Response — February 13, 2017, 4:49 pm

The Indefensible

Victims of terrorism discuss Donald Trump’s Muslim ban

In March of 1985, three members of the Islamic Jihad Organization in Beirut captured my father, the journalist Terry Anderson. My mother was pregnant with me at the time, and so I did not meet him until he was released in December 1991, more than six years later. The man who came home was not the father I’d imagined. Being beaten, tortured, chained and blindfolded had changed him—made him numb, dismissive, quick to anger and slow to empathy. Looking back, I can see he did his best, but his kidnappers had robbed him of his ability to be an effective parent. They also took away my childhood and any chance my mother, my father and I had of being a healthy, functional family unit. That said, I don’t hate Muslims for what we went through. I’ve spent much time working as a journalist in the Middle East, and I know that people like my father’s kidnappers represent a tiny minority of those who adhere to the Islamic faith. Countless Muslims have treated me with respect, kindness, and hospitality. They have protected me in every conflict zone I’ve covered. Two of them saved my life. Like much of the country, I was outraged at U.S. president Donald Trump’s recent attempt to institute a ban on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and shut down the refugee resettlement program. A week after Trump issued the ban—which was halted by a federal judge—I reached out to other victims of terrorism and their families to ask how they felt about it.

Julie Paez is a survivor of the 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, California, where fourteen people were shot and killed at a non-profit center that provides services for individuals with developmental disabilities.

Paez: I don’t blame Islam or Muslims for what happened to me. ISIS doesn’t represent the religion of Islam any more than the Westboro Baptist Church represents Christians. I do believe that most [proponents of the ban] have good intentions. There is a lot of racism, but I do believe many of them just want to protect us. But this is giving us a false sense of security, because most of the people who have committed terrorist acts were United States citizens, like the guy who shot us. They may be of the Islamic faith, but they were American citizens, and this ban will not make them stop…When people don’t feel wanted and don’t fit in, they search for something that makes them feel like they fit in, whether that’s ISIS or a gang or whatever—groups that make promises to them that they can feel special. So this kind of ban will make things even worse.

Parents of an American hostage killed by the Islamic State in Syria in 2014.

FATHER: [The ban] plays right into the hands of extremists who need an us-versus-them scenario to justify their actions in aid and recruitment…From a counterterrorism perspective, it ultimately may cause more harm than good by further alienating each side from the other. On moral grounds it is simply indefensible. The condemnation of all for the deeds of a few punishes vast numbers of innocent people who only wish to live their lives in peace…Our son was murdered by a deranged man who grew up in the U.K. How can I blame his death on a Syrian or Iraqi family fleeing those same extremists?

MOTHER: I think that there’s an ample body of documentation to make the statement that feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness are huge contributors to radicalization and when we have policies that take away a group’s power and hope it can be a contributing factor…I am convinced that ISIS is about revenge, not religion…and too many Americans think that refugees choose to come to the United States. The reality is that the choice is made for them by others. The life of a refugee anywhere, even in the U.S., is extremely difficult. It is not a life anyone would choose except through absolute necessity.

Terry Waite, Joseph Cicippio, and Terry Anderson were captured by the Islamic Jihad Organization in Beirut in 1985. Waite and Cicippio were held for five years. Anderson was held for six years and nine months.

Waite: Immigration has become a central part of the American way of life. America is a nation of immigrants and depends on them for its very existence. Now, suddenly, to cut off immigration in this way is grossly unfair and will rebound against America in the future…The majority of the Islamic community does not condone [terrorism] or believe in it, and would heartily condemn it. But we insist on condemning the whole of the Muslim world and grouping them under one banner, which is entirely wrong and unfair. The terrorists did the same thing to me—stereotyping everybody and saying ‘you will be punished now for the misdemeanors of a few.’ I can understand the fear and concern [of proponents of the ban], and I have sympathy for them. All I will say is that in my experience and that of some of us who have been victims of unfair and unjust behavior—putting people at a distance in this way is not the remedy. There are other, more creative, positive ways to solve this problem.

Cicippio: I don’t blame the Muslim world for what happened to me. [Terrorists] are the ones who don’t even follow the Quran. I read the Quran about 150 times while I was held hostage, and I know most of it by heart. It doesn’t say anything about any of that…It’s hard to get into our country, even if you have a visa. It sometimes takes you years just to get one…There are many people who are overseas who would love to come here, but they’re on waiting lists…This is not the spirit of America. My parents, everybody else’s parents all came in through immigration.

Anderson: I was kidnapped by a group of people that were…connected with militant Islam in Lebanon. They don’t represent the rest of Lebanon. They don’t represent other Muslims in Lebanon. They don’t represent other Shia in Lebanon. Why should we punish everybody including innocent people for the acts of a few? Those who support Trump, I’m not saying they’re all ignorant, but they have this tendency or ability to reduce complex situations to simple, thoughtless ideas…the world is a complex place and we will never be able to solve any kind of problems with simplistic thinking. [The ban] is stupid and destructive and I’m ashamed that we have been reduced to this. In fact, it causes people like ISIS to flourish.

