I am a Target

jesuischarlieI hesitate to write this. But what else do you do when the fear builds up inside you to a breaking point.  At times I feel like my paranoia gets the best of me.  At times I feel like I’m going to the dark side; am I going to become a victim of those who seek to spread hate?  At times I worry, will this be the day the lock down at my school is no longer a drill.

I teach peace, but the peace around me feels so fragile: The Lindt café attack in Australia, PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) protests, an armed gunman on school property in Seattle, and the assassinations at Charlie Hebdo.

While teaching in the states I was always preparing for that moment when some child snapped and brought a gun into my school.  My students frequently told me that knives in lockers were commonplace.  Even though I worked in a suburban school, it wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows.  Kids feared each other.  The Whites were angry with the Mexicans.  The Mexicans were angry with the Whites.  And I had to hold them together somewhere in the middle.

I fought hard to teach peace.  I fought hard to teach tolerance.   I fought hard to create a classroom where color, race, and wealth didn’t matter.  They learned to leave their drama at the door and enter together as students.

In the community though, I heard people rail against Mexicans.

“They are coming here and taking our jobs!”

“They shouldn’t be allowed to be here and not speak English.”

“They don’t want to be Americans, they just want to get a free ride, free education, free health care, and they are not paying their taxes.”

I listened to the hate being spewed daily and pushed it aside.  I was teaching human beings.  They were my wards for one hour a day.  It was my duty to make sure that all my students saw the humanness in their fellow classmates.

And now I’m in a different country, a country with it’s own history of hate and violence.  A country that has worked so hard to show that it is human in the face of their inhumane history.  In a way this blog has been about my own personal fight to show Germany’s humanity.  Even in the depths of World War II, Germans were humans.

Yet now I hear grumbling around me.  Many are worried about the future of Germany, many are worried about the increased violence around the world brought on by Islamic extremists.

All last week I listened as people railed against Muslim refugees.

“They are coming here to take our jobs!”

“They shouldn’t be allowed to be in Germany if they don’t speak German.”

“They don’t want to be German, they just want to get a free ride, free education, free health care, and they are not even paying taxes.”

“They are just here to kill us!”

The outpouring of German citizens rising up against this kind hate has been heartening to see.  Hundreds of thousands, in cities all over Germany, held protests on Monday in response to the Dresden Pediga rally.  Those for peace and tolerance seemed to shout louder than those shouting about hate.

Just when I thought, maybe tolerance and peace had a fighting chance, the shooting at Charlie Hebdo happened.  At first I wondered, could this be an attack by anti-Muslim groups, just to further fuel the anti-Islam debate?  But later it was clear that this was a planned attack by a group of Islamic extremists against writers and illustrators they had deemed the enemy.

Yesterday, shortly after the news about the Paris attack broke, my friends in Seattle went into lock down at their schools.  A man with an assault rifle had walked onto a campus and was shouting threats at school employees.  I can’t imagine what those teachers must have felt in that moment.  The signal was given, they followed the plan, and they kept the students quiet.  They sat thinking, “this time it isn’t a drill, it is real.” And then they waited in fear, trying to keep their children calm.

What is wrong with the world? How can I continue to teach peace, when I feel like I might be Hate’s next victim?

I used to worry that a misunderstood child would bring a gun to my school, now I worry that a misguided extremist will bring a gun to my school. I teach the world’s children. I teach the children of diplomats, I teach the children of multi-national corporation presidents, and I teach the children of my next-door neighbors. If these extremists want to make a statement around the world, International Schools are certainly good targets.

It has happened before, I’m afraid it will happen again.

Writing that scares me. I am a target. I am an American and that makes me a target. I am an Immigrant and that makes me a target. I teach tolerance and peace and that makes me a target.

Illustration by Lucille Clerc. It gives me hope.

Come Monday I will walk back into the gated fortress of my school.  In my head I will be chanting… I can’t let them win.  I can’t let the fear win.  Je suis Charlie.  I have to keep going.  I have to keep teaching peace, keep teaching tolerance.

