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» More From The Jersey Journal


Muslims are scapegoats for attacks


By Falasten M. Abdeljabbar
Journal staff writer

"We should kill all the Arabs, big or small!" was what I heard yesterday outside my bedroom window in Union City.

Cringing inwardly, I shut the window and turned on the news to get the latest update on yesterday's horrific attacks at the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Unfortunately, the images of destruction, death, and overall chaos were accompanied by one overlying message on TV and radio stations: "terrorist Arabs" are responsible and America should retaliate as soon as possible.

As an Arab-American Muslim and, more importantly, as a human being, I was appalled by both the attacks and the assumption that someone like me was responsible for them.

Whatever happened to the maxim "innocent until proven guilty?"

I guess that flies out the window when it comes to terrorist attacks and Arab-Americans. In America, vague, foreign names like the PLO, Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban are convenient scapegoats for any attacks - even if they deny responsibility - as they did yesterday.

Ask any Arab-American, and I'm sure they'll tell you that whenever something like this happens, they are asked to comment and prove their innocence, as if they were on trial.

I do not represent the 100 million Arabs and 1.2 billion Muslims around the world, and I resent having to explain the actions of a few individuals!

Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing?

After the first hysterical moments in that attack, the media immediately reported that two bearded "Middle Eastern-looking men" were seen leaving the area and naturally, most people assumed that Arabs carried out that despicable attack.

Arabs and Muslims throughout the country faced discrimination, threats and even physical attacks until it was later discovered that a young, clean-shaven American man named Timothy McVeigh was actually responsible.

Needless to say, the American media did not condemn an entire culture or religion when McVeigh took responsibility; the bombing was called a "solitary incident" and no one called him a "Christian fundamentalist."

But when the attacker is from the Middle East, threatening words like "militant," "fundamentalist" and "extremist" almost always precede the suspect's name, ensuring that the violent images of Muslims and Arabs remain in the American subconscious.

When I checked my e-mail yesterday, I found a message from the Council on American-Islamic relations warning Muslim women who wear headscarves to "stay out of public areas for the immediate future."

Is it possible that covering my hair could make me a target for attack? I wondered. Family members from all over the world called me yesterday and advised me to remove my scarf for the time being, and a relative in Brooklyn even heard that three Muslim women were shot at for covering their hair.

As you can imagine, this rumor made me more hysterical. My fiance, who lives in Jerusalem, called me throughout the day and begged me not to leave the house. Being a Palestinian, he's used to being under attack and having to spend days and even weeks at a time without leaving his home.

Thousands of people died in yesterday's attacks, and while watching the news, I thought about the Palestinians and the Iraqis who die in bombings every day, the ones we hardly ever hear about. Aren't those attacks tragedies?

Aren't those victims innocent as well?

As yesterday neared to a close and I thought about facing the world today, I panicked. I called my local mosque and found out that Union City police are providing around-the-clock protection, and that, thankfully, no threatening phone calls or packages had been received, according to Director Ibrahim Al-Hayek.

I'm frightened out of my wits, to say the least. As if the innocent lives lost yesterday weren't bad enough, Muslims in America now have to look over our shoulders when we leave our homes for fear of harassment about the way we look.

Is this fair?

President George Bush said yesterday that "freedom itself was attacked" and he's right, everyone's freedom was attacked, including Muslims' freedom to practice their religion and culture without worry.

So can we really call America "the land of the free?"

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