What Separates Us


Four days before my eleventh birthday, I was sitting in music class at school, like every other morning in fifth grade. We came back across the hall into our regular classroom, where our teachers were standing in front of the TV. I remember Mrs. Jenkins had her hand over her mouth and tears streaming down her face. They turned the TV off, took a deep breath, and life went on. I didn’t think anything of it.

By 3:25 p.m., I knew something was wrong. My mom picked my sister and me up from school that day, which never happened. We were bus kids, living on a farm about ten miles from town, and she usually didn’t get off before school was out. I wondered, on our way to Grandma’s house, what could have happened that suddenly changed our routine. When we got to there, Mom told us.

She said that some people had flown planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Centers. Bearing in mind that I was eleven and Kaitlyn was seven, we had no idea what she was talking about until she said, “You know, the Twin Towers?” I can’t remember now which of us asked why anyone would do such a thing. What I will always remember, though, is how she replied: That these misguided men had done something horrible that killed a lot of people, because they had been led to believe it was what God wanted. That they thought it was the right thing to do.

How can killing a bunch of people you’ve never even met be right?

As I sat at the computer on the thirteenth anniversary of that disaster, reading about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), that’s what I kept thinking about. The day my mom sat down on her mother’s couch and cried, because she knew this would start the war of our generation. I remember wondering whether some kid’s mom in Afghanistan or somewhere was crying for the same reason, or maybe because her son crashed into a building. I wondered if some kid’s mom, in some desert country I’d never heard of, was proud that he took thousands of people with him. To say it was out of my ability to understand would be putting it lightly.

I’ve heard about ISIS for months now, and it seems everyone but me knows what should be done about it. I’ve read about a jillion articles and fact sheets and I’m more confused now than I was in the beginning. I feel I should throw out a late warning at this point that, for readers familiar with my blog, this is not going to be as fact-heavy or as sure-sounding as most of the previous posts.

The back-story to ISIS is a somewhat convoluted one, but the bottom line is that this group intends to establish a single Islamic state. In the aftermath of the World Wars, much of the Middle East was carved up into new territories, and the former caliphate was lost. Unfortunately, their methods are increasingly violent, including beheading of those who stand against them. Many propaganda images and videos have been put out as the group exercises their social media abilities, largely using fear tactics to promote recruitment.

As the brutality of their takeover escalates, Americans are divided on what role—if any—we should play. The current plan is to arm and train “moderate” Syrian rebels, as well as expanding air strikes from those in Iraq to include targets in Syria. While most everyone agrees that getting involved isn’t copacetic to the Obama ideal of bringing our troops home, there is a significant concern that ISIS will eventually target America the way Al-Qaeda did. For the time being, the administration claims there will be no “boots on the ground” in these efforts, but the public seems skeptical.

Whether or not we should be involved is a thread I can’t pull on. There are valid arguments on each side, though it seems inevitable that we will be targeted by this group in terrorist attacks. Something needs to be done, but I can’t say what that is. What I wanted to say, is this:

I am not defending the actions of anyone willing to televise the cold-blooded murder of a man on the basis that he is a nonbeliever… but these are still essentially people who think they are doing the right thing. These people, regardless of the atrocities they commit, believe this to be their divine calling. Those of us standing outside that culture can look at it and say without doubt that these are extremists, and that what they are doing is heinous. We can look at the dehumanizing way they treat anyone opposing them, and see that it is wrong. The thing about war is, it has a way of making you dehumanize the enemy. I can understand that it’s hard to kill someone you empathize with, even when you believe their death will benefit the greater good. But while we’re bracing ourselves for the next wave of the War on Terror, let’s all try to remember that these are just more misguided men.

It’s easy to look at the evil in the acts, and apply it to the people supporting them, but let’s all just try to keep it in mind that they’re not the first to do horrible things in the name of faith. It certainly does not absolve them or excuse their odious crimes, and they should still be stopped, but these people think the very same thing of you and me. If one of us doesn’t have compassion, then we are all on the same side of the moral spectrum, and that is a terrifying thought.

Information on ISIS and Obama’s Strategy: