Thursday, August 17, 2006

Amerika The Fearful - A Nightmare Experience In The Field of Dreams

Disclaimer – I am still so upset by the encounter I am about to describe to you that I cannot guarantee objectivity or clear thought or a global sense of perspective. Here is my account of an incident that has my blood pressure elevated this morning:

I was at Fenway Park for last night’s game against the mighty Detroit Tigers. I had invited as my guests some friends from Quebec. Those of you who know me are aware that I am never without a book in my possession. Last night was no exception. I am reading, as part of my background research for my novel project, a book on terrorism in Indonesia, “Allah’s Torch,” by a gifted writer from National Geographic by the name of Tracy Dahlby. I was reading the book on the T and brought it with me into the park.

Early in the game, I needed to find a quiet spot to make a cell phone call, so I left Jeff and Julie for a few moments, leaving my book on the unoccupied seat next to Julie. Also on that seat was Jeff’s Red Sox backpack, a red, white and blue item that had been carefully screened and tagged as we entered Fenway Park earlier in the evening. As I left to make my phone call, I placed the book underneath the backpack. Soon after I returned to my seat, a man came from across the aisle and started speaking to Jeff and Julie and pointing at the book. Here is the gist of his monologue:

“What is this book – ‘Allah’s Torch’? What right do you people have to bring a book like that into a place like this with all of the high alert about terrorism. How do I know there is not a bomb in that backpack? What am I supposed to think? I see an unoccupied seat, a backpack and a book about Allah! Who wrote this book? Why are you reading it? Don’t you know what is going on in this country?”

Jeff and Julie speak French as their first language. Although their English is quite good, they were not prepared or equipped to deal with the diatribe being directed towards them by our neighbor. They sheepishly pointed to me and informed him that I was the owner of the book, so he started in on me. My answer consisted basically of:

“The author is a writer from the National Geographic. The book is about terrorism and Indonesia.”

He continued to rant and rave about the inappropriateness of bringing a book with such a title to Fenway Park. I waved him away and said: “Go sit down and watch the game.”

Several innings went by and Jeff, Julie and I headed up the aisle towards the refreshment stand and bathrooms. We took our belongings with us. The man across the aisle and his friend followed us up the aisle and confronted us near the entrance to the Men’s Room.

“What is this ‘Allah’s Torch’ all about anyway. Do you know that we were one second away from dialing 911 and calling in the bomb squad when we saw this book sitting next to a backpack. Tell me about this book and what you are reading it!”

“Sir, are you with Fenway Security?”

“No, I am not. I am an attorney. Why are you giving me attitude – why are you so defensive if there is nothing wrong with your book? Don’t you know what is going on in this country? And my friend here is an off-duty police officer, and we don’t like seeing a book like
‘Allah’s Torch’ near a backpack in a public place.”

There was more, but I think you get the picture. At that point, I asked Jeff to go and find a security guard to stop the harassment.

“Good – go get security! I’ll tell them we almost called the bomb squad on you.”

By the time a phalanx of Fenway security personnel arrived, the Brown Shirts had dispersed, and the incident was over.

* * * *

I am completely supportive of all of the efforts we are making to protect ourselves from terror – at home and abroad. Regular readers of this Blog are aware that I have lost friends who have given their lives fighting terror. So, for me, this is not an issue of not acknowledging the need to be vigilant for danger. My issue – and my great fear – is that in the rush to protect ourselves from a wide variety of “boogie men,” many well-meaning citizens are painting with a broad brush and equating Islam with terrorism. For a book with the name “Allah” in the title to trigger an Orwellian outburst like the one that my friends and I encountered last night is frightening and sad.

Just because Al Qaeda perpetrates outrage in the name of Allah does not make every Muslim a terrorist or potential terrorist. I, as a Christian, would hate to be held accountable for every act of terror that has been perpetrated in the name of God in Northern Ireland, Serbia, or dozens of other hot spots where zealots chose to hide their political activities behind the cloak of religion.

My father, and hundreds of thousands of members of his “Greatest Generation” went to war in Europe and the Pacific to rid the world of the kind of thinking that I encountered last night in the stands at Fenway. If our diligence in protecting ourselves from external forces of evil leads on a regular basis to the kind of paranoia and group think that I witnessed last evening, then we are heading down a slippery slope. Last night, I looked into the eyes of fear, loathing, xenophobia, demagoguery and jingoism – and it was not a pretty sight.

I did not like what I saw and I did not like what I felt. I was furious at one level for the personal harassment. But I was even more furious because of what such thinking and behavior portends. It sounds almost hackneyed to use the phrase “the terrorists have won,” but the kind of ticking internal time bomb of fear that I saw expressed last night can ultimately be more damaging to our nation than any explosive device that might be planted. That the Twin Towers fell is a tragedy we will all live with for the rest of our lives. But it would be an ever more broad and more profound tragedy if we were to allow to collapse and to crumble in a heap of paranoia and repression the majestic edifice that we have built in this great nation – twin towers of individual freedom and a melting pot for all peoples.

A little bit of me died last night when I realized that I now need to think about what I might be able to read in public. Can book burnings be far behind!

* * * *

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

It is all well and good to decry bigotry and fear and loathing. What can we do – what can I do? Well, for one thing, I am going to be sure and tell each of my Muslim friends how much I value them as neighbors and fellow Americans. I refuse to let the terrorists win!

Thanks for listening to me vent.



Anonymous said...

What an incredible experience. Thank you so much for sharing it -- for using it as a teaching tool for all of us. Rather than perpetuate the bigotry and hate, you are using it for a good purpose. I, too, will send this to my Muslim friend to affirm him.

Anonymous said...

C'mon man, get your head out of your arse !!! The current state of our world means we all have to be sensitive to situations EXACTLY like you described. Is it a stretch of the imagination to think that it was indeed a bomb planted by a nefarious individual? 15 years ago I would say yes, but for God’s sake man the 9/11 bombers originated here in Boston……..Your civil liberties were not impugned, your reading selection was challenged by a vigilant bystander. I would have reported it to security rather than suffer the consequences. Dude, its great you are so enlightened to love all….really !! You seem like a great guy, but c’mon the guy was not a fascist he was as we all should be AWARE.

Andrew said...

Is it common for terrorists to seek to conceal the existence of bombs in backpacks with "Allah's Torch"? Next time, they might find that a volume such as "Hunting the Cheney Way" provides better camo.
Yes, I am aware that one of the earlier commenters may consider this advice to constitute abetting terrorists...

Chris said...

His reading selection was challenged by a vigilant bystander? That's a powerful sort of irony. I assume the author was reading Allah's Torch in order to better understand the effects of fundamental Islam in different parts of the world (i.e. Indonesia). What happened to knowledge being power?
Perhaps the vigilance we should encourage is one of understanding, as demonstrated by reading books like Allah's Torch, and not the kind that encourages accosting French-Canadians in Fenway Park.

Anonymous said...

Al's assailants weren't vigilant bystanders. From the moment Al described the subject matter of his book, any aware person would instantly know that it was a misunderstanding.

That would have been the time for a vigilant bystander to make an apology, and perhaps to gently remind Al to be sensitive to appearances.

Instead, they actively promoted fear by escalating a misunderstanding to a threatening argument.

Every industry, including the terrorism industry, needs mongers. Some of them like to work on a volunteer basis.