracised. I don’t think anyone who has voiced an opinion, popular or not, ever assumed that they shouldn’t face ridicule or disagreement. But, this same rationale only goes so far. More often than not, it crosses a line between respectful disagreement and outright hatred and threats of violence. Rather ironic in this particular case given why Kaep kneeled in the first place.

What really bothers is that this rationale harkens back to the justifications for the absurd public shaming and death threats lobbed at the Dixie Chicks when they were told to just ‘shut up and sing’.

Death threats for voicing an opinion. Peaceably exercising their freedom of expression. 

Does Kaep or did the Dixie Chicks deserve that? Rather than hear them out, we appear awfully quick to dismiss their concerns and demonise them. Pointing out the hypocrisy, particularly in the case of Kaep, seemingly falls on deaf ears and a return to the logical of ‘shut up and play’. 

Yes, athletes are performing a job. Yes, they are ‘entertaining’ us (or fans of sport X). But, why oh why do we think they have no right to have a voice? Why are we so quick to shame and punish Kaep for exercising his right, but we allow others to commit insanely violent and disgusting acts and to continue playing whilst reaping unbelievable financial rewards as well?

It both surprises me and doesn’t that a tracking tool was developed to log crimes committed by various NFL players. In addition to drunk driving and drugs possessions charges, one incidence lists ‘head butting his wife’ and ‘throwing a shoe at an 18-month-old infant’.

That’s lovely role-modelling there.

In my post yesterday, someone else commented that they were in favour of not allowing anyone convicted of a crime from playing in the NFL again. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I certainly would balk at supporting a team that allows rapists and those perpetrating domestic violence on their playing field or in their uniforms. I certainly wouldn’t honour a player convicted of using dogs as bait (e.g., Vick’s induction into Virginia Tech’s Sports Hall of Fame). 

Kaep wasn’t violent (unlike a heap of other players, convicted or otherwise), he didn’t commit a crime (freedom of speech was and still is legal, thankfully) and he serves as a positive role model in his community off the football field as well (rather quietly I would say).

Admittedly, I’m not a fan of American football. At all. It’s just never really been that interesting to me. If I were a fan, though, I’d be more supportive of a team that stood behind Kaep than I would be of teams who continue standing behind the likes of Vick and others in that tracking tool.

Shaun King wrote an incredible piece on his obsessive love of football and why he was now boycotting the NFL. For him, as a lifelong football fan, he won’t watch or follow the sport any longer as well given the inherent hypocrisy of Kaep.

For a sport which to me is so over-the-top patriotic, why oh why are we punishing individuals for trying to make our country and ourselves better?