The Dubai Ports (DP) World confrontation several years back has brought into the open an ugly strain of bigotry in the American public. Polls indicate a growing bias — well over 50 percent — against Arabs and Muslims. An outward manifestation of this prejudice has been the vandalization of several mosques.
I have an American friend of Arab extraction who is dismayed by this. He complains bitterly that, no matter how he and his compatriots strive to be good and loyal Americans, no matterhow hard they work to achieve a respectable place in our society, they are still looked at with suspicion and treated as second-class citizens. Alas, ‘tis true.
Fortunately, these feelings are not the direct result of Government policy.Immediately after 9/11, President Bush and N. Y. Mayor Giuliani ardently pleaded that we all honor the civil rights of Americans of all persuasions. Both declared that the United States is a diverse society, and that resident Arabs and Muslims are loyal Americans.
Personally, I am sure that the vast majority of Arab-Americans are loyal to our country.They were just as troubled by 9/11 as the rest of us. I have openly expressed this belief on many occasions. However, what if I always coupled my statement with disturbing questions? “The terrorists planning this attack must have had contact with some of their American brethren. How many Arab-Americans have reported to the authorities that they had seen suspicious or unusual behavior? Have they perhaps made donations to “charities” which funnel substantial sums to terrorist organizations?” In short, what if I softened my condemnation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry by suggesting that there were perhaps valid reason for it. Such comments would serve to dilute my “strong” disapproval of prejudice.
But that is exactly what my Arab friend and many of his compatriots have been doing in reverse. They frequently state that, they strongly oppose terrorist killing of innocent Americans, but ‘they can understand the frustrations which lead to these actions. These “I am against it, but…” comments are most strenuously voiced when discussing suicide bombings in Israel. I have heard similar objections to the actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad when Arab-Americans are interviewed.on radio and TV. Statements such as, “But what else can they do?” are frequently used.
My friend doesn’t seem to see that, by creating a nexus between these two statements, he weaken his condemnation of suicide bombing and terrorism. Questions about the origin of terror are fair subjects for a separate discussion, but not in immediate connection with condemnation of acts of terror.
What is true on an individual basis is even more so when dealing with the Arab and Muslim communities as a whole. My friend regularly sends me copies of articles or speeches by Israelis or American Jews condemning Israeli Government policies. When I ask to see similar critiques of Arab or Muslim policies or activities published by Palestinians or American Arabs, all I get is a change of subject. Letters or speeches condemning single suicide bombings are not uncommon, but full published articles or substantial speeches condemning Arab atrocities are conspicuous by their absence.
I am happy to provide one exception. One courageous Arab-American lady, a Psychiatrist named Dr. Wafa Sultan, has vociferously and publicly denounced Arab and Muslim attacks on the West. Recent riots, burnings and killings, she claims, are not part of a religious war, but a clash of a modern culture with an outdated one. If they wish to improve their way of life, Arabs must come into the 21’st Century, and Islam must undergo a Reformation similar to that experienced by Christianity and Judaism.
My Arab friend, if you and other Arab-Americans were openly and publicly to emulate Dr. Sultan against you. Of course, you might be met with the same death threats Dr. Sultan is receiving as a reward for her courage and enlightenment.
One last caveat. In discussing terrorism with other Americans, avoid one objectionable ploy.
This involves a semantic effort to obfuscate by expanding the meaning of terrorism so as to create an equality between military actions and terrorist activities. One can then claim opposition to terrorism, but only if the definition includes military or economic weaponry used by the opponents of terrorism.
Terror is clearly defined as intense, overpowering fear. Terrorism is the creation of such fright and its consequent confusion by brutally killing, raping or torturing large numbers of civilians. It is not the same as conventional acts of war – one army opposing another; military retaliation; cutting off water or food supplies; economic strangulation; etc. One can argue that any or all of these wartime practices are revolting and inhuman, but they do not constitute terrorism. To equate the two is to assert that terrorism is bad only when used against the people we love but acceptable when used against the people we hate. Cute evasions of this type only encourage anti-Arab bigotry.
In conclusion, let me say this to my Arab friend. All Arabs and Muslims in my country should be treated equally with all other American residents and citizens. However, if you are going to complain about discrimination and anti-Arab prejudice, the rest of us Americans need your cooperation. We must all stand together and announce to the world that terrorism is unacceptable under any and all circumstances. There should be no “understanding.” Terrorism is evil wherever it occurs — in the United States, Israel, Ireland, Darfur or elsewhere. “Understanding” terrorists and providing justification for their acts will never defeat terrorism. There should be no ifs, and’s or but’s.
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