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Another Voice: Words matter in describing terrorist as ‘homegrown’

By Kevin Zack

Words matter. The shocking massacre in Orlando finds the country mourning another disparate terrorist act. Having been born in America, the killer has been labeled a “homegrown” terrorist, a word that seems to have achieved wide acceptance by many.

It’s a dangerous description that implies much more than the fact that the person committing this mass homicide did so in his native country. The term suggests that the would-be killer was born here with purity, and if only he or she were not bathed in American values, he would have otherwise grown into a tolerant and non-violent person, incapable of such genocide.

“Homegrown” is defined as “having been produced in one’s own garden or country,” which conveys that the wellness of the end product is the direct result of the nutrients and care provided by its host.

Satisfaction with this description of the Orlando shooter is to consent to the idea that showing compassion for homosexuals by spraying bullets into a nightclub full of them, on a day of celebration, was germinated and fed to flourish here in America without competition. It concludes that the chief influences behind this gruesome act are not views held openly elsewhere, that a same-sex union warrants death, but that American intolerance of these views is to blame, or that somehow we share them, or that our free society bears greater responsibility for this.

The word supposes that the terrorist was a reasonable outcome of environmental conditions here, or that maybe the killer lashed out for being marginalized by our illiberal and amoral society.

Perhaps that explains why days later many were still questioning the motives behind the attack, despite how clear his intentions and reasons were made known before, during and even after as investigators sift through the numerous warning signs that they determined earlier were nonsubstantive.

But within hours America was willing to accept that he was “homegrown,” which requires us to look inward to target the source of such an act and ask, “What could we have done differently as a people to prevent the debasement of this fertile mind?” A mind that matured abnormally under our care to extinguish with glee and impunity the potential of 49 others to one day act with theirs in the name of love.

To examine ourselves as a nation at the expense of confronting directly the incomprehensible evils in the world that would sooner leave us with no fragment of humanity to inspect is to succumb to its tyranny.

We sometimes fail to live up to the values we espouse to in America, but in this form of terrorism, the great horror of our time, we are facing an invasive species.

Kevin Zack has been a Hamburg Central School District teacher for 20 years, the last four teaching middle school English.