35 | Columbine by Dave Cullen

This is one of the most tragic books I have read, about how two teenagers took the lives of fellow students and teachers and branded Columbine as not only a location of a horrible scene, but also a point in time. I learned a lot from this book that I had no idea about– how much hysteria surrounded the event, how the instant arrival of news crews and cameras capitalize on heightened anxiety which shaped false narratives of what was actually transpiring, and just how many clues the perpetrators left behind before commiting the act. Columbine ruined so many lives, not just the lives of those who died. Those who witnessed or were present during the massacre, those who had loved ones who died, injured or survived, all suffered a great deal. Some committed suicide, other were in a paralysis-like state, unable to move beyond their fears and anxieties due to depression and survivor’s guilt. It’s crazy to think that Columbine took place in 1999, exactly 2o years ago yet so little policy and law wise has changed. So many shooting on school campuses have taken place since then, with little nod to the fact we should have learned our lessons with Columbine. Dave Cullen does an incredible job bringing to light just how the confluence of politics, realities, family pressures, social stigmas and the like make this story a true one.

28 | Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is a letter Ta-Hehisi Coates is writing to his young son about what it means to be a black man in America. The prose was very evocative and powerful, but I felt like I couldn’t understand the magnitude of his words. As a POC, it is important for me to be an ally to the black community and listen to words spoken or written about race and one’s experience moving about this world, but I felt that his lament about the black struggle was only between the blacks and whites, and not acknowledging the interrelated-ness of racial relations. It is not his responsibility to make his words legible to those who are not black but by essentially saying there are “the Dreamers” (those who are white and who think they are white) and blacks, it isn’t a relatable world for me. Maybe I’ll revist this book in the future.

13 | Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy seemed to have garnered a lot of attention after it’s 2016 release as many people sought to find some explanation of how Trump had so much political support stemming from the Appalachian region. However, I think it is important to recognize that this isn’t some great sociological investigation or commentary; Vance is writing a memoir of his childhood and young adult years. He’s writing about his life and the people who both contributed and inhibited his growth, the opportunities and setbacks he encountered and what he believes to the reasons he has been able to make a life for himself.

Vance was essentially raised by his Mamaw (he writes it’s pronounced ma’am-maw) and Papaw in Middletown, Ohio in the 1980s, a place where troves of Kentucky Appalachian transplants relocated in the wake of massive recruitment by manufacturing companies seeking blue-collar workers. Mamaw and Papaw Vance, in Vance’s words were true Jackson County, Kentucky “hillbillies”– they abide by a set of societal norms of which defending the family’s honor is the singular most important rule. Vance’s memoir is filled with stories, some more legend than truth, of his Mamaw’s no bullshit attitude: when she caught some theives stealing her family’s cow, she took a shotgun and managed to hit one guy in the leg. She would’ve shot the downed thief again to kill him if not for her brother holding her back. Mamaw cussed, called people out on their mistakes and encouraged J.D. to beat up a school bully who would repeatedly beat up a scrawny classmate. J.D. clearly worshipped his grandmother. Vance’s mother, Mamaw’s second child, was largely absent in his life, moving from boyfriend to boyfriend, eventually falling into drug addiction. Vance’s father broke up with his mother a few months after he was born and started a new family of his own, living a conservative religious lifestyle after joining the Pentecostal Church. Vance’s grandparents and family from Kentucky believed in God but didn’t attend church (Vance comments that people from Appalachia think they go to church more than they do; apparently, the actual rate of church going is very close to the rate of church attendance in liberal San Fransisco). Vance’s older sister Lindsay was one of the only constants in his life, protecting him from their abusive mother and taking care of him when no one else did. He writes about ACEs or Adverse Childhood Experiences, a metric used by psychologists and social services to understand childhood trauma and the likely problems adults who experienced ACEs as children, will have. For example, if a child experiences parental separation or divorce, has a family member who abuses drugs or alcohol, has depression or is suicidal, all these different ACEs affect the child in profound ways, even altering brain chemistry for life. Adults who experienced ACEs, especially multiple ones, have higher rates of obesity, heart disease, psychological problems, substance abuse and even have problems maintaining normal relationships and holding down a job.

