The Nor'easter: Of Bedbugs and Terrorists

Like the bedbug that can stay dormant without feeding for long periods, the homegrown terrorist does not need to feed regularly on money, drugs, or political power.
The Nor'easter: Of Bedbugs and Terrorists
Evan Mantyk
A few months ago, my wife got a series of bites on her arm. Must have been a spider in her sweater we figured.

Then my whole family began showing up with spots on their bodies. It became painfully apparent that we had a bedbug problem.

I soon found out that bedbugs are probably the craftiest and most vexing household pests. They come in the night when you are sleeping. They suck your blood and disappear. Only after the sun rises and you go about your business does the bite really begin to ache.

You might not get another bite again for a few days or a week, but that’s the worst part: Bedbugs live up to an entire year without bloodsucking. While nothing seems to be wrong on the surface, they may very well be breeding. Adult females can lay 1-5 eggs per day.

New York City news has been increasingly filled with stories of bedbug infestations the last few years, everywhere from the Empire State Building to the Waldorf Astoria, where heads of state often stay. The increasing incidences of bedbug infestations in cities around the country has been blamed on increasing international travel, but no one knows for sure what is going on.

Bedbugs, I realized in my frustration, are no different than homegrown terrorism, the likes of which led to the Times Square bomb plot and the Fort Hood shootings.

Bedbugs typically do their dirty work unseen, unlike the too often visible cockroaches, and they sneak in and attack when you are most vulnerable: in bed sleeping. Similarly, the threat of homegrown terrorism is nearly invisible to us, and when terrorists attack, they target somewhere especially vulnerable, like Times Square or the medical center at Fort Hood, where soldiers went for medical treatment and weren’t armed.

Like the bedbug that can stay dormant without feeding for long periods, the homegrown terrorist does not need to feed regularly on money, drugs, or political power—his or her unholy quest is typically ideologically driven. In the cases of the Times Square plot and the Fort Hood shootings, the terrorists were driven by radical Islamic ideology.

These terrorists, both bug-sized and man-sized, are resistant to most conventional antidotes. Spray and they come back; get rid of your bed and they come back; promote democracy around the world and they come back; promote cultural tolerance in schools and they come back.

Thus, I found it counterintuitive last week when many New Yorkers were out protesting Rep. Peter King’s (R-Staten Island) investigative hearing into Muslim-American radicalization. Maybe the protesters never got bedbugs.

Those who opposed the hearing in Washington said that they did not like trying to get to terrorists by associating them with an entire community.

This certainly sounds nice, but this situation, is no different than asking that we no longer call bedbugs “bedbugs” because they don’t necessarily live in, attack in, or have any association with beds. Does that really make sense?

Seeking some form of classification and overall working method for attacking an obvious threat is only natural and sound. Even President Obama has said that al-Qaeda, an extremist Islamic group, is attempting to recruit and radicalize people right on U.S. soil.

A Pew Poll found that 15 percent of Muslim-American men, ages of 18-29, could support suicide bombings. That is a troubling statistic.

I won’t pretend to have the answers on bedbugs or terrorists. After I thought we’d thoroughly exterminated all our bugs, my family is still getting the odd bite once in a while. I do know that I won’t be protesting Rep. King anytime soon.

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Evan Mantyk is an English teacher in New York and President of the Society of Classical Poets.