Friday, May 22, 2009

Terrorist Plot - Walking the Tightrope

A terrorist plot was revealed in New York this week. Four men, men who studied Islam while in prison, have reportedly been under investigation for a year as they plotted to buy bombs and surface to air missiles with the intent of bombing a Bronx synagogue and shooting down military planes.

They were arrested, the FBI says, as they were planting the dummy bombs they'd bought. They'd also allegedly bought a broken Stinger missile from the feds.

It brings back a lot of unsettling feelings in New York and that's completely understandable. But as I covered the story the first thing I wanted to do was be certain not to fall into the anti-Muslim hysteria that seems to be our default position.

I found the family of a young Pakistan-born soldier from Newburgh who died in Afghanistan last year, fighting for his adopted country - the United States.

"My brother," I was told, "was the most patriotic person I know. He enlisted right after 9-11 - he thought it was his duty."

They belonged to the mosque where the alleged terrorists prayed, and they were disgusted by the possibility that they'd prayed next to these men.

I spoke to one of the officials at a little village that's been told it's one of the top terrorist targets in the state - a thriving Hassidic town on the outskirts of New York City.

"This," I was told, "is a case of extremism. It's very sad."

Thinking people know you cannot paint a religion, a race, a culture with a broad brush. It is a collection of individuals and in that collection will be people who are bad. There will be people who do not respect human life and have no tolerance for beliefs other than their own. That is human nature. There's plenty of that in our own country.

Yet when I read our local paper, there was a headline guaranteed to shock.

"Suspect's Imam Has Ties to Local College"

Sounds threatening, doesn't it? But if you actually read the story, it explains that the Imam is a well respected man who is considered very moderate, who has been one of several chaplains at the college for years and denounces terrorism.

"We are teaching tolerance," he said in the article. "We are teaching respect."

And our local newspaper is teaching sensationalism.

No wonder the media gets a bad name. But then, that's painting us all with a broad brush, too.

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