Posted on September 07, 1998 in Washington Watch
The U.S. response to the attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was morally, politically and legally wrong. The U.S. cruise missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan have further enflamed segments of Arab and Muslim public opinion, only serving to exacerbate tensions, putting U.S. allies and interests in the Middle East at greater risk. I’ve said all this already. But having said this in no way lessens my clear condemnation of those who carried out the U.S. embassy bombings, those who ordered these attacks, organized and funded them and those who also continue to issue threats of more attacks in the name of religion or the Arab cause.
The groups who make these pronouncements and carry out these actions are not, and must not be allowed to present themselves as, the authentic carriers of the aspirations and true character of the Arab and Muslim peoples. Rather they are a small band of ideologues blinded by hatred and anger who have usurped the legitimate concerns of Arabs and Muslims and have attempted to exploit them in order to promote their own fanatic agendas.
The damage they have done in the process of carrying out their attacks and making their pronouncements is incalculable.
In the first place they have taken the lives of too many innocents on too many occasions. Their victims are mostly hapless men, women and children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. There is no cause and no rhetoric that can be used to justify their crimes. Their claim to moral authority is infuriating, as is their use of religion to justify their actions.
What is the difference between their crimes and the crimes of those whom they decry? Are the cold-blooded murderers in Luxor more noble than the savage attacker in the Al Ibrahimi mosque? Or were the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania more high minded than the terror bombing in Qana?
In all these instances and so many more, the actions by all sides were immoral and brutish and the victims were innocents.
Those fanatic groups about whom I am speaking have done more than just commit murder; they have also done grave damage to the causes they claim to espouse and to religion itself.
Just look at the fallout from one such incident–the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City.In the aftermath of that tragic event I remember praying that its perpetrators were not Arabs or Muslims because I feared what would happen to my community if they were.
The bombers and plotters were caught, convicted and are now serving well-deserved prison sentences–but we, innocent Arab Americans and American Muslims are still feeling the impact of their hideous crime against not only our fellow citizens but against our image and our standing in society.
The World Trade Center bombing was the first terrorist act ever committed by any Arab or Muslim groups in the United States and yet its repercussions are still felt every single day. Our enemies, who have for years sought to target Arab American and American Muslims as supporters of terrorism, latched onto that bombing and have used it and some subsequent outrageous acts of terror to justify their defamation of our communities. While FBI and U.S. State Department annual reports clearly establish that anti-U.S. violence originating from Arab or Muslim groups only accounts for a very small fraction of all such attacks both world-wide and domestically, the propaganda mills of our detractors have painted a very different picture. But more than just defaming us, our enemies have used the fear created by the World Trade Center bombing to push their negative stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims into legislation and public policies that threaten the civil liberties of our communities in the United States.
While we continue to condemn those purveyors of hatred against Arabs and Muslims who use each terrorist attack (whether or not they are committed by an Arab or Muslim) as another occasion to attack us, should we not also condemn the fanatic bands who have, by their terrorist actions and threats of terror, helped to fuel this dangerous anti-Arab and anti-Muslim campaign? They are, with their words and actions, not only harming or threatening to harm “the West”, they are also doing real damage to religion and to the image, causes and aspirations of the Arab and Muslim peoples.
While Arab American and American Muslim organizations have spoken out against them, I believe that the time has come for all Arabs and Muslims to declare zero tolerance for the actions and rhetoric of these groups who have done so much harm. There can be no excuses for their actions and no apologies offered for their statements. They are not the spokespeople for Arab and Muslim causes. It is not they who will secure justice for those who suffer from injustice. By their actions, these groups have only brought on repression, hatred, fear and more injustice.
As Arabs or Muslims, we can not absolve ourselves of the need to speak out against these shadowy and cowardly murderers. They claim to act in our name–but they have distorted our image and hurt our good name. They claim to act on behalf of our causes, but they have done harm to all that we aspire to achieve. They must be politically isolated and condemned.
Having said that, let me make clear that I do not support the tactics that are too often used against these groups or against entire societies as a result of the actions of these groups. Intolerable repression, violations of rights and the condemnable retaliatory strikes that target the innocent as well as those suspected of wrong doing are not the way to deal with extremists and fanatics.
In fact those responses have all too often played into the hands of extremist groups, creating more injustice, more alienation and more adherents and supporters on whom they can prey. What must replace this tit-for-tat, evil-for-evil, cycle of violence is a call to a higher standard.
It is imperative that America be challenged to end its double standard and translate its stated commitment to “democracy, freedom and rule of law” into a real working program that meets the needs of the Arabs and Muslims. Arab governments must assume some responsibility here. It is, in part, their surrender to the double standard that allows the injustices to continue. Passivity in the face of oppression creates the feelings of powerlessness and rage that are the breeding grounds of terror. Visionary Arab leadership that promotes an Arab political and economic agenda challenging the West’s double standard will give hope and direction to the legitimate yearnings of the Arab people, thereby reducing the appeal of extremist ideologies.
At the same time, Arab Americans and American Muslims must respond politically as well. It is not enough to complain. Our community must organize our resources and mobilize politically to fight for a change in U.S. foreign policy. To a great extent, the “double standard” that exists is a function of the imbalance that exists in U.S. domestic politics. We will not see a just and balanced U.S. foreign policy, until we create more balance in U.S. politics–and that will require hard work and commitment from Arab Americans and American Muslims.
Injustice can not be tolerated and we must demand and work for an end to policies that support the denial of basic rights to our people. But at the same time, with all this having been said, we can no longer turn a blind eye to those who resort to threats and terror in response to injustice. It is imperative that we speak out in a clear and consistent voice against them. They make our path toward justice all the more difficult by their evil deeds and words.
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