Who’s the Real Source of Wartime Hysteria? by Kimberley Jane Wilson

I’m feeling pretty grouchy.

I recently attended the monthly meeting of one of my book clubs. Instead of discussing the really horrible imitation Terry McMillan novel we read this month, we had a guest speaker – “trauma/grief counselor.” I’m not comfortable with the sight of adults carrying on anywhere outside a funeral or wedding. I was not thrilled – but I kept quiet.

The counselor, an obviously sincere young woman, encouraged us to express our feelings about what’s been happening since September 11 and lectured us on tolerance of Muslims and their culture. She also scolded us for being “hysterical” about anthrax.

I got up and went to my hostess’s dinning room where three other ladies sat. We ate the finger sandwiches, chatted about the book and joked about the lecture going on in the living room. President Bush, Oprah Winfrey and the counselor all insist that “Islam” means “peace.” My Bosnian co-worker says it really means “surrender,” and my Sudanese neighbor flatly stated that the true meaning is “submission.” Who’s right, and what does it really matter anyway?

Frankly, if you gathered 100 Americans off the street, most of them couldn’t tell you a single thing about Islam. That’s how far off the mental radar screen it is for the average white American. In the black community, many of us have neighbors, friends or relatives who belong to either the Nation of Islam or some other Islamic branch. I don’t know of anyone who is feeling panicky.

There have been some shameful anti-Muslim incidents recently. Two Indian men are dead because they were mistaken for being Arabs. It hasn’t been reported in the media, but I feel sure in guessing that the killers of these two innocents were not model citizens to begin with. Except for enduring some hard stares and refused handshakes, most Muslim Americans are going along with their lives in peace.

As for simply wondering about anthrax, that’s really not hysteria. People were treated with the antibiotic Cipro because they’d been exposed to anthrax or as a preventative measure. Three men and two women are dead. Two were Washington, DC postal workers who apparently came in contact with the bacteria-laced letter that was delivered to Senator Tom Daschle’s office. One man was 52 the other was 47. Both of these hardworking individuals leave behind families and friends who loved and admired them.

The counselor and many experts stated that unless you are important you really don’t need to be the slightest bit concerned about anthrax, and if you areunimportant and concerned you’re just being a fool. Go tell that to the families of the dead postal workers. Most “important” people don’t answer their mail, and they certainly don’t open it themselves. When lightning strikes, most of us have the sense to go inside. When we get there, we usually lock the front door behind us. That’s called being sensible, and so is wanting some straight answers about anthrax.

After a couple of hours of research, I’m pretty confident that my family and I have next to nothing to worry about. But for those who are relying totally on newspaper and TV newscasts to get their information, this must a confusing time. Anthrax is not a virus. It’s not going to attack you like a tick and it’s unable to fly after you like a bee. The bacteria grows naturally in the ground or manufactured in a lab, and has to be ingested in some way by a living host to be deadly.

I’ve got a piece of novel advice for the authorities: How about treating the American public as adults? Give us the facts and let us deal with them. So far, the only people I see who are totally flipping out are newscasters, celebrities (as if most al Queda terrorists even know or care who they are) and congressmen. The rest of us are going right along with our lives as usual. So where is all this hysteria I keep hearing about?


Project 21, a leading voice of black conservatives for over 25 years, is sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research. Its members have been quoted, interviewed or published over 40,000 times since the program was created in 1992. Contributions to the National Center are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated, and may be earmarked exclusively for the use of Project 21.