The culture of fear in America is pushed on its citizens under the guise that we are creating a united front by spying on our neighbors. In fact, the opposite is true. For all our subterfuge and constant vigilance, our cities and towns are no safer than they were before 9/11. Implications by the Bush administration that we are under constant threat of imminent attack and that anyone could be a terrorist has turned neighbor against neighbor. Anyone who may act or look different can and could very well be considered a suspected extremist and be reported to the authorities immediately.

Yes, it is true that anyone can be a terrorist. And we should be vigilant and look out for our neighbor. But when one hears stories like some that have surfaced as of late, it seems more and more people are scared of our neighbors and for no other reason than perhaps their skin is a darker color, they hold particular beliefs, or they appear “different”.

Take Kazim Ali, a poetry professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, for instance. He had a lot of explaining to do when a “concerned citizen” reported to authorities that a man of Middle Eastern descent had just placed a suspicious package next to a trash can on campus. In reality, the only true crime committed was by the citizen for assuming that the only package a darker skinned person could be leaving would contain a bomb. The suspicious parcel by the trash? A box of old poetry that Ali had left to be recycled.

In another example from British Columbia, there is Andrew Feldmar, a well-known psychotherapist who is highly respected in his field. He traveled to the United States several times a year for work and to visit his family. Last summer, he was permanently denied entrance into the country after a Homeland Security officer Googled his name and discovered an article he had written about his experimentation with and the possible psychotherapeutic uses of LSD. When did his experience happen? Nearly 40 years ago, before it had even been outlawed in 1970. This man is a holocaust survivor and scholar, an intelligent and thoughtful person who has worked closely with the U.N. in Sarajevo and in Minsk with Chernobyl victims. He has much to offer this country, but because the war on drugs married the war on terror and he has at one point in his life consumed an illegal drug, he has been branded a threat to security and is barred from the country.
And finally, six Muslims were removed from a U.S. Airways flight after another passenger viewed their appearance and prayers to be suspicious and panicked. If it had been any other color of person saying a Hail Mary, there would have been no report.

As far as our society is are concerned, the terrorists are winning. They have us in precisely the position they want us to be in. We are allowing ourselves to be terrorized and held hostage by fear. We are so busy pointing our fingers for the smallest differences between ourselves and our neighbors that we have become a country divided beyond any damage political lines have caused. In order to bring us back to a united front, we must stop being afraid, start taking action, and for pity’s sake we have to stop being so paranoid. When an advertisement of a cartoon character that looks like a child’s light-bright toy can be mistaken for an improvised explosive device, we have truly ascended to a new height of hysteria.

This article and others by this author can also be found at Sense & Serendipity.

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