7/15/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper
In his July 7 column, “From alienation to annihilation,” Financial Times writer Stephen Fidler asks, in reference to al-Qaida members and other disaffected groups: “Why do they do it? What is it that turns young men, some with good life prospects, into suicide bombers?” Fidler deftly explores the reasons these young men, overwhelmingly Muslim, choose to kill themselves to kill others.
Here is my question, in reference to America’s traditionally disaffected groups, mainly American blacks and Hispanics: Why don’t they do it? Why don’t young men in the United States, most with few good life prospects, turn into suicide bombers or other kinds of political terrorists?
America has been very, very lucky. Given our harsh treatment of select outsiders, we should be grateful that we have lived mostly in domestic tranquility.
Members of the noxious paramilitary Militia Movement notwithstanding, none of our domestic groups, even our most despised outsiders, to my knowledge, have become so politicized that they have taken up arms to threaten critical masses of ordinary citizens and icons of the republic.
Some European nations, on the other hand, including England, France and Spain, have felt the wrath of homegrown bombers and gunmen who are bonded by religion or politics or ethnicity. In these nations, disaffected young men have attacked innocent citizens and centers of government.
Again, America has had a different experience.
Even during the heyday of slavery in the Old Confederacy, radical slaves had difficulty persuading their peers to take up arms against their masters. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Black Panther Party, along with a few Panther wanna-bes, tried their hand at armed resistance, but the battles were so one-sided in favor of the police the Panthers packed up their guns or took them off the streets.
Few Americans, especially whites, give serious thought to the fact that U.S.-born blacks have endured unforgivable harsh treatment since the moment they were dragged to our shores as human chattel. Throughout our history and in every part of society, blacks have been demonized, ostracized, hanged, beaten, burned and imprisoned. The miracle is that they have not become permanent guerrillas.
“Blacks have never been, and are not now, really considered to be citizens here,” the late black novelist James Baldwin wrote in his 1985 book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen. “Blacks exist, in the American imagination, and in relation to American institutions, in reference to slave codes.”
Why, then, haven’t blacks become terrorists?
One major reason, I believe, is that blacks aren’t as violent as they are portrayed. From what I know, most black violence is inflicted against fellow blacks – their neighbors – not against white individuals and racist institutions that intentionally abuse them.
Much of the same can be said of Hispanics, who diligently perform our dirty, backbreaking labor. For more than a century, Hispanics, especially Mexicans, have been mistreated in this country. During the Bracero Program, from 1942 to 1964, Mexican farm workers were virtual slaves. From the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, they were abused. They have every right to be angry and militant.
And today, Hispanics, especially Mexicans, are demonized and otherwise mistreated more than ever. CNN news anchor Lou Dobbs, most notably, has created a lucrative persona by bashing undocumented Hispanic workers. He’s gone so far as to claim, falsely, that Hispanic immigrants have caused a drastic increase in the number of leprosy cases in the United States.
The truth, which has been lost in the hateful rhetoric spewing from all corners of the nation and from the Beltway, is that most of the Hispanic workers in the United States are hard-working, peaceful, law-abiding and family-oriented. I’m not condoning illegal immigration. What I am saying is that we are demonizing laborers who do not have evil or destructive designs on the nation.
As with American-born blacks, the miracle is that Hispanics, Mexicans in particular, have not become politically radicalized to the extent that they attempt to strike back with violence.
America is lucky that its two most demonized, abused and disenfranchised populations are essentially docile – more interested in self-preservation than in ethnic and religious revenge and the destruction of our way of life.
Instead of fomenting cruelty, we should be thanking our lucky stars.