The narrative of the “Global War on Terror” has been shaping American news and American thinking since 2001. Anticipation that “they,” the terrorists, are bent on destroying “our” way of life shapes and changes our perspective of ourselves and our interactions with others. It has changed our relationship with and perspectives on both foreign and domestic dangers.
While overall threats to safety for the average American citizen are lower than they have been in recent decades, my school-aged children now practice for a school invader several times a year. The college where I teach hosts drills with local police departments to prepare for a campus-based attack. The simple act of attending sporting events and public museums now requires a bag search. The last time I flew with my children, they were required to take off their shoes and coats and were checked for explosive residue on their clothes.
The public narrative is frequently one of remaining constantly vigilant in a state of fear.
Media commentators and private citizens view movements of political unrest or public protests through the lens of “supporting the terrorists.” And the public narrative of this conflict is often presented — overtly and covertly — in terms of racial and cultural conflicts. “They,” the radicalized Islamic terrorists, are portrayed as black and brown, and “they” are bent on destroying the values of the (white-skin dominated) West. Respected politicians, media figures, and even church leaders argue publicly for “racial profiling” and spying on houses of faith to prevent terror attacks. A local church leader in my town regularly writes opinion pieces predicting that Muslim people are working to impose Sharia law on the state of Illinois. I frequently overhear acquaintances worry about their personal vulnerability as certain media venues perpetuate the stereotype that terrorism is focused on “American values” (which are presumed to be Judeo-Christian, white, and middle-class).
The problem with this public narrative is that it is incomplete, and perpetuating this story that black or brown perpetrators are out to destroy the white West is harming the most vulnerable. Black- and brown-skinned people have born the brunt of the consequences of the “War on Terror” and the actions of terrorists.
It is not primarily American or European citizens who are losing their lives and livelihoods in the global terror epidemic.
The public narrative on the events of this week in France and Nigeria tragically display the consequences of this narrative. While world leaders rally, speak, march, and decry the tragic terror-related deaths of French media figures and citizens, the deaths of more than 2,000 poor Nigerian men, women, and children at the hands of Islamic extremists Boko Haram have largely been passed over or briefly buried away from the headlines. The bombing of an American NAACP office in Colorado (targeting American citizens of color) by a domestic terrorist (seen on videos to be by appearance white) has received virtually no media attention in comparison to the French bombings.
This week it would seem that in the American news media, #blacklivesmatter less than white European or white American lives. That narrative has consequences. While politicians and media figures demand apologies from the Obama administration for failure to attend the French rally, there are no such cries for Nigeria, where the much discussed (mostly Christian) girls of #bringbackourgirls continue to be held in slavery with no rescue in sight. There are no loud cries for American diplomats to travel to Jordan, Turkey, or Iraq to comfort the fleeing men, women, and children of ISIS’s campaign in Syria and the surrounding region.
While Christian radio has certainly been instrumental in highlighting the very real and horrible slaughter of Iraqi Christians, all over the ISIS-targeted communities there is ethnic and faith-based genocide of multiple faith communities (including branches of Islam) which are being largely ignored in our media.
Church, awaken and see! The real war on terror is not a war on Western values or American values. It is evil perpetuating crimes of power and control, and its costs are measured in real in human lives. Those lives are largely black and brown, and the focus on the danger to America with its resulting protectionism and cultural-centrism is endangering lives long term.
Church, let us not join in the narrative of self-preservation. Let us not value those who look and think like our own community more than those who are culturally different. Let us not value the wealthy more than the impoverished. Let justice-speech ring from our pulpits, and let love for the culturally different be reflected in our prayers and our financial endeavors. For the world to hear that in Christ all lives matter, we the Body must speak loudly and demonstrate that #blacklivesmatter #brownlivesmatter.
Tara C. Samples, Ph.D. is a grateful disciple of Jesus who believes that social justice is the responsibility of the Body of Christ which is called to speak for those whose voices are not heard by the powerful. She is a Clinical Psychologist and, a Professor of Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She relocated from the Urban south to a Midwestern prairie town, and is exploring practicalities of living out the spiritual discipline of justice in her new community. Tara is a wife, a mother, and foster-parent. She speaks and writes as an advocate against injustice, violence, oppression and sexual exploitation in the church and in the world.