The aftermath of Tuesday’s unthinkable tragedy has morphed into an old-fashioned western. America’s good ol’ Texas Ranger, President Bush, said Monday he wants the bad guy, Islamic radical Osama bin Laden, “dead or alive.”
Unfortunately, the real situation lacks the crystalline clarity of a black and white movie. A murky cloud, not unlike the smoke and dust obscuring Lower Manhattan, distorts that picture-perfect image.
One week ago, in the name of Islam, suicidal fanatics broke America’s heart. One week ago, in the name of freedom, Bush declared war on terrorism.
“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” Bush said in a televised address 12 hours after the attacks.
However, another distinction must be, and is being made.
The administration, while clearly bent on annihilating bin Laden and his terrorist networks, is preaching tolerance toward Arab-Americans. The confusion comes in differentiating between Islam fundamentalist radicals and an average Islam adherent. In the past week, some blindly furious Americans failed to note this distinction.
At an unprecedented assembly at Washington, D.C.’s Islamic Center, Bush met with American-Muslim leaders Monday to discuss, among other issues, the American backlash against those of Islamic faith.
Standing barefoot in the Center’s prayer area, Bush implored America, home to seven million Muslims, to treat citizens with respect.
“America counts millions of Muslims amongst our citizens, and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” he said. “Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must not be intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value.”
Although Bush claims the “America he knows” does not threaten Muslims, he understands the reality. His very recognition of the problem tacitly acknowledges the menacing backlash against Arab-Americans that has already begun.
Newspapers nationwide report incidents ranging from a foiled mob attack on a Bridgefield, Ill., mosque to the shooting of an Indian-American man in Mesa, Ariz., to hate messages scrawled on buildings or delivered in person.
Brooklyn resident Rabyaah Al-Thaibani told CNN her uncle, a New York grocer, was threatened on Thursday by one of his suppliers.
“He said he would kill my uncle and the whole family if we didn’t watch out,” Al-Thaibani said. “We are all pretty terrified to walk out right now.”
One week ago, threats like this were improbable. But then, the twin towers stood untouched, glinting peacefully in the sun.
The question is: What will happen next? How can America launch a war against some Muslims without blaming the rest? Can we fight a war against an anonymous foe, or must we give it a face, even if that face is false?
Although American leaders are struggling to stanch the flow of racist violence, all the rhetoric in the world is not enough to foil the evil of the misinformed.
Bin Laden and his terrorist allies do not represent Islam. Islam, which literally means “surrender” in Arabic, is not a violent religion any more than the Christian faith is.
“[The attacks] violate the very foundations of Islamic law,” said Imam Yahya Hendi, a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University.
Yet a deadly few can sickeningly twist the teachings of Islam into a justification of terrorism. However, most faiths suffer radical groups. Just as the vulgar Library Mall memorial protesters horrified Christians in the crowd, bin Laden’s followers enraged and saddened Muslim-Americans.
“They hit the World Trade Center,” one New York City truck driver said, hauling wreckage to the dump. “They hit the Pentagon. But they missed America.”
America will hit back — but it needs to miss those who do not deserve retribution. Bush and other leaders have drawn the line, and it is up to Americans not to cross it.