A Jihadi on My Doorstep?
I returned to my apartment building last Saturday night to an unsettling sight. A young, seemingly Arab-American man was sitting smack dab in the middle of the doorstep, accompanied by a bulky backpack and all the while talking to himself and gazing at the cover of the large, leather-bound Koran on his lap. He appeared to be drunk or under the influence of something and when I tried to get past him with a careful, "excuse me," he merely mumbled incoherently. Keeping a watchful eye on him and making sure he wasn't watching back, I managed to get into my building and upstairs without any problem.
But I couldn't shake a feeling of nervousness. Not only did he fit the M.O. of a potential Islamic terrorist (including possibly being drugged), but he could have posed a threat to my own life. Having received a horrific Islamist death threat (the FBI told me they'd arrested someone "in a foreign country" after I reported the e-mail), not to mention a volley of nasty hatemail from disgruntled leftists, I take seriously the potential dangers to someone in my line of work.
So once inside, I decided to report the incident to the local police station. I gave the officer the information, including the fact that the young man looked Arab-American and had a large Koran on his lap. There was a moment of silence and then the police officer responded curtly that they would send someone by to check it out. No doubt he thought me a racist and a bigot, but the question is in a post-9/11 world, can any of us afford not to report these types of incidents?
I distinctly recall Department of Agriculture loan officer Johnelle Bryant's account after 9/11 of having encountered ringleader Mohammed Atta and finding his behavior bizarre and worrisome. Yet, due to the vagaries of political-correctness and her own inability to fathom that, as she put it, "somebody could be that evil," she didn't report the incident. That is, until after 9/11 and by then it was too late.
In a much less consequential version of this story, I remember once driving with my ex-husband (who is African-American) to visit a friend in an Oakland hospital. Trying to avoid the paid parking lot, we foolishly picked a spot on the street near a freeway overpass. As we were parking, both of us noticed a black man, who appeared to be a bum, hanging around the sidewalk nearby. There was something not right about the situation, but I, in a fit of white guilt (with which I've long since dispensed) and he, no doubt trying not to cast aspersion upon a fellow brother, ignored our instincts and left the car.
Sure enough, when we returned, our window was smashed and a few items of no particular value were missing. It wasn't the fact that the man who robbed us was black, but that he was obviously a criminal, of which we should have taken note. But his skin color caused us both to remain silent.
Similarly, those who have reported suspicious incidents involving potential acts of terrorism have all-too-often found themselves on the defensive for following their instincts. The case of the "Flying Imams" comes to mind.
In my own case, the incident in question turned out to have been a harmless one, at least as far as I know. But I don't regret reporting the young man, nor do I regret my suspicions. Sensitivity is all well and good, but it doesn't do one much good from the grave.