Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The difference between us and them...

I just finished reading Paul Krugman's excellent article in today's NY Times, "Noonday in the Shade." It is a shame that there are people for whom the case still needs to be made that john ashcroft is a horrible attorney general, and Paul makes the argument forcefully and convincingly, but reading it just reminds me how deeply entrenched the 'us vs. them' mentality is.

It doesn't surprise me that there are people out there who want to blow things up and kill people. It is a complicated world and there are angry people everywhere who are angry for a thousand different reasons. So it isn't surprising that someone in this country has a stash of chemical weapons and artillery that he wanted to unleash on targets in this country. It is sad, I am relieved that he was stopped, but not really shocking. But it reminds me why I am so annoyed when family and friends make sweeping judgments about 'them.' These days 'them' are Arabs or Muslims (it is assumed that these two groups are one in the same), and they just hate the world and want to blow things up or destroy America. All Middle Easterners (except Israelis) are backwards religious fanatics (about the wrong religion) who are either viewed as sympathetic poor masses who need our intervention and guidance or as jealous crazies who are waiting to get within striking distance so they can attack.

I mean, what kind of monster would blow up an American building (Timothy McVeigh?), or stockpile chemical weapons to use against a US target (white supremacist, William Krar?)? Really though, what kind of evil person could behead someone? I have to admit, even though a beheading only kills one person as opposed to the thousands a bomb can rend in a moment, there is something very visceral and wrenching about this crime. It is so first person and intensive an act that you can't help reacting to it as an observer. And no one in this country would ever do anything THAT horrible. It couldn't happen here.

Or, maybe it could. I can't find anything on the internet about it, but I remember distinctly getting a call from my mother last year while walking around Chinatown. One of my younger sister's childhood friends' brother had been killed. I didn't really know him, but I remember that his sister was always at our house. I figured that it was some kind of car accident, but then the rest of the story: murder, angry friend, decapitated. I don't remember the details except for one; they cut his head clean off. In sleepy rural Alabama. Good Christian white people.

So it didn't make the news, and was handled quietly and didn't really make the news. But not that much makes the news where I am from. It didn't make the news when the Middle Eastern family that had lived there for years and who everyone knew was run out of town by the silent boycott of their gas station after 9/11. It did make the news when a kid from my highschool class "hung himself in the county jail," in about that much detail. It didn't say that he had been a happy well-liked fellow or that in hanging himself he had somehow managed to be badly beaten and cut up.

Us vs. Them really isn't all that different than Us vs. Us. It may not seem like it, but I really do have a mostly positive outlook. It is just that when I look around and acknowledge that shit happens, I realize it doesn't just happen over there; it happens next door.

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