Posted on October 25, 2004 in Washington Watch

“I don’t trust you or any Arab in this country anymore. You are not out for America, you are out to turn this country into a Muslim country and we will not let this happen. Just remember that the Arabs are terrorists…they are monsters and talking peace will not do it.”

“Go back to your homeland.”

“Why should any real American care who you vote for…I find you disgusting.”

“There’s something pitiful about Arab and Muslim American leaders using the democratic process here to defeat a President who has done so much to promote democracy in the Arab and Muslim worlds…I do not trust Arabs and Muslims here in the US and abroad. There are millions of evil Arab-Muslim terrorists who need to be eradicated now.”

“Of course you terrorist loving piece of garbage are supporting Kerry…pigs like you should be rounded up and deported back to where you came from.”

Had enough? That’s just a smattering of the e-mails I received last week after I sent out my endorsement of John Kerry for President. I share them with you as a reminder that in the post-9/11 world “it’s still ugly out there.” Hate and anger have been unleashed and have not been brought under control.

All of this occurred in the same week in which the FBI arrested yet another person and charged him with a hate crime for threatening my life.

A few days after that arrest I was on a national television program debating the impact the Patriot Act was having on our democracy. In response to my claim that it had, in fact, done damage, another guest on the show, a conservative commentator, called me a “terrorist sympathizer.” Only after the other guests on the program demanded that he apologize on air, he relented and did so.

The lesson I am learning is that even more damaging to our democracy than the behavior of some government agencies, is the unchecked hate that is eating away at our national unity.

Why should my endorsement of Kerry have unleashed such venom? It was posted on a number of right-wing websites in a provocative manner, designed to produce anger.

The common themes in most of the e-mails deserve attention. There is a xenophobia, a bigoted fear of Arabs and Muslims-who are conflated into one enemy-and an intolerance for reasoned discourse.

Of course it doesn’t matter to these writers that I was born in the US (my father was an immigrant in 1922 and my mother’s father came to the US in 1898) or that I am a Christian. What matters is that I am a proud Arab American and, I might add, a Democrat. If I supported their conservative agenda, I suppose, I might have been given a pass as “almost white.”

But I do not, and, as an American, I object to the direction my country has taken in its policies at home and abroad. And for that, I have earned their special wrath.

This divisive anger is not new. It has marred our national discourse for decades. What’s new, after 9/11 is that it targets Arabs and Muslims and has fed into our deeply divided partisan debate.

When my brother, John Zogby, refers to this as the “Armageddon election” this is, in part, what he is observing.

What is needed is national leadership to challenge those who seek to divide Americans on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or party affiliation. For a brief moment, after 9/11, President Bush exerted such leadership. President Clinton did much the same when he launched a national dialogue on race with his “One America” campaign.

Whoever wins in November will face this challenge anew. After all that has transpired, this effort will require more than words. A serious and prolonged campaign must be launched to re-civilize our discourse and unify our people. The discourse of hate must be treated before the sickness spreads.

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