Note: This is a reprint originally posted on Facebook on January 28, 2017.
For the last day my mind has been going back to April 19, 1995 and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was a stunning, tragic day.
At Burtness, shop crews were concerned and were wanting more information. In the early hours it was believed that the attack may have been committed by Middle Eastern terrorists. This was important and not surprising. Just four years earlier the United States had fought Iraq. Just two years before Oklahoma City an attempt had been made to blow up the World Trade Center. An awful lot of people were certain that this was the case in Oklahoma City.
One of my shop crew members that day was Iraqi. I didn’t have any overriding concern for his safety, or mine, but wanted to know how he was doing, and what concerns that he had. I called him up to the booth to give me a hand with something and started chatting about things in general. We had gotten a video monitor running in the booth that picked up some local TV and, as we talked, images of the Murrah building were playing in the background. His eyes would drift to the screen and we started to talk about what was happening in Oklahoma and about his life in Iraq.
I have to confess, I don’t remember his name, and, for the life of me, I don’t remember most of what we talked about, but I can still see his eyes. As we talked about his time in the United States there was a warmth to his eyes, but, as we started to talk about his homeland, his eyes became fear filled. He told me stories, forgotten now, but at the time frightening. I remember asking if he was safe. He let me know that, if some of what he had told me would get out, he could be in real danger. That said, he felt comfortable in the shop and didn’t want to leave early.
Through my 25 plus years at UND, one of my favorite things has been to walk around campus and hear the voices of all the young men and women, students and faculty from around the world, speaking in their native tongues in small groups and gatherings. Here I am, in this isolated small city, hearing Saudi, Chinese, Japanese, Iraqi, Indian, and Korean. French. German. Italian. Norwegian. I meet with some of these students, I work along side some of these students. For 25 years this has given me great pride.
Our Nation’s greatest export isn’t oil, or steel, or grains. It is an export of ideas. It is the innate curiosity that we possess, a curiosity that washes over and infects all those whom we touch. We are a Nation of learning. A Nation of science, and of research. A Nation of creativity in Arts. It is a drive that pulls others from around the world, others who, in a different instance, could be considered enemies, but in the right place, and at the right time, become vessels to carry the light of what is best in the United States back to their homes.
Sadly, that light is going out. It’s not the result of terrorists or illegal immigrants, but, rather, is self inflicted. At my University there is a mighty struggle and a push toward reduction and isolation, not just from other nations, but other states. Nationally, we have a President who misguidedly believes that everything is a threat and the only solution is to raise the sword and close the gates.
I know in my heart that every time our country strikes in vengeance, rather than reaches out in friendship, that our goals of safety slide farther out of reach. Those students who now can’t come into our country, and those students who are now trapped in our country will have stories to tell. Stories of how the American Dream is a hollow vessel, not worthy of copying in their homes.
I resent those who for the past year or two have been pouring out our National goodwill on barren ground, just so that it might lift themselves up, those same people who are filling the air with unsubstantiated fears. I am disgusted by the willful, proud, ignorance brought forth from more and more of our leaders and citizens. I am concerned for our foreign students, for our visitors, for all those who we could call friend, except for walls of fear being built up that should have no place in a strong, free, society.
We must not be a hollow vessel.