How do you combat the fear?  What efforts do you take to teach peace and tolerance in your communities?





15 replies

  1. Powerful. We are at a point where our mental evolution has not caught up to our physical one. You are where you are because some time in the past a very strong ancestor survived when most didn’t. It was the tribes who kept certain groups going, while others have been swallowed up. So for many this is the fear. We must continue. Tribes are no longer in the business of swallowing up others. But the fear remains, for many at a primal level.
    Life is a struggle but we never give in, no way.

    • “You are where you are because some time in the past a very strong ancestor survived when most didn’t.”

      That is powerful stuff. I want to hold on to that. I will continue to survive. I hope I can foster courage Stephané Charbonnier’s courage in myself and in my students. “I prefer to die standing up than to live life on my knees.”

  2. A thoughtful, well-written post. I’ve had many similar thoughts over the past few months. Teachers play a role as powerful as journalists– in the importance of maintaining our freedom of expression, as well as in spreading the concepts of acceptance & belonging.

    • And you have certainly worked in more volatile regions than I. It is so important for us to keep our perspective and to help our students to maintain a positive perspective as well.

  3. Great post, as always. I would be lying if I said that the growing numbers of terror attacks in recent years was not a factor in my decision to come back to the US instead of extending my contract. It was a small part of my decision, but a very real one. And I know that being back in the US does not insulate me from this kind of attack, but I’m far less likely to be directly affected here, in a horde of other Americans than if I was an American living in Bavaria.

    • Thanks for being so honest. And I will reveal that there have been times I have avoided ubahns at rush hour, didn’t go to the Weihnachtsmarkt on a weekend, etc because there were times of heightened terror threats. I don’t want to live life in fear.

      And you know you are much more likely to be shot in the US than here. Just sayin’ 😉

  4. I don’t want to play it down – and, living in London, the risk is probably relatively high in terms of terrorism – but what is that in comparison to my daily 30-minute commute along one of the UK’s busiest motorways? When there’s news like this I do shudder and wonder, but the statistics (and dodgy overtaking) tell me otherwise.
    As a teacher who teaches in a predominantly white working class and lower middle class neighbourhood, I am much more concerned about everyday racism and sectarianism, which I continually address, despite or because I am often one of the only foreigners in the room. The only time I was scared was when we had a student who threatened to kill us all following a mental breakdown – nothing to do with my teaching (I hope, anyway!) but more with his being rejected by a girl and by the army, all within the same month.
    I appreciate it feels slightly different being American. But still – statistically you’ll probably choke on a pretzel and get hit by a car, simultaneously, before you will become a victim of terrorism.
    Keep inspiring your students to look beyond the surface of things and to appreciate otherness! Don’t let fear rule your life, ever!

    • True…beer and pretzels will be my likely demise. But every time this happens, can’t help but think about it. Every time we discuss security at school…the fear creeps in. Some get pissed off when they get asked for their ID upon arrive at school. I gladly dig through my bag for it.

      • We don’t really have to do any of this, although I had to search a boy’s bag last year as he had brought in a knife … a clear case of cultural misunderstanding, though, so I was more worried I’d find it and would have to report the boor kid than anything else! Fortunately he had wisened up enough by that stage and we didn’t find anything,

  5. I must admit, I am a little scared as well. They said this week that there are a number of large attacks being planned on London, and that the authorities are not able to shield us from all of them. I’m in London next Sunday but otherwise, I want to stay clear.
    At the same time, I live next to a mosque and I really want to do something to show them there that not everyone thinks that every Muslim is bad. I feel for regular muslims in our communities.

    • After 9-11 the mosque near my university was constantly under threat. I felt as you. I wanted to do something. But I think all we can do is continue to stand up for tolerance. Continue to treat our Muslim friends and students the same as I treat everyone. I have hope that the next few months we will see an increase in compassion and peace.

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