We live in the age of tragedy, even as mankind reaches unprecedented levels of technological advancements, gains significant knowledge about our universe, and manages to create wealth for hundreds of millions all around the world. Amid such progress, many somehow misplace their focus, unable to practice tolerance, or unwilling to overcome challenges by engaging in unspeakable acts. Hate crime is on the rise everywhere and few are truly immune to the kind of verbal and physical assaults that are increasingly routine developments. We are periodically shocked when a calamity strikes a relatively peaceful spot though no one should be surprised that hate crime is now a universal phenomenon.
The latest episode occurred in Portland, Oregon, which highlighted the truly ugly face of a terrorist named Jeremy Christian, who allegedly began to yell anti-Muslim slurs at Destinee Mangum, 16, and her unnamed 17-year-old friend who was wearing a hijab riding on a MAX (Metropolitan Area Express) light-rail train.
It is entirely appropriate to use the term ‘terrorist’ for Christian because of what he did after he spouted his venom at the two teenagers who, frightened and probably screaming for help, avoided him by running away and moving to another section of the railroad car. When three men, 53-year-old Rick John Best, 23-year-old Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, and 21-year-old Micah David-Cole Fletcher interceded to prevent Christian from physically harming the young women, the extremist stabbed them, killing Best and Namkai-Meche on the spot. According to a New York Times report, Fletcher, a student at Portland State University, underwent “surgery to remove bone fragments from his throat”. His mother told a local television station that the knife had missed a jugular vein by a millimeter.
Of course, while Christian was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated murder and could face additional charges in the days ahead, no media outlet dared to label him a terrorist, which nearly guarantees that additional hate crimes will occur elsewhere since the mere sanction for such violent behaviour is for the authorities to simply repeat that the individual was known, had a history of making extremist statements on social media, and otherwise attended Sunday religious school. Nothing was revealed about his expert use of a knife or whether the lunatic hate-monger had any military training that allowed him to kill with precision. One is distraught that politically correct behaviour, which protects the rights of terrorists, instead of standing by those who know the difference between right and wrong.
In fact, Portland administrators should display photos of Best, Namkai-Meche and Fletcher in their offices, to remind themselves of what it means to be a brave man. Two men died in this instance to save the lives of two teenagers because they were decent and did not forsake their human responsibilities. They did not mind that the women looked different or may have been outsiders, refugees or foreigners. Though they could not possibly know what faith the women practised — only one was wearing a hijab and the second stated she was not a Muslim — they nevertheless protected the terrified youths because that was the right thing to do.
Who were these people and why did they act they way they did?
Press reports confirmed that Best retired from the Army in 2012 as a platoon sergeant, and served for 23 years, including tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. The father of three teenage sons and a 12-year-old daughter, Best worked as a technician for the city of Portland, earning a living to supplement his military pension to raise a family.
Namkai-Meche worked for the Cadmus Group, a consulting firm, and graduated in 2016 from Reed College with a degree in Economics. Among his classes was an introductory course on Islam, which concretely illustrated both his curiosity and, equally important, the value of education in a society that, alas, relies too heavily on spin, superficiality and sensational visual news outlets that often shape prejudices instead of enlightening.
The Portland State University student, Fletcher, won a poetry contest in 2013 when he was a junior in high school. According to the New York Times, “he condemned the prejudice” against Muslims in the United States and allegedly said that Americans let the September 11 attacks “leave an ugly footprint on America that hasn’t disappeared in 12 years”. This is nothing but genuine wisdom in the mouth of a sensitive 21-year old.
To be sure, we are shocked whenever terrorism strikes — and this is no exception because Christian used violence against civilians in the pursuit of religious, ideological or political aims — but ought to muster the moral fortitude to say so, loudly and clearly. For doing nothing and saying less will only empower hatemongers.
Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is the author of the just-published The Attempt to Uproot Sunni Arab Influence: A Geo-Strategic Analysis of the Western, Israeli and Iranian Quest for Domination (Sussex: 2017).