A Never-Ending Injustice

The collapse of the World Trade Center twin towers in New York has dramatically altered Renee Hamel’s life, though this 15-year-old teen-ager lives in Berlin, Conn., a small town about a hundred miles away from New York City. For the first time in his life, Hamel is afraid to admit he is a Muslim. “I am afraid of people’s prejudice and their allegations,” he said.

Hamel has lost several friends since the attacks; however, he is more fortunate than others. A Muslim housewife who lives in Oak Lawn, near the Mosque Foundation of Chicago in Bridgeview, Ill., had worse luck. The night after the attack that devastated the World Trade Center, the woman, who is afraid to give her name, could not even close her eyes. Since then, she and her husband continue to face nights of terror. Every night, hundreds of youths stage a brutal anti-Islamic demonstration in their neighborhood. “My husband has Arab blood,” the woman said to Reuters. “But he served in the U.S. Navy for four years, putting his life at risk.”

Since the devastating attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon on Tuesday last week, latent racial prejudices have been stirred. Some Americans eventually directed their rage at Muslims or those of Arab descent. In Indiana, the day after the disaster, a gas station managed by a Yemeni immigrant was bombarded with gunfire. Another gas station belonging to a Jordanian immigrant was also targeted. In Anaheim, Calif., three teenagers rode their skateboards through the windows of Sinbad Ranch Market, a business owned by Arab immigrants. Adam Lang, of Huntington, N.Y., tried to crash his car into a Pakistani woman in a supermarket parking lot. Lang said that he would have no qualms about killing the woman, “Because she destroys my country.” In Denton, Texas, Molotov cocktails and bottles of liquor were thrown into mosques and an Islamic school, while bags of pig’s blood were sent to an Islamic center in San Francisco. Islamic leaders in America had predicted this offensive action. Apparently, in Uncle Sam’s country, prejudice against foreigners still has deep roots.

Souleiman Ghali, executive director of the Islamic Society in San Francisco, for instance, was forced to appeal to women who wear head coverings not to expose their identities as a precautionary action. He also told the women not to go out unless it was absolutely urgent.

“We don’t want the 1995 incident to happen again,” said a former Moroccan soccer player who now lives in Washington. He was referring to the attacks on American Muslims after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma in April 1995. At the time, many Americans immediately pointed their fingers at radical Muslim groups as the bomb mastermind. As a result, hundreds of Muslims were seriously injured in unfounded attacks.

Hatem Bazian, coordinator of the Graduate Minority Students Project at the University of California at Berkeley, said that Muslims have become the scapegoats for terrorism and that Americans tend to forget that many Muslims also died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. “Why aren’t we also identified as victims? Instead, we are linked to the bombers,” said Bazian.

“We declare that we stand hand in hand with all American people fighting to bring those responsible before the law,” said Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Even President George W. Bush called on Americans to stop the prejudice against Muslims and people of Arab descent. But prejudice cannot be vanquished by words.

Indeed, America’s relationship with Islam and the Middle East has always been prejudiced. For most American people, Islam and Muslims are synonymous with violence and terror. And to some Muslims in the Middle East, America’s unflagging support of Israel makes the United States “a big evil.”

“American terrorism is more dangerous than other terrorisms,” said Sheik Hamed Betawi, the preacher at a mosque in the Palestinian city of Nablus. According to him, what the U.S. government has committed against the Palestinians is a crime. “An injustice will bring another new injustice,” he added. The Associated Press reported that the Friday sermons from Baghdad, Beirut, Gaza, and Palestine repeated the message that the attack was an unavoidable consequence of America’s total support for Israel.

In Indonesia, similar sentiment also arises. In a press release sent to Gatra, Jafar Umar Thalib, the commander of Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah [a fundamentalist Islamic group in Indonesia], said that the attack was a heroic action of young people who are disappointed with the United States. “Happy condolence, America. May you learn a lesson about the stupidity of your arrogance,” Jafar Umar wrote.

But there are also Middle Eastern Muslims who condemned the attacks. The Friday sermon in Cairo at Egypt’s famous Al-Azhar Mosque did so indirectly. “Anyone who commits unnecessary killing will not reach Paradise,” said the preacher, Al-Sheikh Mohammad Sayed Tantawi. Ikhwanul Muslimin, an established radical Islam organization in Egypt, issued a statement saying the attack was inhuman.

For American citizens, their cultural, economic, and military world dominance is a matter of national pride. But America’s involvement may have been the beginning of its problems. For example, the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia in Desert Storm operations in 1991 was uncomfortable for many moderate Muslims, and it made radical Muslims angry. It triggered Osama bin Laden’s hatred of the United States. For America, dispatching troops to Saudi Arabia at the time was done as a helping hand. But to Bin Laden, the entry of American troops was an unforgivable insult to the Muslims’ holy land.

Terrorism of any sort cannot be tolerated. However, debating who started the cycle of injustice is not an easy matter. In a Palestinian refugee camp near Bethlehem, Mahmoud Abdullah, a former clothes vendor, could only ponder upon hearing the news of the destruction of the twin towers. “I can only be sorry for the civilians, both the Americans and Palestinians,” he said.