On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a pilot in the U.S. Navy assigned to a strategic communications aircraft. As the Twin Towers fell, our crew of about 15 was moved from a routine state of response capability to what I will call an "extremely ready" alert posture. As we reviewed our procedures and prepared for the worst, we had some time to discuss what had happened. No one on my crew was more angered by the actions of the terrorists that day than our flight engineer. He was an incredibly capable aviator, a terrific leader, and a long time Navy vet. He was also an Iranian-American.
A few days after the 11th, we made our way back to our home base through eerily quiet skies. Because we had to remain on alert, we couldn't see our families, but we were able to contact them. Our flight engineer's children were getting harassed at their school. I don't know if it was because of their names, their religion, or their appearance, I just know that I will never forget how unjust it seemed to me that this man who had volunteered to serve this country, who had taken an oath to give his life for it if necessary, should have to worry about the treatment of his wife and children by the citizens he was sworn to protect.
Each time events such as what happened in Paris over the past week occur, Americans react predictably. They scream anti-Muslim insults at public events, they harass Arab Americans, and they demand we lock down our borders. Ignorance is a big contributor to these reactions, but fear is the primary cause. Some Americans are fond of the phrase "freedom isn't free" but seem to misunderstand its true meaning and are often the first and loudest to call for taking freedoms away. "Freedom isn't free" means that sometimes, if you want to retain your freedom and the freedom of others, you have to be willing to accept a little uncertainty, a little risk, and yes, a little fear.
Courage is not the absence of fear, just the ability to control it. Knee-jerk reactions against Muslims are a result of poorly controlled and misplaced fear. Likewise, locking out 10,000 people in need on the off chance that a terrorist may sneak through is a result of poorly controlled and misplaced fear. Governors who've said they won't accept Syrian refugees should be ashamed of themselves. While it is possible that they've taken this position based on their own fears of terrorism (again misplaced and poorly controlled), it's far more likely that the fear they are responding to is the fear of the political repercussions for failing to pander to the most cynical, and most fearful, of their constituents.
At a time when our thoughts are with France, it may be worth reminding ourselves that one of our country's great monuments was a gift from the French. The inscription on that gift reads "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free....." There is no post script to this inscription, no asterisk leading to a small note at the bottom of the page stating "we reserve the right to turn away the tired and poor if we're afraid." If we truly value freedom we need to "man up," control our fears, and do what's right.