Twenty years ago, a half dozen men from various nations in the Middle East received the approval and formed a cell affiliated with Islamic extremist terror organization, Al-Qaeda. Their expressed goal was to attack both military and non-military interest of the United States and their allies who they believe are a part of a Christian and Jewish alliance that they have determined to destroy. By late October of 2000, they found their target: United State’s Naval Destroyer, the USS Cole.
On October 12th of that year, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri lead a group including Tawfiq bin Attash, Jamal Ahmad Mohammad Al Badawi, Fahd al-Quso and Abu Ali al-Harethi along with two suicide bombers and took the lives of 17 sailors on board the USS Cole and injured nearly 40 others. My brother, Cherone Gunn, was one of those 17 that lost his life in the attack.
It was a horrific and violent act perpetrated by individuals claiming an allegiance to the Islamic faith, used that faith to justify my brother’s murder.
This week, an Australian extremist, Breton Tarrant, opened fire on the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand murdering 49 and injuring 48 others. Tarrant is not alone. In October of last year, Robert Bowers, walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue, murdering 11 and wounding six others. A few days earlier, Gregory Bush attempted to enter a predominantly black church in Jeffersontown, Kentucky before finding a Kroger Supermarket where he shot and killed two, both black and elected to not shoot another because he proclaimed “Whites don’t kill whites. In 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette walked into the Islamic Centre of Quebec City and killed six, wounding another 19. June 17th of 2015, Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and killed nine during bible study. August 5, 2012, Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh Temple in Milwaukee to kill six and would three others. In the Summer of 2008, David Adkisson killed two shooting six others in a Unitarian church in Tenessee.
These are some of the most recent mass murders targeted at religious institutions. These massacres did not just take place in these institutions, but they happened because of very specific reasons and by specific persons. These attacks happened because these individuals used hate of race and religion as justification to attack and kill persons who had no quarrel with them at all. Just like the group of individuals who attacked and killed my brother, Cherone.
I can’t help but to think of the stark dichotomy of these circumstances. These individuals that attacked these temples, mosques and churches due to perceived grievances against those of a race and religion, they cultivated hate and courted violence. And just the same, al-Nashiri, Badawi, al-Quso, Attash and al-Harethi, they used their hate to justify the murder of my brother. But not once over the last 20 years have I even thought to use my grievance as reason to hate another. While Tarrant, Bowers, Bush, Roof and Page internalized their hurt and blindly broadcasted it with hateful intent to an entire race and religion. In my case, I can’t even conceive that being possible. Not that I don’t want to think that way. I don’t even know how. Yes those responsible for killing my brother might call themselves Muslim and native of a Arab nation, but I have known, befriended, loved and cared for others that have done nothing but enhance my existence and made me a better person. I cannot associate experiences with one to unfairly judge another. What if you were to think of it another way? I can no more blame any of them as I could blame men in general, since those responsible for my brother’s death were all men. They all also had facial hair. So should I hate everyone with facial hair too? They all have brown eyes, so perhaps I cannot trust those of you who also have brown eyes. Sounds silly? Blaming a race or religion is just as silly.
As a matter of fact, it is the likes of Roof, Bowers, Page and Tarrant that have more in common with al-Nashiri and his cell than any other Muslim I have ever met. They are the ones who hate and use violence and destruction. Not my friends and family.
I cannot ascribe the acts of a few upon the lives and fortunes of millions of others. It’s a matter of an irrelated circumstance. As a matter of fact, I would say it isn’t in our nature to have such a thought from a prompt of hate. To hate an entire race or religion because of the actions of a few individuals never occurred to me. And honestly, I don’t think it simply occurs to anyone. This is something you have to have been taught. Hate is not instinctive. It does not manifest without a precipice. But when it is used to ignore extenuating qualities of singular individuals, that is only something that can be learned.
And if it is being learned, it can also be rejected.