Bombing reactions reflect the best and worst in us

The bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City has brought out the best in Americans.

We see, to this day, tireless and exhaustive rescue efforts by firefighters, trained rescuers, and volunteers, driven past exhaustion on the hope of an as-yet unheard cry.

We saw people who didn't know each other selflessly support one another. Car rides given. Hugs offered. Shoulders to cry on.

Doubtless, it has brought families together. We don't realize how abruptly ones we believe will always be here can be taken from us. That is, until something so earth-shattering occurs as to force us to take notice, awakening us from our naivete.

Empathy is in short supply generally, yet we all feel as if we're there, especially when we see human stories. Stories like that of the six children of Castine Deveroux, a HUD clerk who died in the blast. Stories like that of Edye and Tony Smith, who lost two toddlers, Chase and Colton. They have made me appreciate my mother that much more.

We saw the picture that is certain to become the symbol of this ordeal, that of little Baylee Almon dying in the arms of firefighter Chris Fields, and were all struck in some way.

We saw our faith in law enforcement restored, when the prime suspect was captured within 48 hours of the attack. We saw galvanization of the people in the name of justice, with Rush Limbaugh coming to the support of President Clinton

In these strife-ridden and divisive times, we have seen that the human heart still endures, that we can still support each other, differences and all. It is ironic that such a repugnant act of inhumanity can restore faith in humanity.

We also saw the worst. Fueled by pundits, irrational fear, and religious ignorance, we saw Americans let our growing xenophobia get the best of us. Again. This time, the inevitable targets were Muslims and those of Mideast descent. We heard the story of Abraham Ahmad, a US. citizen, who was questioned for no other reason than that he was an Arab leaving Oklahoma for his homeland of Jordan. His wife was spit upon, and his lawn trashed. Here in Tucson, Abdullah Ramah was cut off by a driver and told to "Go Home." The Islamic Center here, just like those across the country, has received threats.

At the outset, the media didn't help. From "Nightline" to "CBS News This Morning", a parade of so-called "Mideast terrorism experts" were marched in and fueled baseless speculation. Of course, conservative talk-radio got into the act, with folks like host Gil Gross saying that Mideast groups should be likely suspects "because they have a history of this type of violence like no others." Indeed, across the country, the lunatic fringe hogged the airwaves with calls to bomb just about every Mideast country and deport anyone with olive skin and a thick beard.

What the hell ever made anyone think that Middle Easterners and Muslims have the highest propensity for mass-maiming? Take a look at Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Nicaragua, even Japan. In addition, only one act of terrorism on this soil involved Muslim fundamentalists. ONE! Every other act involved right-wing fanatics, Christian fanatics, or just-off kilter individuals in general. If anyone actually took the time out to learn about true Islam, they'd know that even in wartime, the killing of small children is forbidden.

I heard one man say that this is America, that this shouldn't happen here. Maybe that has been part of our problem, this hubris. In our lack of humility, we have failed to recognize the new danger, one that is much harder to pinpoint than some "Evil Empire" overseas or some small, pesky republic. Countries are immobile, and are thus bound by mutual deterrence. Mercenaries and politically-driven predators aren't. Let us then act accordingly, as we should have before now. All Federal buildings need the same protection thus far only accorded to certain ones, like the Capitol.

The only good I see is that this will give us some perspective, and rouse us from our sleepwalking. It is sad that it had to come to this for us to realize that.

Tyrone Henry is a political science senior.

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