Thursday, September 10, 2009
Americans turning from hatred to education 8 years since Sept. 11 terrorism
Americans turn from hatred to education 8 years since Sept. 11
We are finally seeing some real light through the black fog of American anger and hatred that erupted following the terrorist attacks eight years ago this week on Sept. 11.
American anger against Arabs and Muslims is fast turning into education and enlightenment, in part because of a president who is resetting the nation’s moral character by washing away the demagoguery that symbolized the response of his predecessor.
American Arabs can see the changes take place at almost every level.
Minutes after President Obama finished his speech on health-care reform to a joint session of the Congress, his opposition in the Republican Party selected an American Arab to present their response, Republican Congressman Charles Boustany of Louisiana.
The Obama speech was historic in many ways. It was only the 15th time since 1952 that an American president has brought together both the House and the Senate in one room to address a major problem, usually addressing wartime concerns. But it was the first time that the two speakers at a joint session had Arab names: Boustany and Hussein.
Yet beyond that subtle event below the American radar screen are many more substantive changes taking place in America.
After Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 hijackers, all Arabs, crashed their planes destroying the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers, damaging the Pentagon and crashing into a field in Pennsylvania during a battle with heroic passengers, Arabs and Muslims in America found themselves under violent physical and emotional siege.
Nearly 14 people who “looked” Middle Eastern were murdered by suspects who, either directly or indirectly cited the 9/11 as a cause for their actions. The victims included not only Arabs but non-Arab Muslims, Sikhs, Pakistanis, Indians and other people with dark hair and skin.
The number of American Arab newspapers and magazines dramatically dropped from 135 to 75 as a result of anti-Arab backlash. Today, there are 103 American Arab newspapers and publications, according to a recent study by the National Arab American Journalists Association.
More and more American Arabs are returning to high-profile public positions in society, including in the news media. Among them is journalist Hoda Kotb, the Oklahoma journalism student whose first name means “guidance” in Arabic. An Egyptian-American who speaks fluent Arabic and can recite the Qur’an, Kotb is a high-profile anchor and reporter at NBC.
Anthony Shadid, once an intern from a prominent American Arab activism organization, won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the Iraq War and has published several books. He’s a correspondent for the Washington Post. The nation’s first full-time morning radio show hosted by an American Arab has been launched in Chicago. It addresses mainstream and Middle East-focused topics.
That’s not to say that acts of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination have stopped. They haven’t. In communities across the country, Arabs and Muslims continue to face harassment and are the victims of racism. Part of the reason for the turnaround is the increasing American pressure against the demagogues who have led the outcries of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria in America. Media hosts like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Anne Coulter and others are now being confronted more and more by mainstream Americans for their outlandish claims and racist views which have broadened from anti-Arab and anti-Muslim tirade to include the popular President Obama.
It doesn’t mean the battle is over, but it is easier eight years later for American Arabs to raise such sensitive topics, challenging the stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims, silencing the extremists in American society who blame all Arabs and Muslims for terrorism, and questioning in a serious way the failures of the war in Iraq, once touted by President George W. Bush as the frontline against terrorism.
Many Americans today recognize that the Bush war in Iraq was misguided, based on lies and instead of stopping terrorism opened the door in Iraq to increased terrorist activities and violence. American public concern is steadily shifting and rightly with increasing calls for an end to the Iraq War and stepped up focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, non-Arab countries where Al-Qaeda is based.
And American Arabs can openly and publicly explore the important question regarding the relationship between misguided American foreign policies such as in Israel and the West Bank, and angry responses from the Arab and Muslim world. Are Americans also partly responsible for the terrorism this nation faces today?
With attitudes changing and the American public replacing animosity with education and common sense, eight years after the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks, the United States may be starting to win the war on terrorism. Finally.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and Chicago radio talk show host. This column first appeared in the Arab News Newspaper in Saudi Arabia.)