Oklahomans, along with all other Americans, were glued to their televisions in an attempt to make sense of yet another senseless act of violence taking place on American soil. The heart of a city was broken, lives forever changed and the general feeling of safety we all expect in our daily lives shattered.
In Oklahoma, we intimately understand the magnitude of such tragedy, and immediately our hearts and prayers went out from the pulpits of Oklahoma churches, mosques and synagogues to the afflicted and their families. Although answers to the question of who would commit such a horrific act were of ultimate concern to many, we knew that the answer to the question would not heal the wounds caused by the destruction.
The tragedy that shook Boston was all too familiar for those here who have never and will never forget the significance of April 19, 1995. Our city and state forever changed at the hands of Timothy McVeigh. He ripped apart lives and hearts with his terror attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
We learned from April 19th what Boston has learned from April 15th: hatred can come in any shape, color or form, but coming together in a time of crisis, our communities can find strength.
As Oklahomans, we knew that, regardless of our backgrounds, putting our differences aside and coming together as human beings in support of one another would allow us to make it through a seemingly impossible crisis. And we did. Even when the media and law enforcement officials wanted to place the blame on “Middle-Eastern men,” the local Muslim community did not allow that to prevent them from joining all other Oklahomans in the healing process. Bostonians learned from our mistakes and, without jumping to conclusions, allowed Boston Muslims, as well as people of all other faiths, to come together as “one Boston” and show that they are “Boston strong.”
One thing that we have failed to realize as a state and nation is that violence, terrorism and extremism can originate from any background, regardless of race, religion or ethnic origin. In an attempt to calm our fears, we have made the mistake of creating a stereotypical image of a terrorist in that of a Middle- Eastern Muslim male and marginalized the American Muslim community in the process. It is time to redefine our understanding of terrorism so we may truly come together as a nation. On this basis, we can work together to be “one Oklahoma,” “one Boston” and “one America.”
What we will remember from the challenges of those days is how we came together as a state and nation.
Soltani is executive director of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations.