By Ammar Campa-Najjar
Wednesday’s terrorist attack was painful to process on many levels. People I love were in the Capitol, hiding under their desks, recounting experiences that reminded me of my own in the war zone of Gaza.
For years, I’ve been called a “terrorist trying to infiltrate congress” by my former Congressman and the outgoing President’s supporters because of my Palestinian-Mexican American heritage. Now, the world has seen who the real national security threats, domestic terrorists, infiltrators are.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, when patriotic Americans aboard Flight 93 spent their final living moments fighting hijackers to save the Capitol from attack and prevent terrorists from claiming the symbolic victory of smashing the center of American government.
Twenty years later, that same Temple of Democracy came under attack by terrorists who stormed the halls of Congress, forced our elected officials to evacuate, and resulted in four people killed. This time the terrorists weren’t outside fundamentalists recruited by Bin Laden, they were our fellow citizens — fueled by hateful nativism and emboldened by a vacating President’s falsehoods and false hopes.
We’ve done to ourselves what our enemies could only dream of doing, and that is what’s most heartbreaking of all.
America is supposed to be a beacon of hope and democracy around the world. Instead, our allies are condemning our leaders for inciting these attacks, and our adversaries are publicly laughing at us. What the 45th President unleashed in our nation’s capital can never be unseen. By inverting and perverting every American institution, norm and guiding principle, Donald Trump has brought the fringe into the mainstream.
If you’re shocked, don’t be. This ugly underbelly of America isn’t new; it’s as old as our founding. Anarchy masquerading as patriotism, unchecked privilege, and the subhuman treatment of Black and Brown people by law enforcement compared to the timid treatment that met yesterday’s rioters.
There’s always been a tension between present day-America and its highest unreached ideals. Look no further than our founding documents that assert all are equal while counting a slave as three-fifths of a person.
America is not a perfect place, but it’s where the ultimate comeback stories are written. I’ve lived through being under siege by American-made helicopters and F-16s that leveled my neighborhood in Gaza. Twelve years later, I was serving in the United States government, being protected as a man by what could’ve killed me as a boy.
America is where the son of a Latina from the barrio and an Arab man from a war-torn country can run for Congress. It’s where the son of a woman who picked cotton just became Georgia’s first black U.S. Senator, and a Jewish son of immigrants was elected the youngest U.S. Senator since Joe Biden.
And in less than two weeks, America will swear in a decent, compassionate, competent President who will repair the damage and resume the work of forming a more perfect Union.
But America’s destiny has never been at the mercy of one person, not even a President. Each of us must choose democracy over anarchy, facts over fiction, and the peaceful transfer of power over resorting to violent acts of terror. If we do that together, then the America we love is not lost.
Ammar Campa-Najjar served in the Obama administration and was twice a candidate for Congress in the 50th District in east San Diego County.