For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
October 10, 2001 - Imam: Attack Brought out Both the Worst, and the Best, of Human Kind
At the same time that the Philip S. Miller Library hosted a talk by a Denver-based Islamic Center leader, the United States attacked Afghanistan.
Imam (or spiritual leader) Kazerooni was very articulate, very clear. He succinctly outlined the beliefs of Islam. He roundly condemned the horror of the terrorist attack, and patiently explained why none of bin Laden's actions (or those of his agents) could be considered the acts of a Muslim.
There were surprising moments of humor in the talk. "Not every Tom, Dick and Harry can declare jihad," he said. He also pointed out that in the Arabic world, "jihad" only rarely refers to military conflict. It is more often used in the context of a "struggle for the sake of God," as in a jihad to support your family, or to study.
Kazerooni also talked about his responsibilities as a spiritual leader. He has contacted the FBI and other authorities to seek guidance: what could he do to help fight potential terrorists? Sadly, he had to contact authorities again when members of his Islamic community found themselves confronted by people threatening to burn down their house to drive them out into the night.
But he also told another story, worth repeating widely. After September 11, he was telephoned by a Denver neighbor. She had lost relatives in the World Trade Center towers. Why was she calling? She had heard, correctly, that Muslims in the neighborhood had been threatened. She was calling to offer her house as shelter for a Muslim family.
Think about that. Imagine that you were a member of a black family, living in the deep South after the Civil War, offering protection to a white family after your own son had been lynched. In both cases, this is an act of profound forgiveness, of deep compassion. It is an act, finally, of the deepest moral courage.
The attack, Kazerooni observed, brought out both the worst, and the best, of human kind.
There is a second issue, however, and it is more difficult. Americans think of themselves as generous and benevolent. This is not, however, always how we are perceived around the world. In the Mideast, in particular, we have been both arms dealer, and the explicit supporter of countless actions in which many innocents have died.
The details, as always, are open to debate. They should be debated. The question, for instance, of the status of Palestinian people, and their treatment, is a legitimate focus of international attention.
But make no mistake. Whatever the supposed cause, terrorism as a strategy is a distinct and separate issue. It must be responded to, fought, eliminated. No nation, no corporation, no faith, no people can offer it succor. Why? Because nations, corporations, faiths, and people are precisely the targets of terrorism. Why sleep with a snake?
I wholly reject the idea that victims are culpable in crimes committed against them by others. On the other hand, I believe victims have a responsibility to seek to ensure that they will not be victimized again. Acts of terrorism cannot be without consequence.
Yet, throughout so much of the aftermath of September 11, two quotes keep coming back to me. The first is from "Fiddler on the Roof," where Tevye responds to the Old Testament's "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," with this: "Very good. Then the whole world will be blind and toothless."
My second quote is from Mohatma Gandhi. "We must BE the light we wish to see in the world."
In dark times, that is an even greater challenge. How should the library respond?
Here's my answer: we should respond with what we do best -- gather, organize and present information to the public. In the weeks and months to come, look for us to build our resources on these topics. Watch, too, for upcoming, county-wide programs on Islam (Imam Kazerooni has agreed to repeat the session), the conditions in Afghanistan, and the history of counter-terrorism efforts.