While Vance experienced multiple ACEs, he writes that he was able to “make it” because of people in his life: his Mamaw, who instilled in him importance of doing well in school and took him under her wing after Vance’s mother proved time and time again she was unable to provide for her son, his sister Lindsay who protected him during his childhood, his mentor (Amy Chua) in graduate school, various friends and his future wife, Usha. He also had the opportunity to enlist in the Marine Corps after high school and later enroll in college at Ohio State University with minimal debt thanks to need-based financial aid, Pell Grants and the GI Bill. Yale, where he attended Law School, also gave him essentially a free-ride; the irony being that it was cheaper to attend a private, out of state school than a public, in-state university. It is clear that Vance is grateful for the people in his life and the opportunities he had, but he feels that in addition to things happening to align for him, he also worked incredibly hard and sacrificed his fair share. He worked two jobs to support himself through college, sleeping less than four hours a night in order to graduate with minimal debt and a double major in just under two years. He worked for a remodeling company after college, lifting tiles in order to save up money for law school. His work ethic was what contributed to his success: while his peers from Middletown and Jackson County got caught up in adolescent parenthood, drugs and unemployment, Vance did the opposite, focusing in energies to excel in school and provide for himself. A obvious conservative, Vance believes that what set him apart from his peers and others in his community was not only having a few saving graces along the way like supportive relatives, but the fact he also worked to get where he wanted to go, instead of wallowing in excuses and self-pity.

This is where things get dicey. Many readers thought this attitude of “I worked hard, so should they” was pompous and completely neglected the systemic pressures Appalachians and other poor working whites face, including disappearing manufacturing jobs due to processes like globalization, trade wars and unchecked capitalism, the incredibly extractive coal and mining industries (which have also wreaked substantial environmental havoc), the overprescription of of opioids, contributing to the ensuing epidemic, the increasing political isolation, brain-drain, and a whole host of other issues Vance largely fails to address. Vance writes off these experiences as it’s just what happens when people make poor life decisions. Until young women stop having children with multiple men, people decide to work hard at their job, stop taking drugs, start working hard in school, things will continue to deteriorate, all at the expense of the next generation of children. Vance writes of many neighbors who were those stereotypical “welfare queens”: each of her children have a different father, she’s addicted to drugs, has a new boyfriend every month, she uses her food stamps to get food, then sells it for cash to fund her drug habits. He writes of his co-worker with a pregnant girlfriend coming in perpetually late to work, taking extensive bathroom breaks, who slacks. After multiple warnings, his boss fires the guy who later complains that it isn’t his fault he got fired and that it was unfair as he has a child on the way. Vance writes that there are so many people who completely neglect the opportunities right in front of them. You can’t help people until they help themselves. It’s not a policy problem, Vance argues, but a mindset problem. Poor working whites have created a construct in which they are the victims.

I can see why this rubs people the wrong way, but I think it’s important to understand this is a memoir of Vance’s life. Take his work for what it is, rather than critique his take on social policy. Vance is not a sociologist trying to understand why people are they why they are. I think he is very brave in writing about his family history and putting it out there for strangers to read. There are too few narratives of what upward mobility and the accompanying challenges are like for everyday Americans and his story should be read with empathy and compassion though admittedly he veers into dangerous territory when he writes about Appalachians as a whole, rather than his own experience. Vance was in his early 30s when the book was released; it would be interesting to see if he writes another part to his memoir some decades later and if his attitudes and beliefs change at all in the future.

11 | To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

There are so many “modern classics” I haven’t read; it’s almost overwhelming. The ones that I did read in grade school, I don’t remember enjoying at all. I found them dry, characters not relatable and tedious to read when you were given reading quizzes on the content the following day. Questions like: “why did character X frown when character Y did Z” did not pique my interest, nor did they help me appreciate literature or cultivate any passion for reading. To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t in my school English curricula so I picked it up at the library and decided to give it a go. I don’t regret reading the novel as it is considered one of the most highly regarded works of literature of all time and always included on those lists of “books you should read before you die,” but quite honestly, it was a bit of a drag to get through.

The story is narrated from Scout Finch’s perspective. She’s a fairly normal eight year old girl attached at the hip with her older brother Jem. Their father, Atticus, is the town lawyer, who both revere and respect. Unsurprisingly, where the story is set in the 1930’s Deep South, Maycomb County, Alabama to be specific, there is extensive racial prejudice and injustice ripe in people’s attitudes and the local justice system. A young black man named Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white girl– there are no witnesses except a white man’s word over a black man’s. We know how that turns out. Atticus is appointed to defend Tom and the townspeople ridicule and ostracize the family, including young Scout and Jem.

