Hometown Terrorists and Christian Caricatures

September 17, 2012

Last Friday afternoon, my city was thrown into a scare..4a6ca284f450271f82e6588ff03d665c

…Apparently, by the world’s most unwitting terrorist.

As I drove toward downtown Kansas City on my way home, I saw the news choppers hovering over the skyscrapers.  I was listening to news radio.  The report was that the bomb squad was investigating a threat at the downtown federal building.  Streets were closed.  People were evacuated.

Strangely enough, there were simultaneous scares in Austin and in North Dakota, creating a geographical straight line of bomb threats through the center of the country.

As I neared downtown, heading straight past the mess, I wondered how strange it would be if the supposed bomb went off right there in front of me.  And with two other threats happening, for a couple of hours, it looked like it might be a coordinated effort…to strike America’s flyover land.

But as the day unfolded, and the story of our hometown terrorist unraveled, it made me think of just how we deal with people who we consider threatening.

The Real Story of the KC Bomber

The real story of Friday afternoon in Kansas City (according to the local paper) is that Wahed Moharam emigrated to the U.S. years ago, and is a citizen, albeit with a definitively foreign name and broken English.  He’s a small business owner.

But when he testified in the investigation of the original WTC bombings, he was placed in witness protection.

Unfortunately, Moharam seems to have a penchant for blowing his cover.

He’s blown his cover at least twice.  Years ago, he became known to Chiefs fans as “Helmet Man” for dressing up in face paint and a custom jersey at games.  When the Chiefs found out who he was, they revoked his season tickets.

A week ago, he was pulled over and was informed he was on the terror watch list.  So what does he do?  He goes to the federal building downtown, parks his car (he stopped on the way to grab a bag of fertilizer), and demands to know why he’s on the terror watch list.

Apparently, the reaction was “You’re on the terror watch list?  You’re coming with us.”  And so, his cover is blown again, and half of downtown was shut down for an afternoon, while a bomb-bot pulled trash out of his car.

Later, Moharan called the newspaper, saying “Everything mistake, everything mistake.”

World’s Worst Terrorist

On the one hand, the guy doesn’t seem to know what “witness protection” is all about.  It seems to me that once you’ve blown your cover three times, maybe they should just say three strikes and you’re out.  No more witness protection for you.  You probably shouldn’t get on the local news at football games.  You probably shouldn’t shut down half the city.

On the other hand, the guy is an innocent, if not hapless guy who probably loves America.  I don’t think most of us really believed he was a terrorist.  Terrorists don’t show up and say “I’m a terrorist!” (That was the original report.)

It’s easy to get an impression of a group of people by watching the news.  It’s easy to look at the riots happening in thirty countries right now and ask “why?”.  Because of a low-budget film on YouTube?  It’s easy to think that all the people in those places are a bunch of savages, who hate everything.

It’s easy to look at a guy with a foreign name and broken English, and assume he’s “one of them.”

Dealing in Caricatures

I ask you, what messages are the people on the other side of the world receiving about all of us?  Probably nothing at all accurate.  Nothing representative of how you and I really live and believe.  They get a caricature of Americans.

To make it more personal, if you were a total non-Christian, whose only contact with Christians was through TV, what would you think of Christians?  You might think at best we’re a bunch of charlatans, a worst a mob of hateful racists, bigots, wife beaters, homophobes, and superstitious scare mongers.

If TV were my only exposure to Christians, I would never want to be a Christian.  I would hate Christians.

When you out yourself as a Christian to someone, they likely have all kinds of assumptions about you.  Some of those assumptions are deep seated.  You might as well have brown skin, a funny name and broken English.  I’ve had people assume that I think they are going to burn in hell, and I’m glad for it.  People assume my politics, my values, my family life, and it’s all a caricature.

Have you ever been in this situation?  So how are you going to change their minds about you, and the God you represent?

14 responses to Hometown Terrorists and Christian Caricatures

  1. Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:
    Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

    Seems that Christ living through us must be the testimony.

  2. That poor guy. If it weren’t real life, I’d have thought it was the latest Sasha Baron Cohen movie. I’d also have thought that if we were able as a country were able to look at McCarthyism and the Japanese internment camps and say “Yeah, that was a mistake”, we’d be able to keep similar things from happening, but I guess not.

