America Matter Muslim Matters  Nabra Hassanen
A vigil in Reston, Virginia, for Nabra Hassanen, who was murdered near her mosque early on Sunday morning.Photograph by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP / Getty

By Shireen Qudosi

The world is coming together in shared grief over the increasing number of terror attacks. What was once an attack spread out between months, became every few weeks, then days. Terror attacks, or thwarted attempts, are now happening almost daily. Most recently, there were multiple attacks in the U.K. and similar acts here at home in the U.S.

The attacks have evolved to a new target: Muslims. A mosque in London was attacked by a non-Muslim man in the same manner that many radicalized Muslims have been attacking the West. Weaponizing a vehicle, middle-aged Darren Osborne drove a van onto the pavement near Finsbury Park mosque in North London, killing one Muslim and injuring nine others. The Economist described it as a tit-for-tat attack in what many commentators are predicting will not be an isolated incident.

The American Muslim community was similarly devastated with the recent sexual assault and brutal murder of a young American Muslim girl, Nabra Hassanen, as she was observing the holy month of Ramadan. What was imagined to be a hate crime based on Islamophobia turned out to be triggered due to an earlier altercation with the suspect, 22-year-old Darwin Martinez Torres. At first, it appeared  the attack on Nabra was also motivated by hatred of Muslims. Even though it seems to have been a personal dispute or some deeper undiscovered issue, the attack has still left American Muslim women (especially those wearing hijabs) terrorized.

Falling away from the neat compartmentalization of identity politics, the story also leaves many Americans conflicted. There is sympathy for the Hassanen and American Muslims, and there is conflict over how to view Torres who was discovered to be an illegal immigrant.

The attacks in the U.K. and the U.S., along with the many others that came before them, have redefined terrorism in some ways and have forced us to rethink how we evaluate the world today. Whatever our opinions, the consensus is equal: immense frustration in understanding the escalated brutality and confusion in how to move forward on a day-to-day basis when we seem to be unpredictably under threat.

But there is another way to look at this chaos. We’re at a point in civilization where a lot of issues are simultaneously rising to the surface. Like a star in it’s natural cycle, we will contract (painfully) before we expand. Like a birthing process, we will hear lamentations before we arrive at something new and beautiful. We are expanding our sense of self, our understanding of what it means to be human. Humanity, at this moment in history, is heading toward an evolution in identity that sees people across the earth united, rather than divided by tribe.

Benjamin David, editor-in-chief of Conatus News, shares an inclusive perspective:

“These acts are not only abhorrent, but they run counter to a central tenet of Islam: the value of mercy. We can only hope that society, under the auspices of our common humanity, can come together after this appalling tragedy and stand as one in unwavering solidarity.”

Debra Reynolds, founder of The Dignity Project, believes the emotionally debilitating experiences we share together are part of an experiential process that take us away from rigid viewpoints. Debra believes viewpoints aren’t locked in until they are experienced.

Previously, the opinions many of us have are based on the set of beliefs carried through what thought-leader Malcolm Gladwell describes as “tribes” or what I call “labels.” The experiences of recent events pull us out of those viewpoints and give us a new way to look at the world and each other; they breaks down barriers.

All of us are trying to make sense of these recent terrorist attacks. We’re trying to reconcile our politics and issue platforms with our experiences. Perhaps we need to let experience be the guide. Part of the reason repeat terror attacks are so destabilizing is because as a collective society, we had settled into a solidified understanding of identity, culture, and values. We believed that as a world of people we could check off these boxes and move forward in other areas of life on earth. And yet, each terror attack is a jarring experience, affecting us emotionally and psychologically even if we are thousands of miles removed; we are never totally removed. As terror attacks evolve, they break first and foremost our definition of what “terror” means. It is difficult to understand (let alone keep up with) the news and information surrounding these events; and, as we make sense of the unfolding world around us, we are also trying to resolve our experience in it.

We do have control over our ability to observe our reactions and emotions to each new wave of attack and the story that comes out of it. These attacks shake the puzzle pieces of society we thought might have started falling into place to piece together a picture of civilization as we know it. Yet civilization as we know it is not cemented; it is an evolving puzzle, and it is our job as citizens to look at each piece together and help piece back a new portrait of what it means to be American and human. This is a time for reflection, observation, and compassion; and, these serve as authentic guides as we move forward together.