I can understand why this book is considered a timeless classic– themes of racism, classism and injustice will never grow old unfortunately. We will live in a time where the justice system is stacked against blacks, in favor of whites, and where rampant and brazen injustices run wild. However, the savior complex Atticus is given by Harper Lee rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like it could be a trope of sorts: an educated, privileged white man realizes all people are equal and cuts the black man’s chains to set him free. Additionally, Lee is a white woman, writing about a white family, but includes experiences of Tom and other black characters without having any lived experience as a black person. The fact that this novel is the story about racism in America to me is strange. There are so many works by African American authors who live with the legacies of prejudice, injustice and oppression, who are so much better equip to write about this topic. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t have to read this book in grade school. It would probably eat away at my soul if I had to remember why X happened Y after Z did– you get the gist.

4 | Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

“The problem with medicine and the institutions it has spawned for the care of the sick and the old is not that they have had an incorrect view of what makes life significant. The problem is that they have had almost no view at all. Medicine’s focus is narrow. Medical professionals concentrate on repair of health, not sustenance of the soul. Yet– and this is the painful paradox– we have decided that they should be the ones who largely define how we live in our waning days.”

Being Mortal

I first came across the idea of “quality of life” when watching the French movie The Intouchables (2011), a story of a wealthy quadriplegic man named Philippe, who instead of hiring a live-in caregiver who is medically trained and qualified, hires a young black man, Driss, from the projects who has zero experience or interest in the job. Philippe’s friends become concerned about this decision and confront him saying “…these street guys have no pity…”, to which Philippe replies: “That’s what I want.” Philippe and Driss strike a friendship that allows Philippe to feel like he’s living; the two take joyrides through the streets of Paris in Philippe’s Maserati, go paragliding in the Alps and Driss even throws snowballs at Philippe and jokes: “Don’t be so lazy. You have to throw some back” as Philippe laughs with joy. Later, when Driss leaves the job due to familial duties, Philippe becomes deeply depressed and withdrawn as his new caregivers treat him like a retarded child, incapable of any mental capacities. There is a happy ending though, when Driss returns, allowing Philippe to live a life without constant pity from those closest to him.

There have been many highly publicized debates about a subject related to this idea of “quality of life” and what happens when it is subject to imminent compromise. For example, there are a number of states including Oregon and Washington that have passed laws legalizing assisted suicide or assisted death for those with terminal illnesses which cause significant pain and loss of quality of life. I remember the case of Brittany Maynard, a 29 year old California woman who was suddenly diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer. Because California did not have any laws to allow her to make that decision, she and her family had to move to Oregon in order to take advantage of the “Death with Dignity” law. She became the figurehead of the national debate; at the time of her death, only three states in the U.S. legalized assisted death laws, but to date, seven states have passed the legislation. Maynard describes why she made the choice to pass away this way. In this way, she is in control. When she feels the time is right and before the pain becomes too great to bear, she will be able to decide when to pass. In an interview after her passing in 2014, Maynard’s husband talks about of Maynard’s fear of suddenly (and inevitably) losing her mental capacity during a seizure or stroke (which results in the loss of speech), to which point she cannot self-administer the medication. That that point, she loses complete control over her own body, her mind engulfed in fear and the loss of the ability to communicate her desires. Death with Dignity allows her to pass on her own terms in an environment she chooses, with the people she chooses to be around her.

The word “dignity” has been thrown around– some feel that the loss of bodily functions such as eating or relieving oneself, such that they need 24/7 oversight might cause them to live a life without dignity. Other feel the life with pain or life constrained to a bed or wheelchair is the limit. Whatever the case, the inevitable fact Gawande argues many people do not wish to accept though they know is that we are mortal. We live for a finite period of time, then we will die. While for a few, death will come quickly and unexpectedly, perhaps in a tragic accident, for most, there is a gradual decline of loss of physical and/or mental capacities. This is a frightening thought, I know for me that is. Older people tend to have trouble with hearing, seeing, walking, sleeping, bending down… the list goes on and on. Not to mention loss of appetite, memory loss, motor function, and secondary effects which lead to loss of independence. Many elderly gradually lose the ability to drive (apparently 3x more likely to cause an accident than a newly licensed teenager), grocery shop, cook, do housework and take care of oneself. I cannot imagine myself going through this process, it must be terrifying to be cognitively sound yet feel as if your body is giving out. Thus, Gawande says, we have turned to medical interventions to prolong the period in which we can delay the process of aging or mitigate the effects. If you have hearing loss, you get hearing aids. If you have this issue, you get that medicine. If the side effects are too much, you get another medication to help with that. With major illnesses and diseases, it’s similar. You take blood thinners to reduce the chance of blood clots, you remove tumors as physicians recommend, you take all the preventative and proactive measures you can.

