My cousin is in from Los Angeles this week. He usually cooks a meal for everyone at least once while he’s here, and last night was the night. I really do love my cousin, and – when he was a bit younger – he and I got on quite well. Maybe it’s that I was the one who was younger. He’s gay, and given my conservative family dynamic, I was probably fascinated with his homosexuality, considering it very exotic in the midst of a family made up of religious Anglo Republicans. I found it refreshing.

As he ages, though, he resembles the deeper regions of my gene pool in a few surprising and – to me – disturbing ways. On July 15 — the day before my family gathered for my cousin’s mealtime offerings — Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, shot and killed four marines in Chattanooga. I had come to dinner straight from work and hadn’t seen a TV or turned on a radio since the previous evening. My cousin kissed me hello, and then immediately asked, “So should we take the rest of his family out and shoot them?”

I was laughing when I asked him, “Okay. What now?” I assumed he was referring to an unfortunate dating incident that had passed too quickly for the gory details to have reached Indiana.

“The guy who shot the marines in Chattanooga,” he replied in a tone that told me 1.) I’m slow, bordering on “special” and 2.) he was expecting me to immediately catch up to his mood, match it and agree with him wholeheartedly.

I admitted I had no idea what he was talking about given my pretty much media-free state of the previous 16 hours. He was only too happy to catch me up.

As he did, and as he also ranted and raved about terrorism and the Middle East and how we should bomb Iran and Syria and all the rest into nothing more than big craters in the Earth, I saw that one’s outlook on issues, both foreign and domestic, don’t necessarily have anything to do with one’s orientation or environment.

“That’s what they’d do if one of us went over there and killed some of their people,” my cousin raged. “They’d want to line all of you up against a wall and do away with you,” he preached passionately.

I’m of the opinion that while there may be FAR too many acts of terror occurring on a disturbingly regular basis, the fact that we can turn on the TV at any time of the day or night and hear about someone or something being bombed in any given part of the world is overwhelming. It magnifies the horrors exponentially. It easily gives the impression that this is all that’s happening in the world. It’s enough to make even the most open-minded individual turn to the dark side, embracing cynicism with the rest of the conservatives who believe the philosophy of “It’s us or them” is our only working option.

And my once-liberal cousin has done that.

But the notion of “Us” isn’t always safe either. Consider the recent victims of the Charleston church shooting. The FBI declared that atrocity an act of domestic terrorism — just as they did with the shooting in Chatanooga.

Islam might appear to have the market cornered on crazy at the moment, but nearly every religion has gone

through a period of violence in the public name of divinity and for the private purpose of control.

Personally, I’m super inclined to assume that the pastor of the fundamental Baptist church down the street is more insane than the guy running the halal market next to the Laundromat.

Stephanie Dolan is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and novelist.

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