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The Gatekeepers·

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Toward the end of the Obama presidency, the work of James Baldwin began to enjoy a renaissance that was both much overdue and comfortless. Baldwin stands as one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century, and any celebration of his work is more than welcome. But it was less a reveling than a panic. The eight years of the first black president were giving way to some of the most blatant and vitriolic displays of racism in decades, while the shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others too numerous to list sparked a movement in defense of black lives. In Baldwin, people found a voice from the past so relevant that he seemed prophetic.

More than any other writer, Baldwin has become the model for black public-intellectual work. The role of the public intellectual is to proffer new ideas, encourage deep thinking, challenge norms, and model forms of debate that enrich our discourse. For black intellectuals, that work has revolved around the persistence of white supremacy. Black abolitionists, ministers, and poets theorized freedom and exposed the hypocrisy of American democracy throughout the period of slavery. After emancipation, black colleges began training generations of scholars, writers, and artists who broadened black intellectual life. They helped build movements toward racial justice during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, whether through pathbreaking journalism, research, or activism.

Bloom, acrylic, ink, wood, and fabric on canvas, by David Shrobe © The artist. Courtesy Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco
The Vanishing·

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On a Friday afternoon in the fall of 2017, a few months after the liberation of Mosul from the Islamic State, a group of neighbors gathered at Mar Mattai, a monastery founded in the fourth century. They unloaded baskets of food, and arranged themselves around a long table in a courtyard. A woman named Niser spread out a tablecloth and put down a plate of dolmas. “It’s a way of celebrating that we still exist,” she told me. More people were arriving—children, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and distant relations—members of one of the oldest Christian communities in the world who had not seen one another for three years.

Overlooking the village of Mergey from the old section of the Mar Mattai Monastery, Mount Maqlub, Iraq. All photographs from Iraq (October 2017) and Jerusalem (March 2018) by Nicole Tung (Detail)
Investigating Hate·

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Around three in the morning on a cold December Sunday, brothers José and Romel Sucuzhañay began to walk home from a bar in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It was a cloudy night, only a few degrees above freezing, and the houses and stores lining their route wore impassive, nighttime guises—shades drawn, metal grates locked down. Romel had only recently arrived from Ecuador. José, a thirty-­one-year-old father of two, ran a successful real estate agency in the neighborhood. The two had spent the evening eating and drinking at a quinceañera at St. Brigid Church, and afterward, they stopped at a local bar called Christopher’s Palace. They were feeling the alcohol as they headed back to José’s apartment. When they realized that José had left his coat behind in the bar, Romel took off his jacket and draped it around his younger brother’s shoulders. They continued to walk up Bushwick Avenue, swaying a bit, arms around each other for warmth and ballast.

As they approached the corner of Kossuth Place and Bushwick Avenue, a red SUV stopped at the traffic light. “Check out those faggots!” the driver yelled out the window. José may have said something in reply. Very rapidly, a man jumped out of the passenger side door and smashed José on the head with a bottle, dropping him to the ground. He then turned to attack Romel. As Romel fled from the man down Kossuth, the driver exited the car, grabbed an aluminum baseball bat out of the vehicle, and began to beat José until someone emerged from the back seat and called him off. The driver was walking away when he saw some movement from José, a twitch of his hand or his leg sliding across the pavement—trying to rise, perhaps—and he strode back, straddled him, and raised the bat high in the air. He brought it down on José’s head, again and again, as if he were chopping wood.

Illustration by Shonagh Rae (Detail)
Preservation Acts·

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After eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Bergis Jules found himself worrying not only over the horrors of the present, but also over how little of the present was likely to be preserved for the future. The best reporting on the aftermath in Ferguson was being produced by activists on Twitter, a notoriously ephemeral medium. Jules, then an archivist at the University of California, Riverside, had the impulse to start saving tweets, but wasn’t sure how. “That whole weekend, watching things unfold, I thought, ‘This is a really amazing historical moment; we should think about capturing it,’ but I was just talking to myself,” he says. The following week, attending a Society of American Archivists conference in Washington, D.C., he voiced his fears en route to drinks at the hotel bar. He caught the ear of Ed Summers, a developer who just so happened to be the author of a Twitter archiving tool—and who promptly programmed it to va­cuum up #Ferguson tweets. Within two weeks, he had amassed more than 13 million.

Three weeks after the shooting, Summers blogged about the archive, which he and Jules were considering making public. Shortly thereafter, they received an inquiry from a data-mining company. When they pulled up the firm’s website, they read that its clients included the Department of Defense and, ominously, “the intelligence community.” What did the company want with the data? And what were the ethical implications of handing it over—perhaps indirectly to law enforcement—when the protesters’ tweets would otherwise evade collection? Using Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), the code that developers use to call up Twitter data, anyone can sift through tweets that were posted in the past week, but older posts disappear from the API’s search function, even if they still exist out on the web. The data-mining company was too late to nab a swath of the #Ferguson tweets. (Twitter has since unveiled a “premium” API that allows access to older data, for a substantial fee.) Newly mindful of the risks, Jules and Summers waited almost a year to publish their cache.

Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

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Happiness Is a Worn Gun


Illustration by Stan Fellows

Illustration by Stan Fellows

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

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