Gawande shares the story of many who do not realize their diagnosis is a death sentence. A young woman who is diagnosed with a terminal metastatic cancer just days before her due date and her family, continue to push to her doctor to “do his job” and come up with possible avenues of treatment, completely neglecting the reality of her situation. Not because she and her family aren’t listening, but more so due to the fact her doctor is not telling her ‘you will die from this, in a matter of months.’ Gawande writes that the majority of doctors significantly overestimate the time their terminally ill patients have. Doctors aren’t trained social workers, there are social workers that work with terminally ill patients for a reason, but the delivery of “the news” is not always clear. Doctors aren’t at fault though, because who wants to let the young 36 week pregnant lady know she will die in the next few weeks and that any surgery will be pointless as the cancer has already spread to vital organs? Patients and their families aren’t always receptive to the full array of possibilities, many putting blind faith in science which is not as advanced as they believe it to be. This is the paradox outlined in the quote at the beginning of this post, that patients feel they have no choice but to resign and leave the fate of their life in the hands of their physicians who want no blood on their hands. So patients try everything: surgery, chemotherapy, experimental therapies and treatments. Gawande argues that this is a form of abuse, as some patients’ bodies will actually decline due to the applications of these procedures, the opposite of what they believe it might do.

This is a recent cultural shift, Gawande writes, as just a few decades ago, the majority of deaths occurred at one’s home. Now, most deaths occur at the hospital, surrounded by beeping machinery and unfamiliar faces in a clinical, sterilized setting. What is so great about this prospect? He writes: “At root, the debate is about what mistakes we fear most– the mistake of prolonging suffering or the mistake of shortening value life.” There is a middle ground though, which is completely subjective, yet unrecognized by federal law. Brittany Maynard found it, but that required intensive research, reflection and resources for her to be able to move to another state and have the support of medical teams to respect her decision. She passed before the suffering became too great for her to bear yet at a point she felt her life was well lived. I have great respect for her, her husband and family for pioneering the national debate around this topic.

Not only does aging place a burden on the individual experiencing the process, but it also deeply affects that individual’s children and their families. Though a common familial structure and living arrangement in other countries, multi-generational living is not common in the U.S. as specific industries and educational opportunities are concentrated in particular areas, requiring people in the workforce to become geographically mobile. Moreover, the expanded housing market, ideals of individualism and “coming of age” and other socio-cultural factors have encouraged young people to live independently. So until older people experience issues to the point they cannot care for themselves, they do live on their own, but then they are faced with the choice between (a) continue living on one’s own and risk serious injury (falling, heart attack) and no one being around to help them seek emergency medical attention, (b) moving in with children (if that is an option), (c) nursing home, (d) assisted living… these choices of course vary depending on one’s finances, familial structure and geography. Gawande considers a multiplicity of cases. His wife’s grandmother Alice Hobson who until has a serious fall, lives independently as an 80+ year old. Alice’s son and daughter-in-law becoming increasingly concerned, eventually convincing her to move into assisted-living. She becomes withdrawn and depressed like Philippe does after Driss leaves, as she is subject to the facilities’ strict regiment: when to eat, what to eat, when to wake/sleep and what activities are available. She eventually dies. Another man named Lou lives independently as a 94 year old. Due to his daughter’s concerns regarding Lou’s safety, he unwillingly moves into her home where tensions arise as Shelley is burdened with caring for her own children and her father, who has many medical appointments, therapists visits, health issues, and idiosyncrasies she finds difficult to deal with. She reaches a breaking point, confessing to her father who hard it has been on her. He moves into a type of assisted living that values patients’ sense of independence. For example, though he is prone to falling and isn’t able to balance well, he feels undignified confined to a wheelchair. Thus, under a aide’s watch, he allowed to walk using a walker when and where he pleases. He decides when he wants to wake up and go to bed, how he wants to spend his time and how he wants to decorate his room. Lou’s life does end, but he is happy, having never lost his sense of dignity. A life well lived. Gawande says that we do not realize how one’s state of mind feeds into one’s body: a happy person lives a longer life. And it doesn’t take much for Lou to feel happy.