    On a lighter note, reading your post reminded me of this movie that I saw on Netflix a while back called “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil”—if you’re a fan of schlocky horror movies it’s worth checking out. It’s basically about these two redneck guys that are just trying to spend a weekend out at their cabin fishing when they wind up being followed by these preppy college kids who think they’re serial killers. The twist is that the college kids wind up getting themselves accidentally killed in progressively gruesome ways just through sheer stupidity and dumb luck (falling on axes and running into pointy trees and such.) It’s kind of a fun subversion of the whole “redneck ax murderer” stereotype.

  3. I think we need to be patient with people and ourselves. Develop a bit of a relationship with them. Let them know that we hurt and suffer, as well. And then give to them the hope that we have in all of this. Let them know what Christ has done about it, not to fix things now, but to comfort us and raise us from the dead one day and give us new life again we we need it.

  4. I’m very active in our local Audubon chapter, which of course is full of radical left wing extremist tree-huggers (what was that about stereotypes?) who happen to enjoy wild birds. When they find out I’m a Christian, and that I’m a part of that evangelical mega-church at the north end of town, they really don’t know what to do with me. I don’t fit their boxes. I hope it makes them rethink their assumptions at least a little. Even better, I pray that they–who would never darken the door of my church–see Jesus in me.

  5. Wow. I haven’t watched the news much lately. Wasn’t there a movie called “Witless Protection?” That is the phrase that comes to mind regarding the situation. I just wonder if he wasn’t trying to make a point about our nation’s paranoia about terrorism and our idol of being perfectly safe.

    I remember meeting a Libyan woman living in London while waiting for a subway train to get to Westminster Cathedral. One of the questions that I asked her is what her opinion was of Mohammar Khadaffi. She replied that he was actually not that bad–he didn’t institute sharia law and women had a lot more freedom in clothing choices and mobility than most Muslim nations allowed. Then we talked about how the media portrays the leaders of different countries, especially when the countries consider each other to be enemies and laughed together at the stereotyping. I love hearing what other countries are like from residents when I get a chance. I ended up praying for her and a friend who was about to undergo surgery.

    I think the best thing we can do as Christians is to shut up and listen rather than instantly take sides on an issues. Note to self….

  6. Many times I find myself hesitant to come out as a Christian. I refer to myself as spiritual, or a person of faith. Because of the caricatures of Christians and sometimes because of actual Christian slinging judgment and xenophobic behavior. I know as soon as I admit to it, I’d be linked to people that are loud and angry, rather than those that quietly try to live the love of Christ to everyone around them.

  7. I spent 3 months working with Muslims overseas a few years ago and I have to say that the majority of our work in sharing the gospel was simply helping them realize that we were nothing like TV…we were serious about our faith, we don’t sleep with our boyfriends, we don’t get drunk, and we’re committed to God and loving others.

    Even in the states as I work with internationals I once had a Libyan friend of mine express how he was so confused that his American roommates watch porn and drink all the time. He said “how can these people be Christians!” When I told him that they are not Christians, that not all Americans are Christians and that people like my husband and I and the others that are trying to love on him are the real deal he was instantly shocked and at the same time relieved that he finally understood the difference.

  8. It’s pretty simple for me. I simple am kind to people, and when God opens a doors to pray for them, or let’s me know something about them, I just let it happen. Everyone has perceptions, but when God shows up one of two things happens: he is real and it blows people away, or he is real, and it scares people away. It’s been appending since Genesis.

  9. This kind of thing is constant for us living here in Paraguay. The people here have a caricature of the U.S. from movies and television. Think of all those ridiculous reality TV shows and you begin to understand. My family and I are not like the families from Jersey Shore. We don’t live like Sister Wives in our religion. We are not spies like Bourne, Spy Kids or Bond. The average life of Americans escapes the news and entertainment industry so we are operating in this stereotype. It’s weird. We tend to have to spend a good deal of time with folks to break through those preconceived notions.

  10. This really makes me think, and I thank you for sharing it. I’ve been a “Christian”, since I was a teenager, but it wasn’t until this year that I have finally begun to see what following Christ really means. I was raised in one of those stereotypical churches where you get yelled at and spit on from the pulpit. When my dad took us out of that church we learned from family members and many people in our community that they viewed that church as an angry, holier than thou, do as I say or go to hell kind of place. Yes, Jesus preached on hell, yes He condemned sin, however He did so in love and without partiality toward skin color, names, or denomination. Or anything else for that matter. The church I went to preached these things and said,”You are wrong and you need to get right or burn in hell.” Christ preached those same things and said, “I love you. I don’t want to see you hurt.” We can yell everything straight from the bible with perfect clarity and understanding, but if we don’t love along with it we’re just blowing smoke.

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