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Letters From Behind the Pine Curtain — ISIS and the Sparrow

Columns Letters For Behind the Pine Curtain

Sparrow and ISIS Column by Randy Lewis Brown

ISIS and the Sparrow

“Asallah pulls her burka tighter
Like loose feathers to her skin
She shivers in the evening chill
And the memory of the men
One by one, they traded places
Backed by guns and holy law
They left her here, a broken bird
Beneath a shattered wall”
(The Sparrow from the Album But Wait, There’s More… by Randy Brown)

I have a strange little story to tell. It may seem highly unlikely but I assure you it is absolutely true. I learned a lot from this experience and hopefully my recounting it will draw attention to what I consider the greatest pandemic we are experiencing right now and it isn’t COVID.

First let me introduce myself; Randy Lewis Brown is the name. Used to be I went without the middle name but in today’s music streaming world the name has to be unique or the streaming services just pile it all in together. There are no more genre bins like record stores used to have to spread the same-namers around so it can get a tad confusing. There was too much confusion among two other artists who were also Randy Brown; one a 80s soul artist and the other a hard core country artist. Back when I was the Lewis-less Randy, I released a CD titled But Wait, There’s More…. An agnostically spiritual folk record (yeah, I know) released in 2012. One of the songs was titled “The Sparrow.” It is a brief narrative of a young girl being attacked and murdered by a group of armed thugs. In order to better get the song’s point across, I placed it in the Middle East by dressing the victim in a burka and giving her a foreign name; Asallah. The song’s chorus refers to a biblical verse that states “his eye is on the sparrow” and with me rhetorically replying to that verse with; “but still the sparrow falls.” The reply was intended as an accusation to that deity. Like saying; “Big deal if you are watching, you do nothing”.

So the record was released and it did as well as records from little known, semi-anonymous Americana/Folk artists do. Then I moved to new songs and new projects. Not giving the record or the song a second thought. Fast forward to 2016. I am at home with a songwriter buddy, Randy Palmer, and we are busy demoing new songs we had written in my home studio. Then comes a knock on my front door. That alone is unusual as we live out in the country and pretty far off the road. Folks don’t generally come knocking at our door. I go downstairs to answer the door and look through the glass before opening. Standing there is a tall fellow in a suit, badge out and a pistol at his side. I had a passing acquaintance with him and knew he was a special investigator for the Texas Department of Public Safety. That made me a little nervous so when I opened the door, I jokingly said, “What the hell did I do?” He curtly replied “Well evidently you have pissed off the wrong people.”

At that point I was stunned and invited him in. He then proceeded to tell me that ISIS (yes that bunch) had just released a new kill list and apparently, my name was on it. How do you respond to that? To be honest I thought it was a joke, started making light of it. He then told me that there were 2000 or so folks on the list worldwide and 80 or so in Texas and I was lucky enough to be included. He said he had been sent to warn me of the threat and though it was probably a terroristic ploy, I should take it seriously. I asked him why I would be added to such a list and he said “it was obviously something you said on social media,” “they scan it for negative references and it seems you got selected.” At this point I still don’t believe it but I am stunned. What could I possibly have done to get this kind of attention. We talked for a while and he told me that to his knowledge no one on that list had been harmed but I that I should be cautious. They had published addresses of all those on the list. I still didn’t take it seriously and in fact as he was leaving I was still cracking jokes.

After the officer left, my friend, who had heard this whole conversation, kept telling me I should take it more seriously. First of all I had no idea why I would be on such a list, it had to be a mistake. After much thought, finally realized that my song, “The Sparrow,” was about the kind of atrocities committed by such terrorist groups. I also realized that the song, having gotten some attention at songwriting contests, had also been posted on Facebook and Twitter links several times with references to ISIS. I discussed it with several trusted friends that day and they all agreed that the song was most likely the reason for the threat and that I should be at least a little concerned.

Now came the fun part; figuring out how I was going to tell my wife, grown daughter (who lives close by) and my grown son who lived in Austin at the time. With that in mind it began to feel much more serious. Telling everyone was not pleasant but to their credit they took it as well as possible. They all had one request; that I keep my mouth shut about this for a while. To be honest at first, I wanted to tell everybody. How many folks can say they were targeted by an international terrorist organization just because they wrote a song? I was stupidly just a little proud of that aspect of the situation but understood that spreading the word could represent real danger from some US based, self radicalized crazy. So, I have kept it mostly quiet until now.

Being raised in the rural south, I have owned and used guns since I was a small boy. I still owned a couple at the time though I had stopped hunting as a sport 25 years ago. The guns I still owned were for hunting and not really useful for self defense. So I purchased a handgun, got my concealed handgun license here in Texas and began to keep it close by at home or when I traveled. I do not regret those actions at all given the perceived threat to myself and family. But, I let it to color all my perceptions of others. I now realize I had allowed the terrorists to succeed, not by taking precautions to protect myself and family but because it to effected my view of certain others. Once I become distrustful of a few, it became easier to distrust others as well. The fear brought on by this situation became an infection which spread though my thought processes to view the world as a much more treacherous place than my life experience had a right to.

I mentioned a greater pandemic than COVID earlier and with my story told I will get to the point. I call it the pandemic of fear. I watch the news, follow social media, hear about all the terrible things happening in the world. And yes, there are terrible things happening in the world, in this country and in my neighborhood. But, in my experience most folks are simply trying to live their lives, feed their kids, get by and find a little happiness along the way. They simply want to live their life and be left alone. But by allowing ourselves to internalize and personalize everything wrong in the world allows us to become infected with unfounded fear.

So there you go, my little story about allowing myself to become a victim of ISIS. No, I was never attacked and never even threatened other than being notified my name put on their kill list. In hindsight that list was an effective tool to instill fear and at the time I allowed it to be successful. I now see it for what it was; a lesson on how to view my life and surroundings. I can view every unfamiliar person or situation as a threat and stay vigilant or I can live my life, be the kind and thoughtful person I want to be and deal with problems if and when they arise. The fear and suspicion only tainted my life because I allowed it. The problem was not that I reacted by taking precautions. The problem was I allowed myself to be pulled under by distrust and it took me several years to overcome that.

Terrorism uses fear as a tool to infect others with distrust of their fellow man. When we react to that fear with anger toward others with different appearances, views, speech, politics or cultures, then we have allowed that fear to infect us. We are all in this world together let’s try to make it a peaceful and respectful one. My opinion only, but one taken from experience. Take it as you will.

Thanks for reading. See you next month, over and out.

Randy Lewis Brown

P.S.: If you should have a desire to hear the song that got me on the list, here is a link –


Randy Lewis Brown is an over-the-hill, baby boomer, curmudgeon but also an award-winning Northeast Texas-based singer-songwriter and self-pro claimed “performing philosopher.” Despite his years, he remains stedfast in attempting to decipher the intersection of spirit, faith, science and the human condition. Attempting to maintain a sense of wonder and whimsy in his occasionally clever folk-Americana songs and stories.


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