Our responses to Sept. 11 could lead to danger or reconciliation

ABy Caesar Farah

as we pass the first anniversary of the dreadful events that cost so many innocent lives, many throughout the world are still in shock over why such an incident should have taken place. As the public attempted to recover from the shock, the president named Arab Muslims as the perpetrators. His retort was that these merchants of death hated America for its democracy and freedom. No attempt was made to explain why 15 Saudi Arabian youths from largely affluent middle class families, led by an Egyptian member of the Islamic Jihad, should dare to violate American sanctity in such a manner.

A frustrated president and his administration’s immediate response was to find someone prominent to blame. Osama bin Laden was the most visible candidate, although he denied involvement and we couldn’t produce any evidence. Had we made our proof public, we may have avoided the subsequent war on Afghanistan, since the Taliban leadership promised to deliver bin Laden to an Islamic court for trial. If found guilty, bin Laden would have suffered the proper punishment under Islamic law.

But our aim went beyond the apprehension of bin Laden. We had the excuse to rid Afghanistan of strict Islamic rule so we could have in place a government responsive to our strategic interests in north central Asia, where oil and gas abound. The exploring and marketing of these products require transit through Afghanistan as the easiest route to the Indian Ocean. With an oil man as president of the United States, we should have expected a move to further our global interests.

The question we address in this column relates to the aftermath of this dreadful event in our society, keeping in mind that there are more than six million Muslims in our midst who presently live in fear and trepidation due to the increasing harassment by fellow Americans who do not accord them constitutional rights. The press, demagogues masquerading as men of God and true Christians, has bypassed the president’s call for respect, tolerance and understanding of Islam, a sisterly religion against which they have launched campaigns.

Fearing renewed attacks one year later, Muslim communities have called for tolerance and understanding. They have undergone projects to prove that they were also devastated emotionally by the attacks, insisting that the perpetrators did not represent true Islam. A community in Los Angeles, for instance, knitted a quilt with the name of every person who perished on Sept. 11 to give to the site. Muslim organizations have preached understanding and respect for their Jewish and Christian friends, while the more rabid have launched negative campaigns against them.

But while rational Muslims call for better friendship between Muslims and Christians, evangelists sue the University of North Carolina for recommending an introductory book on Islam to freshmen. Radio show commentators and hypocritical opportunists call for the bombing of Mecca and Medina in the hope that Islam would die out. They preach, for all practical purposes, a new crusade, which Bush himself alluded to but then backtracked to say he respected Islam as a religion. His fellow Christians have not heeded that decision.

Where do we as a nation stand now? If we are to endorse the wild demagogic notions and preaching of the present administration that cannot wait to attack Iraq, we might as well forget any true reconciliation with Muslims around the world. Domestically, this could translate into more hostility toward fellow Muslim Americans, more arrests without case and legal sanctions. It will also signal the loss of basic constitutional rights to non-Muslims as well, as Attorney General John Ashcroft flexes his legal muscles by spying on us under a variety of non-constitutionally authorized devices. All this should make our Bible-readers happy, since the prophecy they await may well come for them to see.

Yes, there is much to ponder at the first anniversary of this tragic event. We should pray that reconciliation will result from the commemoration of its results.

Caesar Farah is a professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. Send comments to [email protected].