Muslims victims of Oklahoma bombing too

by By Aida

Finally, two years after tragedy struck the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, the trial of former Army Sgt. Timothy McVeigh has begun. Memorial services are being held around the country for the 168 victims of the blast. Those Americans who were killed or injured in the bombing, however, were not the only victims of the tragedy.
Throughout the United States, Arab and Muslim Americans suffered hate crimes — everything from bomb threats to verbal assaults — for weeks after the tragedy hit the nation’s headlines. Unlike the primary victims of the bombing, who were not personally targeted by the bombing suspects and who just happened to be in the federal building at the time of the explosion, these secondary victims were directly targeted for punishment by the American news media and some Americans around the country.
From the first hours after the bombing was reported, and before any information was found to link it to any person or group, the media played on the fears and prejudices of Americans by blaming the crime on foreigners, specifically Middle Eastern Muslim terrorists. So-called experts were brought in to carry on this us-versus-them theme; for example, Washington-based journalist Steven Emerson made this racist statement on a national news program: “This (the bombing) was done with the intent of inflicting as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.” If Emerson had said Jewish or black instead of Middle Eastern, he would have been labeled a racist and risked losing his job; as it stands, however, flagrantly anti-Arab and anti-Muslim statements are accepted as politically correct in American discourse.
Newspaper reporters were just as open about their anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiments. Referring to the annual Muslim-Arab Youth Association conference held in Oklahoma in 1992 (three years before the bombing), the Washington Post reported that, “The FBI has been aware of the activity of Islamic student groups meeting recently in Oklahoma City, Dallas, and Kansas City.” The reporter never questioned why the nation’s highest legal office was spying on religious youth groups. Whatever happened to the first amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion and association?
No less flagrant was an article in the New York Times which included this inflammatory statement: “Some Middle Eastern groups have held meetings there (Oklahoma), and the city is home to at least three mosques.” How sad that one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world, the New York Times, would use the mere presence of a particular religious institution in an area as proof of a religion’s culpability in a crime.
Some may argue that the media’s rush to judgment is understandable considering the history of terrorism on U.S. soil. The facts, however, prove otherwise. According to government figures, Americans from Muslim backgrounds have carried out only one terrorist attack in the United States — the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (incidentally, the FBI informant in this case was also a Muslim from the Middle East).
In contrast, the following figures on domestic terrorist attacks are reported by the FBI in the period of 1982-1992: Puerto Ricans, 77 attacks; left-wing groups, six attacks; Jewish groups, 16 attacks; anti-Castro Cubans, 12 attacks; right-wing groups, six attacks. The same conclusion can be made with regard to anti-U.S. terrorist attacks overseas. According to the U.S. Department of State “patterns of global terrorism” report a majority of the 44 anti-U.S. attacks took place in Latin America. In contrast, only eight were carried out in the Middle East, five in Asia, five in Western Europe and four in Africa. This is not to say that these groups should be singled out for attack; this is to say, however, that the stereotypical image of a terrorist as necessarily a Muslim is just that: a stereotype.
So if government sources clearly disprove the popular notion that Muslims from the Middle East are solely to blame for anti-U.S. terrorism, then why were so many members of the media so quick to judge? Part of the answer has to do with the heavy influence some anti-Muslim political interest groups have over the media. These groups seek to portray all Arabs and Muslims as either terrorists or anti-American. The other part of the answer lies in sheer economics. Let’s face it, sensationalism sells, and the media, being essentially a business, understands that it is much easier to sell a story about a group of Muslim terrorists conspiring to blow up America and then take over the world than to sell a story about a young all-American male with a crew cut taking his revenge on the government by blowing up a building.
A scrutiny of the news reports in the aftermath of the bombing evinced the media’s reluctance to give up on the alleged Muslim terrorist conspiracy. For example: on April 20, after government reports indicated that the bombing suspects were very likely two white males, CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer insisted that “there is still a possibility that there could have been some sort of connection to Middle East terrorism. One law enforcement source tells me that there’s a possibility that they (the Caucasian suspects) may have been contracted out as freelancers to go out and rent this truck that was used in the bombing.”
