Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2001 / 8 Tishrei, 5762

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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Speaking out against terror -- PRESIDENT BUSH spoke for every decent American when he said last week that the punks who "take out their anger" on Muslims and Arabs "represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior." He made a point of visiting the mosque at the Islamic Center of Washington to drive home the message that attacks on innocent Muslim- and Arab-Americans are contemptible, and then repeated that message in his speech to Congress on Thursday.

Others in the administration have been equally forthright. Two days after the horror in New York and Washington, Attorney General John Ashcroft declared that violence and threats against people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent are un-American "and will not be tolerated." Education Secretary Rod Paige called on schools to stand against the harrassment of Muslim and Arab students. FBI Director Robert Mueller promised that anti-Arab hate crimes would be vigorously prosecuted.

Sadly, there have been such crimes. In Texas, a mosque was firebombed, and mosques in Indiana and Ohio were rammed by speeding cars. Death threats have been phoned to the Islamic Center of New England. Two Muslim girls were beaten at a college in Illinois. A New York man was arrested after trying to run down a Muslim woman.

Especially poignant are the cases of anti-Muslim or anti-Arab violence claiming victims who aren't Muslim or Arab. With their turbans and beards, many Indian Sikhs have been singled out for abuse. In the worst episode so far, the Sikh owner of an Arizona gas station was shot dead on Sept. 15. When the gunman was arrested, he bellowed, "I'm a patriot, I'm a damn American all the way." It is scum like him who give currency to the phrase "the ugly American."

Happily, the great majority of Americans show no sign of being tempted to bigotry or violence.

"We received an outpouring of compassion," Hussein Ibish of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said on CBS. "I was so deeply moved . . . by the many people who came forward, who called us, who wrote to us, who expressed compassion." In a Reuters/Zogby poll taken after the Sept. 11 atrocities, 62 percent of respondents say they have a favorable opinion of Arab Americans, against only 16 percent who don't. And 84 percent say the nation is at war with terrorists who may be Muslim vs. just 8 percent who consider Islam itself to be the enemy.

In short, most Americans recognize that most of their Arab and Muslim countrymen are as peaceable as they are. That is surely a piece of good news.

This is another: For the first time, many American Arabs and Muslims have spoken out clearly against a terrorist attack committed by Arabs and Muslims.

In newspaper advertisements, press releases, and public statements, Muslim and Arab organizations have denounced the enormities that killed so many innocents at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "We condemn in the strongest terms possible the use of terror to further any political or religious cause," said a full-page Boston Globe ad signed by 40 Islamic groups. "As Muslims, we abhor the killing of innocent civilians."

This is a long-overdue step. For years, American Muslim and Arab organizations have said little or nothing when fanatics have massacred civilians, blown up school buses, or hijacked airplanes in the name of Islam or some Arab cause. Islamic leaders have been quick to inveigh against the stereotyping of Muslims or Arabs, but rarely if ever have they recoiled in shock or shame from the monstrous acts of people claiming to be good Muslims or loyal Arabs.

Now and then the best known Islamic groups -- the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the American Muslim Council, or the Muslim Public Affairs Council -- will mention in passing in a press release that "terrorism has no place in Islam" or that they "condemned the bombings." More often they have said nothing. And on occasion, they have even come to the defense of terrorists.

When Osama bin Laden's picture was put on a California billboard over the words "The Sworn Enemy" in 1998, CAIR demanded that it come down. When President Clinton ordered missile strikes on bin Laden's training camps, MPAC labeled the American action "an act of terrorism" and "illegal, immoral, inhuman . . . hate crimes." AMC has defended the homicidal Hamas as a "freedom fighter organization," while CAIR's president has said bluntly, "I am in support of the Hamas movement."

As respected scholars like Daniel Pipes have been at pains to show, organizations like CAIR and MPAC are "radical to the core" and sympathetic to the Islamist extremism of the terrorists. They may condemn terrorism in the abstract -- but under no circumstances do they castigate the terror groups by name. To this day, for example, they do not describe bin Laden as a terrorist.

Most American Arabs and Muslims reject the extremists' goals and despise their fanaticism. Many came to America, after all, in order to escape the bigotry and oppression with which most of the Arab/Muslim world is cursed. All the more reason, then, for the moderate majority to cry out against the zealots and killers. Not just when thousands of Americans lie dead, but when any innocent blood is shed in pursuit of "jihad." Their voices are important. We need to hear them more often.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.

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