A Few Words

It is extremely hard to write this morning, and yet I feel I have to. Everything hurts so much. After a few hours sleep, I woke up in the dark, hoping and praying that I had woken up from a nightmare. The nightmare is still there. Today, as dawn breaks over New York City and the country, we will start to come face to face with the enormous tragedy and crime that struck yesterday, and we will begin to learn of countless thousands of families whose loved ones have been ripped from them. They have will have names and faces. It is beyond imagination and comprehension.

Since yesterday the newscasts have been rife with speculation about who could have carried out this awful crime. File footage of Ussama Bin Laden appears on every screen. Rumors of Arabs being arrested, or Arabic-language materials being found by police are already being made much of. On top of the pain we are all feeling for the continuing tragedy, this fills me with fear. The fact is no one yet knows who was capable of such a sophisticated assault on the world’s most powerful country.

National Public Radio this morning focussed on reports of TV pictures of Palestinians celebrating at the blow struck against the United States. These images fill me with disgust and shame that anyone could put on such a display. Peter Jennings on ABC News was more careful in his analysis, pointing out that while some Palestinians in the occupied territories may have felt that way, his experience in the Middle East suggests that many many more people all over the Arab world will be feeling sadness and shock, “because of their deep attachments to the United States.” He said, for example that more people from the “deeply troubled” Palestinian city of Ramallah live in the United States than in Ramallah itself. That is my experience too. I have not spoken to one person who is not utterly horrified by what has happened.

I will not here try to explain why some Palestinians may have felt joy at seeing America humiliated, and dealt a horrible blow. If I had been under bombardment and siege for more than a year and occupation for more than three decades, I hope that I would keep my humanity and not surrender to the basest emotions, and I am sure that most Palestinians have not. While all our attention was focussed on the unfolding events in the United States, nine Palestinians were killed when Israeli forces attacked the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank last night, and another three Palestinians were killed elsewhere. Twelve more people died. A ridiculously small number compared to what the United States has just suffered, but another enormous, unbearable tragedy for each of their families. As enormous and unbearable as each loss suffered by the Israelis and that will be suffered by so many American families.

I hope too that Americans will maintain their humanity and not surrender to their basest feelings as understandable anger, frustration and grief rise. Arabs and Muslims in America now live with real fear and apprehension. From early yesterday morning, I began receiving to my website, as well as to the email of the Arab American Action Network messages that only deepened the pain of the day.

“You are going to feel the wrath of all Americans. LEAVE this country while you can. ALL ARABS ARE COWARDS AND BARBARIANS. DEATH TO ALL ARABS ALL PERSIANS ALL MUSLIMS!!!!!!!” wrote Darrell Hawley, adding for good measure that Arabs, Muslims and “Persians” “deserve nothing less than extermination.”

“Pay back time…will come soon,” was the simple message from REise99@aol.com.

Doug asked “Ali, why do your people love when civilians are killed. You are Evil.”

“Dear dirty towel-heads,” wrote Brook Shuler, “Please take your illogical, misogynistic and murdering religion back to the Middle East. We have tolerated you disgusting people long enough in our country.” Brook added “I hope the US wipes out every man, women and child Arab in the middle east. You people, like the AIDS virus, are a disease of this world. I will rest more easily when all of you are dead.”

This is just a sampling of what I received. While I am fortunate to have received only words of hate, I fear others may be victims of much worse. But this is not the whole story, and this is not the America I know and that I was born in that is speaking. What made a far greater impression on me were the many messages of support from friends and strangers.

“Do not be discouraged and do not let these few angry people blemish the good image you have of Americans,” wrote Gabor Mester.

Marc from California wrote “I am a Jewish American. I am grateful for your work, and for your existence. We are in this together. Whatever happens, we are all Americans and world citizens. We are people of good will and peace, and this tragedy is all of ours.”

An unidentified person wrote “A lot of us know, even it actually happens that these terrorists are of arab-origins, they do not speak for all of the arab people. The same way Timothy Mc Veigh was not representative of the American people.”

“I am an American citizen who is deeply concerned for the safety of all our Arab-American citizens. My ancesters were European but I consider myself to be just another human being in the larger family of human beings. I am very fond of the Arabic people and culture. I most sincerely hope that each and everyone of you remains safe, and free of injury to your persons, your homes, and your businesses. Love and peace to each of you” was the message from “C.G.”

At my work place, so many of my colleagues came to my office to ask about my family. Many friends in New York offered to take them in. My sister, her husband and their young daughter live literally in the shadow of the World Trade Center. The worst moment of my life was watching on TV as the first World Trade Center tower collapsed on to their neighborhood. I spent an intensely agonizing time yesterday morning before I could get in touch with them and learn that they were safe and reassure the rest of my family. They are now in a hotel, unable to go home, but they are safe. So many thousands of people are not so lucky and are still waiting in agony for news of their loved ones. Friends from non-Arab organizations in Chicago came forward to say they will hold a press conference today to urge their fellow citizens not to take part in a backlash and to realize that whoever is responsible for this awful crime, that does not make millions of people guilty.

It is this caring, compassionate America I will choose to see. It is this America that helped me get through my day yesterday and that will help millions of people to survive hardest days yet to come. It is this America that I will continue to be a part of and to stand with in the face of enormous evil and tragedy. I hope too that this America will stand with Arab Americans, Muslims and all others who may be targeted or defamed because of what happened. I hope that people in the Middle East will stand with Americans in human solidarity as we here have stood with people in the Middle East and supported them as they too have been victimized by senseless violence, loss and ongoing injustice.

I hope that we will all use words and take actions that will heal and support each other and try to maintain our calm and humanity in the face of incalculable suffering and sadness.