The irony is that even if you know what’s going to happen, it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. However, Gawande argues that the earlier on people confront the difficult questions around the terms in which they wish to live and die, the smoother it will be and the less anguish and pain will be felt. In the case of La Crosse, Wisconsin, elderly residents have unusually low end-of-life hospital costs, during the last six months they spend half as any days in the hospital as the national average, there’s no sign that doctors and/or patients are halting care prematurely, and their life expectancy outpaces the national mean by a year. How? Gawande writes that in 1991 local medical leaders instituted a campaign to get both medical professionals and patients to discuss end-of-life wishes. Some questions include: Do you want to be resuscitated if your heart stops? Do you want aggressive treatments such as intubation and mechanical ventilation? Do you want tube or intravenous feeding if you can’t eat on your own? Though uncomfortable to think about let alone discuss with tohers, the advanced directive written allowed patients, their families, and caregivers to find a certain peace, as the patients’ wishes were clearly spelled out.

Admittedly I am fearful of death. I am afraid of the gradual decline of my capacities, the pain and the heartache it will cause my loved ones. However, when you realize the fear around death is a cultural mindset, it feels somewhat more liberating. Several years ago, I watched a TED Talk by an artist, proposing the idea of pledging one’s body after death back to the environment. After one passes, the body will be placed in a mushroom-spore infused suit, eventually helping the body to decompose and feed the soil. She isn’t proposing to eliminate ritual, rather she wishes to reimagine the links between life and death. It is natural for living organisms to die, their bodies feeding others as the cycle of life is sustained. To participate of course, while alive, one must make this pledge, but it’s a fascinating way to conceptualize death and what happens after. Since I watched her speak, I am committed to mushroom suit idea. Are you?

3 | United States of Jihad: Investigating America’s Homegrown Terrorists by Peter Bergen

“Since 9/11, more than three hundred Americans-born and raised in Minnesota, Alabama, New Jersey, and elsewhere– have been indicted or conviected of terrorism charges. Some of taken the fight abroad: an American was among those who planned the attacks in Mumbai, and more than eighty U.S. citizens have been charged with ISIS-related crimes. Others have acted on American soil, as with the attacks at Fort Hood, the Boston Marathon, and in San Bernardino. What motivates them, how are they trained, and what do we sacrifice in our efforts to track them?”

My thoughts on this book are difficult to organize. I felt an array of emotions while reading. Genuine curiosity, as 9/11 happened when I was five and a half and even then, I was capable of realizing that horrific acts of violence were committed. Outrage too, that law enforcement, and politicians, security experts, haven’t found a way to stop all these atrocities before they happen. Since growing up, I can remember so many terrorist attacks and mass shootings motivated by some kind of extremist ideology such as all those in the aforementioned quote, including the Charleston church, Orlando nightclub, and Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, just to name a few. The outrage I felt did fester while reading the entire book, as debates about immigration and gun control are stagnating. It seems as if the political figures who are supposed to be representing and protecting their constituents are becoming immune to the mass killings and gun violence. And third, I felt despair. Despair for the Muslim communities who have escaped the persecution, bombings, gas attacks, drone strikes, starvation, and disease in their homelands only to arrive in Western countries which marginalize and stigmatize them. Despair for all the victims, their families, the state of fear and misinformation we live in. And with that, here are some other musings.

I was taken aback how well researched this book was; Bergen interviewed tens of people including leading counterterrorism experts and theorists, families of terrorists, terrorists themselves, U.S. officials from the White House, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center, victims’ families, and Islamic clerics. Though this book could have easily read like a history textbook, going case by case through major cases chronologically, political debates, changing law enforcement tactics, public perception and personal stories were weaved into the narrative to read more like a story… a tragic one at that.

