On Saturday, January 15th, a Reform Jewish synagogue’s members arrived for what they thought would be a regular morning service. Even Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker found nothing odd about the man who showed up on their doorstep that morning. The rabbi saw this man, who he presumed was in need of help, and invited him in for tea. Cytron-Walker said that he remembered the man telling him a story, and though the man’s history didn’t all add up, the rabbi didn’t find this too odd.
The man at the doorstep would turn out to be 44-year-old British national Malik Faisal Akram. Just a few hours later, Akram would pull his gun on the few attending services (many stayed at home due to COVID-19), threatening their lives. Within a day, U.S. president Joe Biden had condemned his actions, and Akram was being called a terrorist.
On Saturday, January 15th, I woke up and spent hours avoiding my homework. I didn’t go to services because I wanted to sleep in. I sat at the kitchen table, and when a CNN alert popped up letting me know that there were people being held hostage at a synagogue in Texas, I wasn’t shocked. I was afraid, and I was angry, but I wasn’t surprised. Because within the past few years, so many attacks have been launched against the Jewish community. I wonder what it says about the world that I am more surprised that there is a woman as vice president than I am that someone pulled a gun in a shul.
On Saturday, January 15th, I pictured the perfect American terrorist: young white man, blonde hair, absent parents, white-guy privilege dripping down his forehead like sweat. Then, it was announced that the suspect was a British Muslim man who had stayed at a homeless shelter in the past week—someone neither white nor privileged. And I wonder what it means that it took media mere hours to call him a terrorist, yet the white man who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh—who killed 11 people—is still not ubiquitously known as one. That when I Google that day in Pittsburgh, they call him a mass shooter, and an antisemite. Never a domestic terrorist.
We are raised in a system that insists upon oppressing people of color, that teaches us hate before it teaches us to read.
On Saturday, January 15th, no hostages were injured or killed. But for almost 11 hours, their lives were threatened every second. The four hostages called their families to say “I love you” in case they wouldn’t ever be able to again. After they escaped, a group of four loud bangs were heard, then one bigger explosion, then three last shots were heard. An FBI team had used explosives to get into the building; and Malik Faisal Akram was killed by the team in a standoff.
On Monday, January 17th, I got asked by a classmate how I was doing because of the situation on Saturday. I told them the honest answer: I was afraid. When they asked me if I meant I was scared to be Jewish, I told them yes. I told them yes, and. And I am scared for my aunt who works at my local shul, and I am scared for my cousins who live in conservative states, and I am scared for my country that refuses to install common sense gun laws. And I am scared for Muslim people. I am scared for lower class Americans, especially those of color, because I know there will be politicians who use this as an excuse to say that homeless people are dangerous. I am scared because I know so many people will point to this moment as an excuse for why they want to eradicate Muslims. I worry for the way Fox News reports that the gunman had “mental health issues” in quotes, for the way people will say that mentally ill people are inherently dangerous.
Because it was my people that were attacked, and the only things I blame for it is the person who held the gun and the government that gave him the gun and the bigotry that runs through this country’s veins.
Don’t use my fear as an excuse to hurt people—I don’t want their blood. I only want to not be afraid of someone spilling mine.
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