Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11 last year, Muslims in America were being blamed and made the targets of retribution. WASEEM SHEHZAD examines the problems American Muslims have faced over the last year...
While the people of Afghanistan paid a high price for September 11 for no fault of theirs, Muslims in North America have been only slightly less affected. Within hours of the planes striking American landmarks last year, every Muslim in North America was an immediate target, as if he or she were personally responsible for the attacks. On September 12 a Sikh was assaulted and arrested in Long Island, New York, by the police because he “looked” like Usama bin Ladin, the Saudi millionaire accused of being the mastermind behind the attacks. The Sikh was released (without an apology, one might add) after the police discovered their mistake, but numerous Muslims have not been so fortunate.
Intolerance and prejudice in America are a part of life there. In the past, Jews and Blacks have borne the brunt. The Jews graduated from this league fairly quickly, and some of them now inflict on others the torments to which they were subjected. Blacks continue to suffer, and have now been joined by other groups, such as Hispanics, Greeks, Chinese and so on, but Muslims are in a category of their own.
This has much to do with America’s global agenda. Islam is recognised as the only ideology that has the potential to challenge American hegemonic tendencies successfully. Another factor is America’s huge appetite for oil and other natural resources; with these resources being concentrated largely in Muslim lands, what happens there is of crucial importance to the US. Far from living in harmony with them, the US has traditionally followed a policy of bullying and intimidation. Keeping dictatorial regimes in power is considered far more useful to American interests than having popular regimes that respond to public opinion, and might run counter to American designs. With such a policy, the potential for conflict is great.
This mentality affects the Muslims in North America directly and otherwise. If they take American pronouncements about democracy and human rights seriously, they are immediately perceived as a threat to American interests. Clearly, what is good for Americans is not good for others. Muslims continually make the mistake of believing that American pronouncements are sincerely meant. This debate might have continued in academic circles indefinitely, but the events of September 11 have brought it forcefully into real life. Muslims no longer have the luxury of purely academic debate on this matter; they are the target of a vicious campaign of harassment, intimidation and fearmongering. Immediately after September 11, American officials, including US president George Bush, announced that Muslims and Arabs should not be targeted, but the atmosphere of xenophobia that was whipped up by a hostile media, as well as the kinds of policies the government instituted, made it very difficult for any Muslim to feel safe, for good reason. Muslims were hauled out of their homes, taken off planes, and subjected to intense scrutiny everywhere.
The campaign of intimidation actually began long before September 11, only getting worse then. If the first World Trade Centre explosion (February 1993) was the beginning, the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, despite being perpetrated by “homegrown American” Timothy McVeigh, provided more grist to the anti-Muslim mill. Hostile commentators such as Steve Emerson, with close links to the most hardcore zionist elements in Israel, pronounced Muslims guilty of the Oklahoma City bombing on air. When proven wrong, he did not even apologise.
The same happened after the crash on July 17, 1996, of a TWA plane off the coast of Long Island, New York. Emerson again claimed on CBS television that the crash had all the hallmarks of “Middle Eastern terrorists.” American officials instituted a policy of “airport profiling”, in which Muslims were the direct target. Two years later, after an exhaustive study, the US Transportation and Safety Board announced that faulty wiring in an empty fuel tank had caused the explosion that brought the plane down. The airport profiling policy remains in force, with Muslims and Arabs being subjected to humiliating public searches.
In this atmosphere of xenophobia, Muslims in America are naive to assume that they can appeal to US officials’ sense of fair play. A host of organizations, from the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, and Sterling Management Group Inc. to Muslim charitable organizations such as the Holy Land Foundation and the Benevolence Foundation, doing perfectly legitimate work, have been raided and in some cases their bank accounts frozen. Their officials have been subjected to humiliating searches (in one instance a mother and daughter were tied up for seven hours; the sister called this “very un-American”!).
So what happened to the statements of Bush and co. to the effect that Muslim Americans must not be targeted? If ordinary Americans acted in this manner, one could understand, even if not excuse, their behaviour; but what about qualified and trained officials, whose job it is to serve all Americans? Are Muslims to be considered guilty because of their faith, on the assumption that they sympathised with the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks?
Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Muslims and Arabs have been held in horrible conditions in jail simply for being Muslims or Arabs. Others have had their homes and businesses attacked and vandalised. Waqar Hasan, a Pakistani Muslim, was shot dead in his hamburger store in Dallas, Texas, on September 15, 2001. Is it fair to blame an entire community, 6 or 7 million strong, for the misdeeds of a handful of individuals who had entered the US only a few months earlier? If so, all Americans and all Jews are guilty of far worse crimes: American and Israeli policies have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. The Jewish community in North America sends billions of dollars to Israel every year; the zionist state uses this money to oppress and terrorise the Palestinians. America also provides a disproportionate number of the illegal settlers who occupy Palestinian lands. Using such warped logic, Muslims could target Jews in Brooklyn and other American cities. Yet anyone who dared make such a preposterous suggestion would be branded a lunatic and chased out of town, if not lynched. This, however, is precisely the logic being used against Muslims, and being considered perfectly acceptable.
Consider another example of this guilt by association. If Muslims are guilty simply because they share the same faith as the perpetrators of the September 11 crime, should every Christian not be considered guilty because of McVeigh’s crime? Some of the hijackers shopped at Wal-Mart, went to a Pizza Hut store and even used an ATM machine to draw cash a day or so before their action. Should all these companies now be considered accessories to the crime?
The US government cannot walk away from its responsibility for this atmosphere of xenophobia. A raft of bills passed or proposed in Congress clearly points in this direction. The Patriot Act passed last October is one such example; a bill to create a Homeland Security Department is before Congress now. In June, when attorney general John Ashcroft proposed that Americans should spy on each other and tip off agencies about suspicious activities, the New York Times suggested that the first people to be marched off to jail should be the justice department officials who thought up such nasty ideas in the first place. Such criticism, however, has not deterred the cowboys who have seized control of the US state machinery. Despite their numbers Muslims are weak; they are, therefore, an easy target for xenophobia. This is also spurred by the zionist cabal that exercises inordinate influence on American policy-making.
Life has always been difficult for Muslims in the US; it is going to get much more difficult. Only a unified stand in defence of their rights, and not cowardly submission to bullying, will prevent them from being abused even more. These days nobody cares for the weak, no matter how just their cause. It is unfortunately a cruel world we human beings live in at the moment.