03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Terror Fears Scarier Than Guantanamo Bay Suspects in the Heartland

What's far scarier than the thought of Guantanamo Bay terrorism suspects cooling their heels behind maximum security bars in Thomson, Illinois?

Fear-mongered people -- already stretched to the limits due to the ravages the economy has inflicted -- acting out against anyone who looks like a foreigner because the TV and newspaper headlines are hyperventilating about terrorists living among us.

There is no doubt that the recent Fort Hood Massacre left the country wondering where they can feel safe from terrorism. If the young men and women who have pledged to protect the good old U-S-of-A can't be kept from being slain in the name of Islam on a military base filled with their peers, the dark thought goes, then what level of safety can the average Joe hope for?

I won't deny that the concern does give one pause, but honestly, I'm less scared of the possibility of an armed Islamic radical coming into my life than I am about the everyday bigots.

Take Valerie Kenney, resident of Tinley Park, which was just named by BusinessWeek Magazine the "Best Place in America to Raise Kids." She is accused of yanking off a Muslim woman's headscarf at the checkout counter of the neighborhood Jewel.

Two days after the Fort Hood shootings Kenney, 54, allegedly walked up to a woman in a hijab -- who was almost certainly loading sugary all-American kiddie cereal and milk onto the conveyor belt to take home to her four young daughters -- and shouted "That guy that did the Texas shooting, he wasn't American, and he was from the Middle East." Nidal Malik Hasan was born in the United States, in Virginia, to Palestinian parents.

Gee, I wonder how those four daughters -- or the other families who have reported derogatory terrorist-related terms graffitied on their Tinley Park property -- feel about Tinley being the "Best Place in America to Raise Kids."

Speaking as someone who has actually been slurred a terrorist in public -- dark skin, hair and eyes makes for a great many terrorist suspects -- I can tell you that the shame and humiliation of the words alone are painful enough, I can't imagine how devastated the young woman was to be violated publicly in such a religiously-offensive way. Just think about someone ripping a shirt off a nun and you might get how serious that is.

So we were already on "high" for terror alert when the Thomson, Illinois situation reared its head. Last Saturday the White House floated the idea of holding terrorist suspects who are currently in Guantanamo Bay in rural Western Illinois. Never mind the Thomson facility is a maximum security prison and the prisoners in question would be held to military detention standards which precludes all but the essential legal or enforcement visitors. Still, the fear mongers would have us believe that -- I'll quote running-for-Senate U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk -- "If we transfer al-Qaeda terrorists to Illinois, the Chicago area will receive increased attention from the jihadist world. As home to America's tallest building and her busiest airport, this is not a risk we should impose on Illinois families."

Really? Kirk wants to run for Senate to represent all of Illinois in Washington and the best he can do to whip up votes is dissuade potential economic development for a rural area -- and state -- that badly needs it is because otherwise, scary terrorists will have never heard of the Willis-formerly-Sears Tower and O'Hare?

Please! That's crazy talk coming from someone who should just know better for all sorts of different reasons. And it puts Kirk in the same class as Valerie Kenney: frustrated, scared, and just plain wrong about credible terrorist threats to Illinois' residents.

Esther J Cepeda writes about terrorism, politics, and much, much more on