New York, 2001. Washington, 2001.
No American will ever forget. No human being will ever forget.
I could write about how sorrowful, how empty, and how angry I feel. I
could write about what has shifted within me, what awful clarity has
pierced through the fog of uncertainty and self-doubt. I could write, at
the same time, about how proud I am of my fellow Americans, how proud I am
to be an American myself, and how touched I am by the outpouring of
support across the entire world.
But you already understand these things. You feel them yourself.
Here, I want to write about something else, about a danger that we face
from within; not from terrorists, but from ourselves. I write as a
humanist, and as a patriot. What I will say is obvious and unoriginal, but
needs to be repeated.
There appears to be a consensus forming that the recent attacks were the work of militant Muslims of Arabic ethnicity. This fact, combined with televised images of Palestinians laughing and dancing in their streets, and hateful words from Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, has fueled in a number of Americans a racial and religious hatred which has already spilled over upon Americans of Arab descent, and upon Americans of Muslim persuasion.
Having been a Christian, and now being an atheist, I am painfully aware
of how prevalent the stereotype of Islam as terrorism is in America, in
religious and nonreligious circles alike, and how difficult a time the
religion, much like Christianity, has had in shaking off the legacy of its
often violent past. And just as Islam has become stereotyped, so have
certain ethnic backgrounds which are associated with Islam.
But those who hold the Arab American community as a whole responsible
for the crimes of a radical few of the same descent (and it is worthwhile
to note that none of the terrorists as yet have turned out to be US
citizens, though the point would stand even if all them were), or lash out
at Muslims of all shades for the malevolence of one virulent strand,
violate the deepest humanistic principles upon which our country was
founded, and for which it stands even today. We must always remember that
Americans who are also Arabs are no less Americans, that Americans who are
also Muslims are no less Americans. They are our own.
Though we may perhaps in the future collectively choose as a nation to
forfeit some of our rights, we cannot make such a decision selectively
against part of the American population. Anyone tempted to do so must ask
who the next terrorist will be – of what religious persuasion, of which
ethnicity – and ask whether they themselves want to be lumped together
with them because of surface similarities. If we give in to stereotypes,
no one is safe, and justice is lost.
Atheists and believers, Christians and Muslims, ethnic Europeans and ethnic Arabs, we must all stand united as Americans. We have shed our blood together on the 11th, and will do so again in the future, as the eternal adversaries of terror, and the guardians of freedom and democracy.
I ask you, as the opportunity presents itself, to send out messages of
peace and solidarity to the Arab and Muslim communities within America.
Let them know that we are with them.
E pluribus unum.
From many, one.