In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
The recent White House plane scare reminds us of how “everything changed” after September 11. After a small plane entered restricted airspace (3 miles away from the White House), both the Capitol and the White House were evacuated, and First Lady Laura Bush and Vice President Cheney were quickly taken away to secure locations. In addition, two F-16s and a Blackhawk helicopter were dispatched to intercept the plane, and the jets fired four flares at the Cessna to send it back. All this while the President himself was not even notified until after the fact.
Thankfully, it turns out that the plane was not an incoming “Islamic missile,” but made a wrong turn on its way to an air show. The two men piloting the plane were detained, questioned, and then released when it was determined that it was an accident. Whew! And I thought they were going to be shipped off to Guantanamo Bay! All joking aside, I am very thankful to God that it was just an accident and not a real terrorist incident. Some people may see the response as exaggerated or excessive, but I do not. The evacuation was absolutely necessary, and unfortunately, such is life in America after 9/11.
Yet, I must pause here and ask a question: what if this same situation occurred – the two men piloting the plane were on their way to an air show and made a wrong turn – but the only difference was the two men were Arab-Americans or Muslims? Would they have been released? Would this incident have been called an “innocent mistake”? Would the Muslim pilots have been labeled “enemy combatants” and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay? Or “rendered” to Egypt or Syria or Saudi Arabia for “further questioning”? Would mosques, Islamic centers, and Arab-American community centers be targeted by “patriotic” Americans for revenge? What if they had been Arabs/Muslims?
Let’s take it even further: what if the California man who stopped his car on the train tracks, causing a horrific accident, had been an Arab-American or a Muslim? Would it have been a “simple crime” or an “act of terror”? What if the Ohio highway shooter had been an Arab-American or a Muslim? Would that have been called an “Al-Qaeda plot”? Once John Allen Muhammad – the Washington, D.C. area sniper – was caught, almost immediately cries of “terrorism” were called out. There was no mention of terrorism when it was thought that the sniper was a white male loner. Why was that?
Now, I am not one to harp on the victimization of American Muslims after September 11, but I am also not one to minimize the fact that the community has been under an enormous amount of pressure and scrutiny. And the image of terrorists being only Arab and Muslim, I’m afraid, has become hopelessly entrenched in the minds of many – if not most – Americans today. It is counterproductive, serves to erect barriers of misunderstanding between fellow Americans, and it leads to many innocent people getting hurt or having their civil liberties unnecessarily curtailed in the name of “national security.”
But let me say one last thing: the seemingly unending stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as violent terrorists, while wrong and hurtful, is not a new phenomenon. African-Americans and Hispanics have been stereotyped and racially profiled long before September 11. In fact, African-Americans shed their blood and gave their lives on the streets of this country to give me the rights I now take for granted. I’m not minimizing the adverse consequence of the stereotyping of Muslims, but I am also saying this: if we are to gain anything from the post-9/11 experience, it is that we American Muslims must be first in line to fight against the discrimination of ANYONE in our country. If it’s wrong for it to happen to Muslims, then it’s wrong for it to happen to ___________.
(Fill in the blank with whatever group you like)