Yesterday, I checked out of my hotel in downtown Chicago. I had a few hours before I needed to catch a train to my parents’ place in Bloomington, so I sat at a table in the lobby with my laptop and decided to get some work done.
There was a white man in his early 40’s at a table next to mine, and he struck up a conversation with me.
After asking where I was from and how I liked Chicago, he asked what I did for a living.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“What do you write about?” he asked.
“I wrote a book about a Somali refugee family who lives in the U.S. now,” I said, referencing The Invisible Girls.
“Oh, so you write about terrorists,” he said with an inauthentic grin on his face.
I thought I misheard him. I thought he could not possibly have said what I thought he just said.
“What did you say?” I asked.
“I said, it sounds like you write about terrorists.”
“No,” I said, my voice low and firm. “I write about refugees.”
He picked up his things and left.
I sat there, stunned. I wish he’d stuck around long enough for me to tell him that he was afraid of 5 little girls in braids and dresses. That would’ve felt good. And I wish he’d stuck around long enough for us to undo his misconceptions and maybe, if we were very lucky, diffuse his anger.
It’s not okay, people. It is just NOT OKAY on so many levels.
It’s not okay to think that all people from Somalia are terrorists. Yes, they do have some pirates there, as made famous by the Captain Phillips movie. Yes, Mogadishu (the capital of Somalia) was, for many years, the #1 most dangerous city in the world. But 99.9% of Somalis are fleeing that violence, not perpetrating it.
It’s not okay to think that all Muslims are terrorists. The majority of terrorist attacks committed on U.S. soil are carried out by white male extremists. In fact, twice as many people have died at the hands of these white men than at the hands of Muslims.
It’s not okay to use anger as a weapon. Anger is the basest emotion. It is the worst place to operate from. It is the least helpful motivation. Anger is corrosive, and it will rot ours souls if we let it stay.
It’s not okay to be afraid. Should we be wise? YES. Should we screen people to try to detect those who might have violent tendencies? YES. But wisdom is not the same thing as fear. Wisdom operates out of a positive place of gentleness and love. Fear operates out of a negative place and makes us withdraw from people instead of pressing in.
The Bible tells us over and over and over again (365 times, actually) not to be afraid. Why? Because fear and love cannot co-exist.
If you know that you are loved by the Divine Love who sees, knows and cares for you, your fear will disappear.
If you live out the call to love your neighbor as yourself — and to love your enemies — you won’t withdraw from them in fear; you will press in to them with a selfless love that is willing to go so far as to die with them, for them or even because of them.
And so. To the man who called Somali refugee girls terrorists, I hope you woke up this morning re-thinking your words. I hope you are embarrassed by them. I hope you see how rude, small and ugly you acted yesterday.
I hope your heart is captured by the God who so loves the world — who so loves you.
I hope that you learn what John said — that there is no fear in love because love drives out all your fear.
And I hope that rather than stereotyping, disparaging, labeling, hating and fearing your neighbors, you will learn to love them instead. The way that God loves you.