Americans should walk a fine line Print
Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

In the wake of terrorist attacks and violence happening in the United States and other parts of the world, Americans find themselves fearful and wary about what might happen next.

The recent events in San Bernardino, Calif., where a married couple killed 14 people at a holiday party, have especially left us shaken and wondering how to deal with the possibility of terrorists living within our own communities.

Leaders in our cities and towns are making sure that police and fire departments are ready to respond to violent incidents. Public places and houses of worship are taking safety precautions.

Each of us should be vigilant

I think every one of us has a role to play in helping make our communities safer. We all should be vigilant about suspicious activity we might witness. And we should report such activity to the appropriate authorities.

It seemed strange to me that family members, friends, and co-workers didn’t notice anything unusual about the San Bernardino shooters Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik. Their home was filled with weapons, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, bombs, and a makeshift bomb lab.

Also, Farook worshipped at an Islamic center and would pray there two or three times a day. However, some accounts said he stopped coming to pray about three weeks prior to the shootings. Did anyone check to see why he stopped his routine?

Farook, an American citizen, graduated from California State University in San Bernardino and had been employed at the Inland Regional Center there for five years as an environmental health specialist. People who worked with him said he kept to himself. He did not show co-workers a picture of his wife, who might have expressed allegiance to ISIS in social media postings.

Be cautious about vigilantism

While American citizens should remain vigilant, I think we also have to walk a fine line between vigilance and vigilantism. Vigilantism means taking the law into one’s own hands.

The foundation of the American legal system rests on the rule of law, a concept embodied in the notion that the United States is a nation of laws. Even when the human element factors into legal decision-making, the decision- maker is expected to be constrained by the law in making his or her decision.

So even though we should take measures to protect ourselves and watch what’s happening around us, we should be careful not to cross the line into becoming vigilantes.

Respect people of all faiths

This is especially true when it comes to the practice of religious faith. We shouldn’t think of all Muslims as being violent fanatics. Many Muslims are loyal American citizens who serve our country, including in the armed forces.

Pope Francis has encouraged us to respect people of other faiths, including Muslims. A highlight of the pope’s recent journey in Africa was his visit to a mosque in Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, where Christian and Muslim militias have been fighting for nearly three years.

Catholic News Service reported that the Holy Father’s presence in the besieged, dangerous PK5 district was meant to show that the bonds of brotherhood between communities remain possible despite all the bloodshed.

“Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters. We must therefore consider ourselves and conduct ourselves as such,” Pope Francis said in his speech inside the mosque.

“Christians, Muslims, and members of the traditional religions have lived together in peace for many years,” he said, calling to mind “the many acts of solidarity which Christians and Muslims have shown with regard to their fellow citizens of other religious confessions.”

Tidiani Moussa Naibi, the imam of the mosque, expressed the same attitude and commitment.

While we should be vigilant about what is happening around us, we should follow our laws and respect people of all faiths. It is a fine line, but we should walk it — lest we sink to the level of those who live by hatred and violence.