The title of this book is just about as provocative as it gets: The United States of Jihad. One of my immediate concerns when I picked up this book was that it might dismiss Islam and the incredibly beautiful, ancient religion that it is, for some sensationalized microscopic view of Islam as “practiced” by a minute few. Peter Bergen only dedicates a mere paragraph to explaining what exactly jihad means to the vast majority of Muslims, when in fact his entire book book is about how various militants conceptualize jihad. Bergen writes: “Jihad has an alternative, nonviolent meaning within Islam, as the internal struggle Muslims wage against un-Islamic behavior, but today’s Islamist militants explicitly reject this understanding of jihad and embrace its interpretation as a literal ‘holy war.'” This difference in the conceptualization of one term could have been explained in much more detail without forgoing the mission of the book. I think it could’ve served as a significant educational moment for those who read the book, as for decades, American media has failed to show how dynamic and multifaceted the majority of Muslims are, as peaceful individuals. Critically, the notion of an “internal-struggle” of sorts and reconciling one’s religious/spiritual beliefs with scientific teaching and lived reality is not foreign to most people of faith, whether Christian or Sufi.

The book begins in the post-9/11 period– hard to believe the 2001 attacks bore beyond an indelible mark, but one that cut so deep it changed the world order to become more fearful than ever. Bergen writes that “a large majority of Americans consider it the most memorable event of their lives, just as an earlier generation was haunted by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” This rings true for me, for I remember coming home from elementary school, my parents glued to the TV, calling my aunt who lived in New York City to make sure she was safe. At the time, Binladenism was the dominating Islamic terrorist ideology, which Bergen explains has an ultimate goal of “restoring a Taliban-style caliphate that will stretch across the Muslim world from Indonesia to Morocco. Evil people and nations stand in the way of this dream: the Jews, Israel, the United States, and any Middle Eastern regime that doesn’t follow Taliban-style rule.” Though this vision of a world order may seem unrealistic and unsubstantiated, Binladenism asserts that there are real world events that contributed and built this ideology: America’s support for Israel and U.S. foreign policy decisions in the Muslim world such as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, etc.. In fact, many of the jihadists cite specific policies at their sentence hearings including CIA drone attacks (which not shockingly, kill many civilians) and U.S. military attacks in their ancestral homelands. These Islamist terrorists do not feel their beliefs and attacks are unfounded and indeed, the United States, Russia, and other European nations have committed numerous atrocities to achieve some semblance of control of these nations.

Essentially a “who’s who” of American jihadists, Bergen explains how various Americans came to commit, ideate or support various jihadist attacks both on U.S. soil and other places in the world. One of the most well-known stories is that of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American born cleric who in 2011 was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen. Others include Carlos Bledsoe, Nidal Hassan, Omar Hammami and Samir Khan. Bergen seeks to distill what the commonalities in their backgrounds are and concludes that for the most part, they aren’t first-generation immigrants who slip through the grasps of American surveillance undetected. Rather they are mostly second-generation American citizens who did not grow up in a radical environment, but instead became receptive to radical ideology through a “cognitive opening,” or moments in time which individuals become receptive/vulnerable/susceptive to different world views and new ideas, usually spurred by a personal crisis.

It is astonishing how the mainstream use of the internet and social media has transformed the way terrorist organizations disseminate information and teachings, gain and interact with followers and curate images of what the utopian caliphate looks like. From the terrorist magazine Inspire, which numerous American jihadists learned from, to the use of Twitter by disgruntled people to make disturbing posts, it is not surprising how exposure to extremism on online websites and forums can quickly become an echo chamber and the ensuing radicalization of those with “cognitive openings” can result. No longer do individuals need to stumble across a radical imam giving a lecture in a mosque; instead, a quick Google search may reveals troves of information someone may seek comfort or meaning in. To me, it is shocking how little responsibility internet companies such as Twitter and Youtube take to monitor online content for violent, racist, militant messages and instead, leave the judicial system to make the call. There does exist a perpetual struggle between free speech and public safety, but we can and should agree that violent ideologies are not to be tolerated and should immediately be vehemently rejected.

One of the most compelling passages to me was this:

“Americans have long tended to overestimate the threats posed by jihadists while underestimating the sources of other forms of terrorism, generally defined as any act of violence against civilians motivated by ideology. Since 9/11, extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right-wing credos, including white supremacists, antiabortion extremists, and anti-government militants, have killed around the same number of people in the United States as have extremists motivated by al-Qaeda’s ideology. As we have seen, by the end of 2015, 45 people had been killed in jihadist terrosit attacks in the United States, while right-wing racists and antigovernment militants had killed 48.” 

Bergen reminds us that it isn’t Islamic extremism that is the sole ultimate threat to the United States– it is extremism in any and all forms that will breed hatred and result in violence.