Amazed, shaken, worried, angry, and resolved are probably the stages many of us went through watching the events of September 11, 2001. How could anyone commit such a horrible act of terror? How could anyone consider the wholesale slaughter of thousands of innocent people a victory for some sort of cause?
Of course the answers probably stir in a hot stew of hatred, fear, cultural warfare, and historical grievances. Still, each individual who perpetrated these acts had to wake up, look in the mirror, and believe what they were about to do was right and just. This fact alone should lead you and me to a place of resolveresolve to further champion education and fight the hate that leads to the tragic death and destruction we saw in the images emblazoned on our TVs Tuesday morning.
As an organization whose mission is to catalyze the community college movement, the League is particularly driven to support your everyday work because of the need not only to provide skills that lead to sustenance for our students, but also to lead them down the path toward lifelong learning that opens their minds, challenges their biases, and affords them the ability to lead a more "examined life." Whatever the reason for their venture into our worldsESL, Basic Skills, Workforce Certification, Vocational Diploma, or Associates Degreewe should work to connect with them in such a way as to bring them onto this pathway to possibility that is lifelong education.
And make no mistake about it, we are in competition for connections with our students. Terrorist groups, hate groups, and manipulative interests relish the idea of using our ubiquitous technology and their persuasive rhetoric to draw in those who feel disenfranchised, angry, and lost. Visit www.tolerance.org if you want to see examples of how these groups are using the Web to spread their hate and further their purposes. Still other groups just want to control buying behavior or garner political support. Regardless of the intention, in an age of one-touch technology that can create powerful connections and promote terrible destruction, we must further our resolve to continue our role as democracy's college, use all the tools at our disposal to connect with our students, and help them live, earn, and learn well and free in the 21st century.
Every student we touch and lead toward this path is one less likely to wake up and think that there is anything just about killing thousands of innocent people for personal or political aims. Moreover, they will be less likely to commit the lesser crimes of prejudice and hate.
The focus on the lesser crime is particularly important as we take on an even more pressing challenge we are likely to see every day on our campuses and in our communities in the days and months ahead: hate speech and acts toward people of Middle Eastern decent or Muslim faith simply because of the believed identity of the perpetrators of the September 11 attack. While the point that we didn't run out and attack white people after McViegh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building is lost on many who are reacting with anger to this week's tragedy, we must be clear that such unfocused and misguided hate is no less a travesty than what was perpetrated on Tuesday in New York and Washington D.C. In fact, it is the small seed that leads to the choking weed that is terrorism. With this understanding, we also must be ready as the hate and racist groups jump on this incident to spread their vile rhetoric online, in person, and over the air waves.
In the spirit of our solidarity and action, perhaps we can use our speech to counter the hate and show our resolve to advance education. Many of you know that Europeans have adapted John F. Kennedy's famous "we are all Berliners" sentiment to "we are all Americans" to show their solidarity with us in this tragic time. Perhaps when we see and hear the daily ramblings of talk show hosts, neighbors, or anyone else that weaves in subtle and not so subtle, broad based attacks on Middle Eastern people or Muslims, we should say "that is the terror." "That is the terror" makes the point that these small acts lead to the deadly actions taken on September 11. In essence, it is the same thing. The purveyors of this hate are as guilty as those who guided the planes into the World Trade Center towers.
We have an important role in the months and years ahead, including advancing and supporting education nationally and internationally to give people options and empower them beyond the reaches of manipulation and control. Moreover, we can band together to help individuals realize that when it comes to hate in all its forms, "that is the terror!"
Mark David Milliron is President and CEO of the League.