More than 18 months after the fiery crash of the TWA Flight 800 off the coast of Long Island in New York, US investigators have come up with nothing to prove that the jumbo jet was downed as a result of any terrorist activity. The latest confirmation came in a 4,000-page report released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Baltimore on December 7. It suggested that the July 1996 explosion may have occurred in an empty fuel tank caused by faulty electrical wiring. The one plausible theory, that a stray missile from US coast guards conducting exercises in the water below, has been quietly dropped.
At the time of the crash, so-called media and terrorism experts made wild allegations against Muslims, accusing them of the worst crime in US civil aviation history. Without providing any evidence, these so-called experts allowed their imaginations to run wild. There was intense competition among television networks over who could come up with the most fantastic theories.
This hysterical campaign was allowed to go unchecked despite an immediate call by US president Bill Clinton cautioning against a ‘rush to judgement.’ This, however, was no bar to the media pundits for whom Muslims are the latest bogeyman. Fact-free speculation has become the latest fad.
‘It’s a war!’ screamed CNBC commentator Charles Grodin during a broadcast in July 1996. ‘Who are the terrorists? What do they want? How do we stop them?... Let’s infiltrate them. Let’s make them frightened of us... people will pay a price if they want to come after us.’
The New York Times columnist A M Rosenthal, who wrote in one editorial that the TWA 800 crash was ‘apparently’ the work of terrorists, urged Clinton to ‘retaliate militarily against the sponsors of terrorism.’ Who the sponsors of such ‘terrorism’ were was never spelled out but given the environment in which official propaganda operated, it was clear who these commentators had in mind.
Such hysterical comments were even more insidious in view of the experience of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995. Muslims were initially blamed for that crime as well and more than 200 families suffered assaults before a white American, Timothy McVeigh, was apprehended. A court in Denver, CO, has now found him guilty. A seven-month pregnant Muslim woman suffered a miscarriage when white hooligans threw a brick through her house window. A number of Muslims were arrested and humiliated publicly.
While American officials from Clinton down verbally advised caution, their actions belied their statements. For instance, in the aftermath of the TWA explosion, a white house commission was set up to make recommendations about airport safety. This was clearly predicated on the assumption that the plane was brought down by a terrorist act.
The NTSB report has finally ruled out any criminal act for the crash, as did the FBI report of November 16 when it folded its investigation. The white house commission, however, has made recommendations specifically targeting Muslims. Hundreds of Muslim families have been singled out for humiliating searches at airports. This has included both men and women in what is described as computerised ‘profiling.’
It would be naive to blame only the media for creating an atmosphere of hysteria against Muslims. There is a pervasive campaign, generated through official pronouncements, targeting Muslims. Every Muslim is a suspect the moment a crime is committed somewhere. US politicians vie with each other in making the most irresponsible statements about Muslims. Senator Alfonse D’Amato of New York is one congressman. There are others equally poisonous in their outpourings and invective.
Ironically, civil-rights lawyers say that even though mechanical failure is now accepted as the reason for the TWA crash, the profiling policy remains in place, with dubious benefits for passenger safety. Worse, some aspects of profiling - such as singling out people who travel frequently to the Middle East or have Muslim surnames - clearly are discriminatory.
The racist targeting of Muslims is not confined to the US. On November 18, the Montreal Gazette (in Canada) carried a vicious cartoon showing a snarling dog in an Arab headdress carrying the caption, ‘In the name of Islamic extremism,’ with a sub-heading ‘With our apologies to dogs everywhere!’ The cartoonist, Terry Mosher, who goes by the pen-name of Aislin, offered no apologies for this outrageously racist insult to Muslims.
Muslims are an easy target and the latest bogeyman.
Muslimedia: December 16-31, 1997