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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Speaking for Peace

I mourn for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and strongly condemn that barbaric crime. As a peace and social-justice activist, I am also deeply concerned about the rise of racism, the further erosion of our civil rights as Americans and the potential loss of more innocent lives both here and abroad.

Since last week’s terrorist attacks, various “Middle-Eastern looking” communities-including Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans and Sikh-Americans-have suffered hundreds of reported verbal assaults, harassment and physical attacks. Their businesses have also been targeted, with some suffering significant losses.

Some verbal threats have become direct physical assaults. In the Chicago area, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at an Arab-American community center, roving gangs and thugs attacked Arabs and Muslims, and an Arab-American gas-station attendant was attacked with a 2-foot-long machete.

Similar assaults have taken place across the country, some of which have been deadly. On Sept. 15, gunmen in Arizona and Texas killed Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh, and Waqar Hassan Choudhry, a 40-year-old Muslim Pakistani, apparently because they looked “Middle Eastern.”

The mainstream media have repeatedly reported on suspects who “look Middle Eastern,” which further fuels such dangerous, xenophobic sentiments.

After the 1996 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing, the media did not refer to Timothy McVeigh as a “European-American, Christian, Gulf War Veteran.” And gangs did not go after blond young males with buzzcuts. Going after “Middle Eastern-looking” people is equally irrational-and criminal.

After the Oklahoma City bombing, our civil rights were eroded when Congress passed the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, an unconstitutional and blatantly prejudicial bill. The bill allowed the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest, detain and deport legal residents on the basis of “secret evidence,” typically consisting of hearsay. Some of the accused have been imprisoned for three to four years without being charged with a crime, and 24 remain imprisoned without trial.

Will the fabric of our justice system be further torn? Will more innocent people be killed amid this talk of a “crusade against evil”?

“I say bomb the hell out of them,” Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said to the New York Times. “If there’s collateral damage, so be it.”

Who is “them”?

Is it the people of Afghanistan, already suffering terribly and deprived of basic necessities? What will military strikes against this impoverished country do except create further suffering, kill more civilians and increase the hate against the United States?

Or is “they” the people of Iraq, a people imprisoned by an 11-year state of siege? Every day, approximately 150 Iraqi children under the age of 5 die due to the effects of sanctions, according to UNICEF. And more suffer under the regular U.S. and British bombardments of Iraqi cities.

Or maybe it doesn’t really matter who “they” are, so long as the United States lashes out against someone. But speaking the language of terrorism only results in more violence and bloodshed. As Rabbi Arthur Waskow said, “Human beings become terrorists in a pool of despair; we must dry up that pool of despair by replacing despair with dignity and justice in all neighborhoods on this planet.”

We must use the vehicles of international law to apprehend and prosecute the people who committed this heinous crime. We must seek to understand the roots of this hatred and anger, if we are ever to stop terrorism at its foundation.

Unfortunately, even as many Americans march for peace, the current sentiment in Congress is for war. On Sept. 14, the Senate voted 98-0 for a war resolution, authorizing the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

In the U.S. House, there was only one voice for peace and reason. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., was the only member of Congress to vote against the war.

Whose voice will we, as Americans, support? Will it be the voice of Miller or that of Lee?

Let us honor the victims of this tragedy by ending violence, not by launching a war. Let’s search for global peace and justice.

By Rania Masri

ABOUT THE WRITER

Rania Masri is a national board member of both Peace Action and the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. She can be reached at [email protected]

(c) 2001, Rania Masri