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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2001 / 7 Tishrei, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Some of those complaining the loudest about anti-Arab prejudice have themselves justified terrorism -- THE 18th-century English wit, Dr. Samuel Johnson, is famous for saying that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Viewing the upswing in American patriotism in the aftermath of the terror attacks on New York and Washington, it would appear that his dictum applies in spades to some Americans.

Throughout the country, many Muslims — and indeed just about anybody who can be mistaken for an Arab or a believer in Islam — have been victimized by everything from nasty looks to abuse and violence. In some instances, mosques have even been defaced.

Such actions are disgraceful and utterly antithetical to the American values of democracy.

Millions of Americans who are Muslim do not deserve to be tarred with the brush of terrorism. Like the rest of us, they came to this country for a taste of freedom and prosperity.

That’s why so many Americans have been quick to condemn any putative anti-Muslim backlash and to do their best to eradicate it.

Far from following the pattern of anti-Japanese hysteria that afflicted Americans after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, our leaders have set an admirable example of tolerance and inclusion. President Bush’s decision to have a Muslim cleric play a prominent role in the memorial service held in Washington’s National Cathedral was exactly the right message to send the nation.

American Muslim leaders have rightly spoken out against such prejudice, and they have been given the bully pulpit of almost all the broadcast media to do so.

Yet as much as condemnations of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice are absolutely necessary, some of the voices protesting the loudest need to be listened to with caution. Unfortunately, a look at the record of some of the groups purporting to be defending the civil rights of Americans shows them to have a less than savory reputation when it comes to rationalizing terrorism. A case in point was one Ibrahim Hooper, the head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Hooper was given the microphone last week to loudly protest against anti-Arab and Muslim prejudice on National Public Radio and a host of other forums.

Though it purports to be a mainstream organization — even gaining an invitation to the Clinton White House to receptions hosted by the current junior senator from New York — it is anything but a civil-rights group. Cair is dedicated to the cause of eradicating Israel, and in the course of its advocacy for that end, it has routinely rationalized and justified terrorism against the Jewish state.

But wherever Hooper has gone the last week, he is never asked about his own record on terrorism. Though the majority of American Muslims are innocent of any taint of connection with the terrorists, Hooper and Cair are not.

Even worse, many of those speaking out against anti-Arab prejudice have used their comments about these atrocious incidents to blame the attacks on American support for Israel. Though untrue on its face — the chief complaint of Osama bin Laden and company is about the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia — their attempts to blame the victim for the terrorist crime are appalling. Persons making such arguments to rationalize the thinking of the murderers have no business complaining about the anger of the American people.

In its commendable haste to squelch anti-Muslim prejudice, the media has also allowed groups like Cair to begin revising history about Palestinian demonstrations in support of the atrocities at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The myth that, in Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat’s words, “only a few children” cheered the strikes against America is now being promoted, presumably to dampen bias against Arab-Americans.

And, perhaps because of sensitivity to this fear, some American newspapers and broadcast networks have been less than zealous in following up on this story.

Little has been said or written about the fact that the Associated Press has refused to publish photos it took in Nablus of the celebration by thousands of Palestinians of the attack on America. The reason: A.P. personnel working in Palestinian Authority territory believe their lives will be in danger if the photos are published.

Who can blame them? P.A. “police” took some cameramen and journalists who covered these events into custody, confiscated their film and reportedly threatened them. This is a repeat of the way foreign journalists who covered the lynching of two Israelis by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah last year were also treated.

Reporting this is not fomenting anti-Arab prejudice. The cause of promoting good community relations with American Muslims and Arab-Americans should not cause us to ignore the truth.

Americans who practice Islam are entitled to equal rights and respects. But the minority who support what scholar Daniel Pipes calls “Islamism” — a fanatical interpretation of Islam that puts itself at war with the West — have placed themselves on the other side of the conflict that President Bush has termed a war.

Even as we must oppose anti-Arab prejudice, there must be a recognition that terrorists, such as those working with the bin Laden group, have not arisen in a vacuum. They have been nurtured by a culture of hatred for Jews, Western values and America. The minority of Muslims who have come to espouse this Islamism, both in the Middle East and here in the United States, must be seen as part of the culture of hate from which terror has grown.

By the same token, in the American drive to create a united front of nations opposing terrorism, the inclusion of Syria and the Palestinian Authority — entities that have espoused and routinely practiced terror — have the potential to make such an alliance a sick joke. And the idea that Israel should make concessions to Palestinian terrorists to shore up this coalition is worse than a joke; it is an outrage.

The president and other American leaders who have been at pains to point out that our war against terror is not a battle against all Muslims are right. Nothing should excuse bias or hate directed against religious or ethnic minorities. By the same token, however, we have a duty to confront those groups and persons who have made common cause with terrorists. Nor can we pretend that the war against these evil-doers can be confined to a fight only against those who kill Americans, and not those who also target Israelis and Jews.

Those who choose to turn a blind eye to these facts are neither principled nor patriotic. Instead, they will be giving refuge to scoundrels with American blood still fresh on their hands.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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