Sunday, May 16, 2010

National Spotlight

It fell on Brookline this week.  The town suddenly felt like the scene  of  an episode of "Law and Order"  or  "Criminal Minds".  Yellow crime tape,  multiple helicopters overhead for hours, FBI jackets galore, and media present  in astonishing numbers all  marked the site of a local gas station two blocks from our store.  Allegedly, a Pakistani employee of the station has financial ties to the Times Square wanna bomber.  This you know if you are even peripherally aware of the news whatever your chosen source for it.

What you may not know so well  is the effect on the owner of the station and his family.   This is not a person who would ever seek 15 minutes of fame.  He is truly the proverbial pillar of the community having been generously and genuinely involved here for decades.  But he does this quietly and modestly.  He has a large, close-knit extended family in the area.  Since Thursday they have been besieged at work, at home and wherever they go by  cameras, microphones, TV trucks with long satellite dish necks. Even after the FBI allowed the station to reopen, he kept it  closed out of courtesy to the residential  neighborhood, in hopes that things would quiet down.  Local friends, business and personal, staged a rally Sat. a.m. in support of him, and he is open for normal business now. 

This has been an interesting and up close experience of how readily guilt is presumed.   And how the sensational overrides the sensible.  Many people in our town know this man personally and professionally, myself among them.  Most of us leapt to offer our support for our friend knowing in our bones that he has nothing to with terrorist networks.    But some have been heard to say, "Well, you never really know..."  and  "Isn't he Muslim??".    Because the family is originally from Lebanon, an assumption is made about religion and then, further,  political allegiance.  And so, guilt is presumed.

I do realize how charged and sensitive any discussion of our country's safety from terrorism is bound to be. There are serious reasons for our concerns.  But  because we traditionally don't know or understand other cultures particularly well in this country, suspicion and worse can rise to the surface in some pretty broad brush stroke ways.   An important part of our democracy is that one is innocent until proven guilty.   And don't get me started on media frenzy.

Okay, down off the soapbox with me.  I'll just say further that it's been a very eye-opening week indeed and a thought-provoking one, too.   At the bookstore, we have scads of books to educate on all points of view.   Everyone can learn something new, I suspect.  Come on by.

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