The media’s insistence on maintaining a Middle Eastern connection was not limited to television newscasters. Radio personalities around the country jumped on the “Let’s blame it on all the Muslims” bandwagon. The Bob Grant Show, which broadcasts on New York’s WABC radio station, had this exchange the day after the bombing.
caller Tommy: Well, I’d like to say that it’s very amazing that … they’re talking about Muslims … and no one ever saw anything. That’s just as worse. …
host Bob Grant: Now, we did see a lot of things … in the Oklahoma case … the indications are that those people who did it were some Muslim terrorists. But a skunk like you. … What I’d like to do is put you up against the wall with the rest of them, and mow you down along with them. Execute you with them. Because you obviously have a great hatred for America, otherwise you wouldn’t talk the way you talk, you imbecile.
The following caller supported Grant’s attack on Tommy, the previous caller, and suggested that Tommy was “probably a black Muslim.” The next caller suggested taking the culprits (the Muslims) and putting their bodies in pig skin so they won’t be “going on to Allah” (the Arabic word for God.)
The attacks on Islam and Muslims even carried their way into the nation’s classrooms. In a middle school in California, an English teacher included the word bomb in the week’s vocabulary list and illustrated the term by using the sentence, “Muslims bombed Oklahoma City because Allah told them to do so.” Because of this insightful statement, a 7th grade Muslim boy was physically assaulted by his classmates after school.
The media’s obsession with the imagined Muslim conspiracy took its desired toll as anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria swept the country. Hundreds of hate crimes were carried out against Muslims in just the first two days of the blast. In total, Muslims suffered more than 50 bomb and death threats. In one case, someone called the Council on Islamic Education in California and yelled, “You better not come to work tomorrow or we’ll blow up your … building.” In Dallas, someone threw a bag into the child care center of a mosque and hollered, “bomb!” In another mosque, a caller vowed, “I will kill all the children.”
Even if the bombers were indeed Muslim, were the Muslim children playing in the mosque any less innocent than those children who died in the bombing? Apparently, some Americans would answer, “yes.” According to a Muslim female student at George Mason University, one male classmate blamed her for the bombing and defended his belief by saying, “When you join a group you take on the whole group and their actions.” I wonder if he blamed himself after he found out that the perpetrators of the crime were Christian. If one were to carry his skewed ideology further, then all Christians would be responsible for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazis and the Serbs. And all Jews would be blamed for the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians in occupied Palestine and Lebanon by the Israeli government.
Unfortunately, the idea that a whole group should suffer for the suspected criminal actions of a few of its members is all too prevalent in our society. Just days after the bombing, one Muslim woman in her mid-20s miscarried her near-term baby after an attack on her home in Oklahoma city. Assailants broke a number of windows in her home and pounded on the door while verbally assaulting her. Fearing for her life, the woman took refuge in the bathroom with her children, felt extreme pain in her abdomen, bled uncontrollably and then miscarried a stillborn baby boy several hours later. These acts of violence, and many others like them, occurred despite the fact that within hours of the explosion, dozens of Muslim organizations around the country issued statements condemning the bombing in the strongest terms possible. Also, although Muslim leaders were not included in the official memorial service held for the victims by the governor of Oklahoma, Muslim delegations from around the country attended the ceremony.
Muslim sympathy, however, did not just come in words of condemnation or condolences. The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based national Muslim group, held a blood drive for explosion victims, donated $2,500 to the Red Cross and $5,000 to Oklahoma City’s Disaster Recovery Scene. On Wednesday, some 50 Holy Land Foundation volunteers flew to Oklahoma City to work with the Oklahoma City Food Bank and Feed the Children organizations who accommodated families affected by the bombing. A Muslim delegation met with the governor of Oklahoma and presented him with checks totaling $21,000 for the Victims Relief Fund. Finally Islamic community centers around the country organized blood drives to aid those injured in the explosion. What was the media’s reaction to the Muslim humanitarian response? The silent treatment. After all, what would Americans think if they heard about Muslims giving blood rather than spilling it? Why, that would make Muslims seem almost human. God forbid!

Statistics for this article were taken from the special report, “A Rush to Judgement,” compiled by the Council On American-Islamic Relations.

Aida Wazwaz is an extension student.