Column: The next frontier

By Se Young Lee

The first step toward becoming a full-fledged member of society begins with the acknowledgement that all members of that community strive to forge their own, unmistakably authentic identity. From the very first moments of lucid consciousness, we work to become someone we want to be. Much of our life’s pursuits, in essence, revolve around transformations and becoming something different. Even the sound of the word “transformation” sounds positive.

But the paradox of human nature is that, while we embrace the difference we pursue, we fear those who are different from us. It is not difficult to recognize the source of that fear comes from the uncertainties of the unknown and the seriousness of the internal challenge we must deal with from witnessing someone who operates in a fundamentally different set of ideas and rules. We must face our insecurities that pose questions that we might not be prepared to answer. While it is not impossible to take a step back, re-examine our beliefs and attempt to understand the perspective of those who do not believe the same things that we do, we more often throw up our internal guards and choose to believe that they are simply wrong. And we mock and berate them to assure ourselves that we believe in and are doing what is right.

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We see examples of this intellectual immaturity that transcends borders, languages and cultures every day – contrary to what the outraged, self-righteous demagogues say – ranging from the merely deplorable to the truly heinous. There are the nameless hackers who vandalized the University chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations Web site, posting images of a Muslim man nailed to a cross and bleeding and the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban. There is Fred Phelps, who leads his flock to protest at soldiers’ funerals with signs that read “Thank God for IEDs” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” because they dared to protect a nation that tolerates those satanic sodomites that look to defile marriage and mock the Bible. There is Mohammed Taheri-azar, who decided to express his love for Allah, a God who preaches tolerance and peace by driving into the University of North Carolina campus and trying to run over a group of people for the U.S. government’s orchestration of “similar attacks” in Islamic states.

And there is, of course, Nazi Germany, who tried to wipe an entire race from the face of the earth for no particularly striking reason – unless you ask Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who would tell you that the Holocaust never happened. Of course, any individual who calls for Israel to be wiped off the map tends to be a very credible source for Jewish history.

Many of the problems we face today – and there are many – ultimately revolve around willful ignorance. Instead of making the effort to bridge the widening chasms and finding common ground, battle lines were drawn and ivory towers were built. And as the years go on, all sides become more and more entrenched, blindly holding onto uncontested – and therefore feeble – beliefs and castigating all others as charlatans, enemies, fools or godless heathens who must fall under the sword of justice.

This is the world that we, the generation that was defined by Sept. 11, will inherit.

It is easy to feel hopeless. And it is easy to continue writing in new chapters of the chronicles of a world tangled by confusion and insecurity. But this world, in its tainted and shattered glory, is still ours. We owe it to ourselves and each other to fight for it. And we must realize that there is no one else to rely on. We must venture forth to the next frontier and wage war against the specters of the past that grow stronger on the sins of our fathers for their baseless hatreds and misgivings. We must come together, tear down the walls built by our insecurities and prejudices and fight for what is rightfully ours – the right to be ourselves without the threat of harm.

Se Young Lee is a junior in Communications. He is currently being routed on the academic front by two papers, one presentation, one midterm and two design projects. His columns appear Thursdays. He can be reached at [email protected]