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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2001/ 7 Tishrei 5761

Suzanne Fields

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Facing up to the faith -- GLOBALIZATION is the catchword for the 21st century, but the terrorist attack on America has revived the importance of neighborhoods.

The terrorists who signed their own names for motel rooms, cars and gyms were mostly free of suspicion by their neighbors even though they were strangers in the neighborhood. Men and women who look exotic pass without much notice. This is the way we want it to be in America.

Money -- and whether they have it -- usually determines the way we react to foreigners. Bigotry is more likely to be aimed at those who compete for jobs than at those who purchase our goods and services. The fact that the hijackers traveled in first class no doubt soothed any skepticism fellow passengers may have felt toward them.

A global economy breeds a different kind of tolerance. Men and women who tell television interviewers they can now remember seeing the hijackers during the weeks before the terror attacks invariably say how sorry they are that they had no idea who these men might be. But how could they have? Nevertheless, everyone in every neighborhood today looks with a sharper eye at someone he doesn't know.

Apologists for the terrorists say the fault lies in their poverty, not their religion. British playwright Harold Pinter and a group of actors in London last week signed a letter urging the civilized world to call off the hunt for the terrorists lest it set off World War III. "Terrorism cannot be defeated by bombs, bullets or secret intelligence,'' these worthies wrote. "We must make war, but on poverty.''

A nice mushy sentiment, but if any of the terrorists had ever belonged in the have-not classes it was a long time ago. In the weeks and days prior to their suicide missions, they lived conspicuously well. They knew the value of money (Osama bin Laden's fortune is worth $300 million) and spent it lavishly, some of it on booze and naked girls. (They weren't good Muslims.)

Tarek E. Masoud, a Muslim graduate student at Yale, describes himself as "a man born and raised into the faith, of Arab parents and with a deep love for the culture of the Arab.'' In spite of -- or rather because of -- his ethnic background, he sees value in profiling.

"How many lives would have been saved if people like me had been inconvenienced with having our bags searched and being made to answer questions?'' he writes in the Wall Street Journal. "People say profiling makes them feel like criminals. It does -- I know this first hand. But would that I had been made to feel like a criminal a thousand times than to live to see the grisly handwork of real criminals in New York and Washington.''

We must be careful not to put too fine a point on Masoud's reasoning, lest someone gets the idea of requiring Arabs and Muslims to wear a sign "I am not a terrorist.'' The Nazis did that with the armbands for Jews.

But in a time when it's chic to be a hyphenated American, Masoud urges that his fellow ethnics make a point of expressing pride in being Americans first, in the way of immigrants before them. Instead of crying out their fear of being victims, he writes, they should be asking what they can do to help. Ask not what their new country can do for them, someone might put it, but ask instead what they can do for their new country.

President Bush was right to make a visit to the Islamic Center in Washington, reminding Americans that to avenge the terror on innocent American Arabs and Muslims would be despicable -- and un-American. This shouldn't mean we ignore the violence encouraged through the interpretations and distortions of the Koran that the terrorists use to recruit killers.

"There are so many Muslims rejoicing at the tragic loss of American lives and the humiliation of the American government that they cannot be dismissed as 'a few extremists,''' writes Patrick Sookhdeo in the London Daily Telegraph.

Sookhdeo, director of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity, argues that the way to show respect for a religion is to face up to the twisted interpretations that encourage violent adherents to suicidal terror. Scholars argue whether certain interpretations of Islamic scripture encourage violence, but the terrorists aren't scholars, and they justify their wickedness with citations of chapter and verse from the Koran. Prudence requires us to be aware of it.

"To recognize that no culture or people are without fault and that all should be subject to criticism is not racism,'' says Sookhdeo. "It is an honesty that emphasizes our common humanity.'' But to love thy neighbor as thyself are not, alas, the words everyone lives by.

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© 2001, Suzanne Fields. TMS