September 26, 2001
SOME AMERICANS are happily, perhaps eagerly, embracing the racial profiling of Middle Easterners and Arabs in the wake of the terrorist bombing Sept. 11 of the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
We never learn, do we?
Just how we'll do this profiling of Arabs is not clear. Arabs come in all complexions. They range from the late Syrian President Hafez el Assad - who, if you put him in America, would look like a regular white guy - to those very dark with kinky hair. Put Sudan's Arab population in America in Western dress and you'd be hard pressed to distinguish between them and African-Americans.
But that hasn't deterred America's yahoo element from harassing and attacking those they think "look" Arab or Muslim. But the common rabble may be a bit confused. One of those attacked and harassed was an American from India, a member of the religious sect known as the Sikhs. Sikh men have beards and wear turbans. Apparently, our more bigoted countrymen can't tell a Sikh from a Muslim.
"It's angry lashing out by private citizens," said Susan Goering, head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Maryland chapter. Her organization has been receiving reports of individual occurrences of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment.
"What we're hearing about seems to be mostly private companies and private citizens doing the discriminating," Goering said. "It looks like government officials are being helpful" in fighting against such discrimination.
One such government official is Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who met with area Muslim leaders at Morgan State University on Friday. Two days later, the mayor was in Catonsville attending the Islamic Society of Baltimore's open house.
"He was trying to gain insight into the concerns and issues of the Muslim community," mayoral spokesman Tony White said of O'Malley. Imam Adam Sheikh of the Islamic Society of Baltimore said O'Malley and 15 area Muslim leaders discussed "what we would be able to do to unite the citizens of Baltimore."
Sheikh said no member of his mosque has reported any discrimination or harassment since Sept. 11, but White said a young woman at the open house worried that Muslim women may be more visible targets because they're readily identifiable by their dress. The woman's concern went beyond threats of violence, White said.
"She was talking about being denied employment opportunities or being turned down when buying a house," White said.
It takes courage for political leaders such as O'Malley and President Bush to stand up and condemn anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry after thousands of American lives were lost to terrorists. The rest of us have to show such mettle, challenge the bigotry around us and say to the yahoos: Hey, America needs more Muslims, not fewer.
Right now, our intelligence agencies are begging for anyone who speaks Arabic or Farsi to come forth and work as interpreters. When the worldwide terrorist networks are taken down, it will be because a group of loyal Muslim Arab-Americans has infiltrated them and identified their leaders and locations.
Talk-show host Marc Steiner of WJHU told me there is evidence - anecdotal but compelling - from Baltimore public school teachers who say that Muslim students are the most disciplined and motivated. In a school system where lack of discipline has been noted as the major reason for the absence of learning and achievement, do you think Baltimore's teachers would welcome more Muslim students or fewer?
Steiner spoke of a Muslim store owner who shortchanged a guy 6 cents. The store owner left his store and found the man to return the 6 cents. Most of us would have forgotten about it, but for this devout Muslim, dishonesty was dishonesty, whether it was for 6 cents or $6 million.
If we were to check the crime and teen pregnancy rates among Muslim Americans, we might be pleasantly surprised. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the country. America's 6 million Muslims outnumber some Christian denominations such as the United Church of Christ and the Assemblies of God.
In a nation that all but champions promiscuous sexuality, where consumption of booze - the No. 1 gateway drug to the harder stuff - is advertised as practically imperative and where the "F" word passes for high-class movie dialogue, the moderating influences of true Islam are sorely needed. It is those bigots who obviously yearn for a return to America's "hang 'em high" days of lynching and virulent racism who need to take a hike.
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