WE FIRST met several months ago, coming together as an American Arab and an American Jew, inspired by the initiation of the peace process in the Middle East. We had believed the movement toward peace was inexorable. Here in Baltimore we embraced one another in optimistic confidence that despite extremists, peace in the Middle East was just beyond the horizon.
Since those heady days our optimism has been tempered with profound anguish. We are witnesses to the mounting whirlwind of violence that undermines reconciliation, justice and peace everywhere in our beleaguered world. With horror and dismay we join in denouncing the murderous violence that spreads like an insidious infection in all lands and to all people. Now it even comes to our own doorstep.
Events in Oklahoma City compel us to acknowledge that the perversion of civilized behavior is not unique to any people. Evil can overwhelm conscience and decency in any society and devastate morality regardless of economic background, religion or social standing. Extremist forces filled with hatred and bigotry act viciously to spill the blood of innocents. Our hearts ache for the bereft mothers and fathers as we share their pain. We shall not easily forget the cruelty perpetrated in the name of a twisted mentality and unbridled paranoia.
We, too, are pained by the haste of some to implicate Middle Eastern people in the crime before any facts were known. The first hours of the nation's response to this irrational bombing revealed a national tendency to stereotype members of racial minorities. The violence of the extremists is inexcusable and de
mands justice, as has been stated by President Clinton. The stereotyping of supposedly Middle Eastern looking culprits is paranoia that casts culpability on us all. No one can be free of shame after Oklahoma City's nefarious bombing which revealed a flagrant national tendency to blame the seeming foreigner.
Nevertheless, we are equally aware that goodness and decency can command the human imagination to seek justice and peace with force and enthusiasm equal to the zeal of those who advance bigotry and violence. We must not ape the zealots of extremism. We must guard against stereotyping. We must understand each other and overcome our unsubstantiated suspicions based on our ignorance of one another.
Thus do we speak from our hearts today as brothers determined to transcend the barriers of unfamiliarity and suspicion that have separated all peoples, especially American Arabs and American Jews. We pledge to share a common determination, as Americans, to rally those of goodwill from our communities, and others, for repentance, reconciliation and peace. It is time to overcome past insensitivities, inertia, xenophobia and to publicly assert our deepest yearning for an end to spiraling violence. We owe this to the victims of Oklahoma City. We owe this, whatever our religious and ethnic commitments and national origins, to that sanctifying source of our spiritual sentiments and moral convictions.
United by our faith in One God, we accept our common humanity and our shared destiny as children of the Almighty.
Rabbi Murray Saltzman leads the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation. Mohyee E. Eldefrawi, Ph.D., is president of the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Arab Americans and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.