Monday, August 19, 2002

Tolerance in War

I am really annoyed at the public service announcements urging us not to lynch anybody who looks like an al Qaeda hijacker. The PSAs start of well enough. I agree that we should not torment or persecute or, God forbid, physically attack somebody who is of Islamic or Arab origin. They are our friends, our family, and our neighbors, and they deserve to be considered loyal Americans or law abiding residents until proven otherwise, on an individual basis. I don't feel guilty for IRA violence against the British just because I am half Irish. And I do not wish to ignore that some acts of hate have taken place. During the prelude to Desert Storm, I wrote to the President as one of his soldiers who expected to go to war and asked him to speak out against anti-Arab anger that was building. I was gratified that he spoke out on this some weeks later (I like to think I had a small voice in prodding this, but who knows?). The government should prosecute any hate attacks that do take place. I don't want Arab Americans and Moslem Americans targeted for their ethnicity or religion. I have deeply personal reasons for this.

In this crisis, I am just not worried that Americans will lash out. This time around, the calls for tolerance have been made by many people in authority and made often. I am relieved. The acts of hate are miniscule and this is a testimony to our country. But back to the PSA. It is all well and fine, reminding us to be tolerant. But then at the end, one of the actors says earnestly, "Stop the hate."

"Stop" it?" One would think that American gangs were rounding up foreigners and shooting them. Stop the hate, indeed. It just isn't there. The tolerance is overwhelming. Even the warnings that Moslem-Americans are under scrutiny highlight the efforts of Americans to reassure them that we really do consider them loyal Americans. Regular ol' native-born xenophobes have been swamped by those who visited mosques in a sign of solidarity.

Yet the attackers of September 11 were Moslems, and Islamists claiming to fight for all Arabs and Moslems have been supportive of the attacks. It is natural that the government has looked at these communities with added scrutiny. In an ideal world, our government would probe with deference and politeness and the minimal intrusion necessary; and Arab- and Moslem-Americans would accept that some added scrutiny is necessary under the circumstances.

Indeed, you’d think the leaders of these communities would proclaim the evil of those who claim to fight in their name. Instead, they bristle at any action that suggests some added attention to their communities. And others build on the absurd idea that a virtual silent pogrom against Muslims is going on. We’re just not supposed to get angry at those who killed so many of us last September, I guess. Clearly, the idea that we somehow deserved this or caused it is not too far in the background.

Moslem-Americans are wrong to protest so much. The American government isn’t going to build internment camps. Civil liberties aren't going to be trampled. The government has been gentle. And at the individual level, I think Americans have been quite tolerant. I make it a point to smile at someone obviously dressed as a Moslem. I don't need my hate stopped. I don't think hate is bottled up in the rest of America and kept under control only with the most strenuous effort. I hope I am not wrong about this but I see no evidence of significant levels of hatred. Indeed, a little bit of appropriate hatred for those who killed us and still dream of slaughtering us in our homes and offices would do a world of good. Stop the hate, indeed. Bin Laden and his ilk have earned our hate.