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Stop acting surprised by extremism, America

Ever wonder what goes through the extremist minds of those who join ISIS? Those who have distanced themselves from sanity? Those who shut out the words of others with whom they disagree? Those who make videos with violent imagery and scary symbols? Those who speak openly about harming specific groups of people? Those who openly threaten and hurt without mercy? Those who drive their vehicles into groups of innocent people?

Well, wonder no more. You are living among them.

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They are your colleagues, your neighbors, some are even your friends. They come in all forms and colors. Some are white, some are brown, while others are in between. They hold different positions in society and work different jobs. Some are executives of companies, while others work at gas stations. You look at them all the time, you just never see them. That's because they don't show their true colors until they are among one another. Only then do they reveal their true selves, when they feel united, when they feel strong. They pick up their rifles, their AK-47s, their flags and their signs, and they come out in the open. It's almost funny: Their hatred of others unites them, while our love for one another does not.

Terrorists don't have to be Islamic jihadis or Muslim lone wolves. They can be homegrown white men.

And when we see them, we get surprised. How could this be happening? How can they be this way? Well, it IS happening, and they ARE this way. But what should we do? I can't claim to know. What I do know is we need to stop acting surprised. Our culture is swamped with symbols of extremism. We still live on streets named after those who wanted to enslave us. We teach our kids about our ancestors' greatness, ignoring their horrific crimes. But when we see this extremism in action, we act appalled.

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So maybe we need to do something about this. Maybe we need to do something about this NOW. Maybe we should stop pretending everything is perfect, and the extremists are but a few. Maybe, we need to care more. We need to care enough to stop being lazy. We need to care enough to actively, responsibly, politically and socially, with our speech and our actions, propagate the pure message of love. We need to love each other as we would love our brothers and our sisters. We need to care for each other. All this violence, this consequence of extremism, is nothing but a way to incite hatred, to tear our unity apart, to make us feel alone. We must fight this, and we must succeed.

Mark Heyer and Susan Bro, in the moving eulogies they offered for their daughter, stepped up with the courage of a president to lead a mourning nation by delivering a message of forgiveness.

I understand this is a complex problem and just saying "love thy neighbor" isn't going to solve it, but caring for each other is something that is long overdue in our modern society. We can respect our heritage without making the mistakes of our ancestors' and act before the hearts and minds of others are filled with rage.

Lastly, if you are a brown person thinking this piece was about you, it was. If you are a white person thinking this piece was about you, it was. As a matter of fact, regardless of your color, gender, political affiliation or any other variable, if you think this was about you, it definitely was. If the shoe fits, wear it, but don't stop there, think of what YOU can do to improve our culture. Think of how YOU can care more for others. Think of how YOU can make a difference.

Zain Abidin (zaina2@umbc.edu) is a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

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