buzzwords and labels

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed just now and noticed an abundance of the word terrorist in my feed, accompanied–of course–as always–with much anger and outrage.  It was another day in America.  One more mass shooting by a white man and more unfair portraits that would be so different if he were brown.

I get it.  In fact, I’ve been one of the ones on a soapbox saying as much.

Earlier today, when the news hit, I was disturbed by the weariness it inspired in me.  Not even a curiosity about why or how–just an of course.  And then–finally–sadness.  Because of course.

But, reading my brilliant friends’ arguments about the fact that this man was–in fact–a terrorist–I wondered–

What does that even fucking mean?

I like words.  So much in fact that I have had an email address since God knows when that says as much.  Picking the right word for the right meaning?  It matters.  And as much as I agree that the word terrorist fits the situation and all the other situations–I gotta wonder…

Is that word just another way to disconnect?  And is that word continuing the harm our dialogue is seeking to examine?  Doesn’t it make the “bad men” the boogeymen in the closet Agent Orange is saying he’s protecting us from?  Or is it deeper than that?


Years ago, I wrote a post here–I think–about the little boy I grew up with who was arrested for being a terrorist years after I lost track of him.

His mother used to make me food.  His father once took a tack out of my foot after a late night chase through our neighborhood went awry.  I used to swing his little brother helicopter style in my front yard.  Oh, and I beat him up quite a few times.

We were like siblings, for a while.

And yet–that little boy I knew–that funny, smart, obnoxious 9 year old was accused of conspiring with men who wanted people like me to die–who killed a friend of mine on 9/11.


When you grow up with someone, it’s impossible–no matter what they’re doing–no matter what they’ve done–to see them as a boogeyman.  He’s just that boy who life happened to.  And so, you start scanning your memory for clues–hints that it was coming–or you deny it–because they have to be wrong.  But, mostly, you find that there are no hints…usually…just more questions and more walls.  And usually they’re not wrong.  Usually, there’s good reason to believe they really are the ones who wanted this reality over that other one.

But why?

That’s the question, right?  The ultimate one for everything.


Sometimes, there isn’t an answer.  At least not one we can access.  So, we’re left with examining our own darkness.

That word–terrorist–it’s like monster–or all those awful names we throw at people to let the world know that they are different from us.  Less than.  Not human.  Wrong.

Be careful how you throw about such words.  I’ve seen a disturbing trend lately as it relates to Nazis.  Nazis suck, to be sure.  And they should be fought with laws and all the tools of justice.  But, more and more, I’ve heard people say it’s okay to beat the shit out of them.

How does that make us any different from them?

I get it.  I do.

I am so angry about what is happening in our country that I sometimes pray for liberal domestic terrorists to take back our country.  It’s an immature, stupid thought that speaks to my lesser bullshit.

At my core, I believe in justice–in fairness–in trials and juries and all the things that safeguard liberty in our country.  But I am beyond frustrated by how slow justice is and how broken it all seems.  Frustrated because I am supremely impatient when I’m witnessing suffering.

And while punching a Nazi is romantically satisfying on some level, that idea is the same that gives them power and strengthens their ideology.  A more violent world–even one where the violence is said to be deserved–is a world where Nazis actually thrive.  Where our lesser everything is given platforms.  It’s hard to be fair.  To invest in systems that take time and negotiation.  It’s hard to speak with people we’ve made into monsters.  It’s hard to understand–or even want to–when they’ve maimed us and our friends.

But that’s when it’s most important.  To remember they were once much more than those labels.  They were once little boys we had falafels with in a back yard.  They were once people who meant something to someone.

As much as we want to say that crazy men or shitty humans are responsible for all the crap in the world, the truth is we all are.  The line between madman or terrorist and normal Joe Schmo is a small one.  People rarely say, “Oh, I totally thought he’d murder a bunch of people.”  Because if they did, they’d be complicit, right?  Or they’d have done something.  Which makes me wonder how many more things were stopped because people did something.

I firmly believe we are all part of the solution and also part of the problem.  What we give energy to–it expands–and what we ignore?  It demands we wake up.  And the darkness inside us is as universal and often brutal as any that existed in that man.  Maybe we just lack the guts or the tools or the opportunity.  Or maybe the ways we explode are more subtle.

The problem of mass violence–and terrorism–is a supremely human one–and it requires we stop relying on our collective shorthand about enemies and actually see each other.  The reason this keeps happening–the reason we’re unsafe–is we think we understand–but the truth is we aren’t even asking the right questions–of them–but mostly ourselves.


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