The yellow ribbons are what I remember most from that year. From the television images that flashed into our living room night after night, they seemed to be tied around trees all over Washington DC. “Why don’t they have them in Brooklyn?” I recall asking my mother in her native Turkish “Well, the hostages are all from Washington,” she replied. “Not from around here.”
While it was true that the American hostages that were taken by Iranian radicals in 1979 were diplomats, I couldn’t understand why there were no yellow ribbons in our neighborhood. Based on the jeers from my third grade classmates, I was sure that they too would want to exhibit their pain. They surely expressed it to me.
“You murderer!” one classmate shouted.
“But I’m not Iranian,” I whimpered, not even bothering to address the fact that no American had been killed.
“Liar,” another yelled.
A liar because as an American born to Turkish Muslim parents I must have had some connection to the event. In 1979 in Brooklyn, New York that was the same as being an Iranian radical in Tehran. I was someone to blame. And given the great pain the country was going through, someone to blame was important. Blame still seems to be important as we soldier through America’s most recent nightmare in Tucson.
The Tucson shootings that injured Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and took the lives of six unleashed a torrent of blame on the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. That is unfortunate, misplaced and worrisome.
Among the key principles the United States was founded on was due process and responsibility. Though the court of public opinion has maligned the former, its justice system has persevered to uphold just that. It is not perfect. But it is powerful.
Responsibility, on the other hand, has somehow atrophied. In its place vituperative harangues and accusations. With the Arizona shootings it is the left accusing the right. This past summer we saw the right pillaging Islam as a collection of terrorists in order to prevent the construction of an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan. That is why I so very appreciated President Obama’s words last week from Arizona:
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.
And make sure that we’re talking in a way that helps us restore accountability, which is slowly evaporating from our lives. With it, it is taking trust and community. Though we live in a hyper connected world through Oprah, Facebook, Twitter and 24-hour news channels, it seems as though we’re not listening to one another. We salve (not a typo!) our problems through medicines, alcohol, diets and law suits in order to avoid solving them. Solving problems requires a look both inward at ourselves and outward to others, to stand in their rhetorical shoes. Given that in today’s world it is difficult just to stand in our own, we’re not able to see ourselves much less the other side. It is an explanation, but certainly not an excuse.
Today it seems we choose to clutch on to fear. That is what my classmates did in 1979 when they ostracized me for events on the other side of the world, to which their only connection was the passport we all have in common.
Given that at the time we were all in the third-grade, I can understand and even forgive. Not sure, however, what to make of the current atmosphere of accusations. Is it a question of graduating beyond the primary schoolyard or regressing into an irresponsible nation? Not sure which is worse.
This post is a Hybrid Ambassadors blog-ring project.
You met our multinational Dialogue 2010 cultural innovators last spring in a roundtable discussion of hybrid life at expat+HAREM and followed their reactions to a polarizing book promotion. In this round they offer their thoughts on the recent shooting incident in Tucson, Arizona. You can read the other posts below:
Tara Lutman Agacayak’s Enough
Catherine Bayar’s We the People
Catherine Yigit United in Fear
Sezin Koehler’s The Culture of Violence