I wrote this four days after 9-11, after spending three days stuck in Atlanta and a day on a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to DC, after defending a Sikh man against a hostile White male and Black guy because he looked like one of “them.”
With much of this week’s focus on the atrocities at the former World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and the airline crash south of Pittsburgh, there is a disturbing and growing backlash against Americans of Arab descent throughout the nation. The nation should be outraged because of the wanton destruction of property and life at the hands of suicidal terrorists. But this in no way should justify the fire bombings of mosques in Texas and marching against Arab communities in Chicago. This, of course, is among other incidents of hatred and revenge directed at folks who in some cases have been in America for several generations. And like many Americans, Americans of Arab descent migrated to our multicultural society to escape religious extremism, government persecution, and yes, terrorism. The backlash against Arab Americans since the attacks on Tuesday sicken me as much as the frightening attacks themselves.
I am a African American male, and I have thought about what the nation’s response might have been if a suicidal group of African American terrorists had done this horrible thing. Would we be in the midst of race riots in America’s major cities, in which groups of Whites armed with American flags and poles, rocks, guns and whatever else they could find to beat and possibly kill Blacks just because they’re Black? Would law enforcement agencies search every allegedly suspicious-looking brown-skinned person with kinky hair because they might connect them to an African American terrorist group?
Or what if an Irish terrorist group had hijacked the planes flown into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Would non-Irish Americans then be so quick to lash out at any “Mic” they could find? Would they intimidate Americans of Irish descent to the point where they would be scared out of going to school or attending a prayer vigil with their fellow Americans? Would we be so willing to engage in the language of bloodlust toward a group of Irish Americans as we have done to our Arab American brothers and sisters?
We can say that the majority of Americans have not engaged in this bigoted and racist behavior. But our silence is not good enough. Mainstream journalism acts as if a few prominent Arab Americans denouncing both the terrorist attack and the expected backlash against Arabs by other Americans ends their responsibility. It does not. The press must do a better job of discussing this smouldering problem with all Americans, including representatives of the Arab American community. It also must do better in explaining the differences between the tenets of Islam and the unspeakable acts of terrorists clinging to a warped version of Islam. It’s not at all much different from the barbaric actions of the Ku Klux Klan, who claim that they act in defense of White Christians.
If we as Americans continue to commit and condone through our silence acts of hatred against Arab Americans, are we much better than the tortured souls who flew four Boeing jets as weapons of mass destruction, all in the name of Allah? If we are to defeat terrorism as a nation and a world, we must also defeat its roots, fear and hatred. If we are to be one undivided and multicultural nation united against terrorism, we can no longer tolerate incidents of terrorism against one another, no matter how much we hurt.
Needless to say, The Washington Post was engaged in blind, raging patriotism for the next couple of years, so my two cents was ignored. Unfortunately, between the racism and religious hatred directed at the proposed Islamic Center near, but not on, Ground Zero in New York City, and the idiot Terry Jones wanting to burn Qur’ans in Florida, it looks like the nineteen suicidal morons from Saudi Arabia have won after all. We still have a big hole in the ground where the Twin Towers once stood. So much for standing together on the platform of America the brave and the free.