With the possibility of more terrorist attacks, U.S. military action, and even war, Arab and Muslim Americans are in danger of becoming pariahs in our society. It is the duty of all Americans to make sure this doesn’t happen.
Since Tuesday’s terrorist attacks, Arab and Muslim Americans have been the victims of dozens of despicable hate-crimes. Arab gas station attendants have been punched, shot at, and attacked with machetes. Mosques, temples, and Islamic centers have been shot at, vandalized, firebombed, and attacked with Molotov cocktails. Arab businesses have been burned down and fire-bombed. Muslim girls have been beaten, a Pakistani woman was almost run over by a car, and a Sudanese man was attacked with a knife. Arab businesses have closed and Arab parents have held their children out of school because they fear harassment and violence.
At the same time, talk radio air waves have been filled with racist bile and lust for blood and revenge. One Southern California caller suggested earlier this week that the U.S. bomb and annihilate all the Arab nations. Whereas a week ago the man would have been seen as a nut and cut off immediately, in our new, darker climate the host merely quizzically asked "and kill women and children?" The caller replied "Yes, get the children, because in 20 years they’ll be the new terrorists attacking us." Subsequent callers, instead of denouncing him, continued in the same vein.
Some U.S. leaders haven’t been helping. Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat from Georgia, spoke of the terrorists and told the Senate:
"I say bomb the hell out of them…If there’s collateral damage, so be it…They didn’t care about our citizens, so we don’t care about theirs…They certainly found our civilians to be expendable."
Arab-American leaders have denounced Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in the strongest possible terms. In a statement issued Wednesday, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said that the "entire Arab-American community" felt "deep shock, outrage and anger" over the "heinous and reprehensible attack against our society," adding that "Arab-Americans will be no less moved, no less angry and no less outraged than our fellow Americans."
Our support for Arab/Muslim Americans needs to be demonstrated in ways big and small. If a Middle Easterner in a convenience store or gas station is being harassed, taunted, or threatened, we must not turn a blind eye. If we hear children on a school yard taunting an Arab/Muslim child, we must make it clear that this is not acceptable.
If Muslim homes or places of worship are threatened with attack and the police are unable to provide protection, we should organize civilian defense guards, as were used during the Civil Rights Movement, to defend them. During that movement, when black leaders were threatened with attacks, blacks and anti-racist whites organized squads to stand guard outside their homes.
Arab and Muslim Americans may well be facing the greatest challenges any American minority group has faced during the past 30 years. Over the past three days we have glimpsed the dark possibilities of this nightmarish future of violence and hate. Americans of all ethnicities and religions must act together to make sure that it never comes to pass.
- Pasadena Star-News & Affiliated PapersSep. 16, 2001