When to condemn

April 27, 1995|By Jeff Jacoby

ALMOST AS soon as the hideous news broke in Oklahoma City last week, an insistent media drumbeat began: Don't condemn Muslims. Don't scapegoat Arab-Americans. Don't assume this crime has a Middle Eastern connection.

As far as anyone knows, of course, this crime doesn't have a Middle Eastern connection. It appears the monster responsible for butchering and maiming hundreds of innocent souls is an all-American, home-grown monster. The bigots and pinheads who couldn't wait to jump on the Internet or call a radio station to spew xenophobic slurs demonstrated once again that it is better to keep silent and let people think you're a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.

But since when do the media inveigh against jumping to conclusions? That grave concern for the reputation and welfare of a religion -- what a rarity that was! As for scapegoating -- wasn't it just a few months ago that my media sisters and brothers were explaining why the entire pro-life movement was to blame for the abortion-clinic murders of John Salvi?

The chorus was singing a different tune on this one. The Boston Globe ("Muslims Fear Being Made Scapegoats") and Los Angeles Times ("Muslim Community is Target of Threats, Abuse").

Isn't something missing here?

One who belongs to the most vilified and persecuted minority in history -- to borrow a phrase from the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter -- is not likely to underestimate the ugliness of the blood libel, nor minimize the dread it evokes in innocent people. No one but an ignoramus could believe that most Arabs in America are any less peaceable than their neighbors, or any more apt to be involved in terrorism.

But let's be honest. It wasn't exactly implausible to suppose that the carnage in Oklahoma City might be the work of Arabs or Muslims. When Americans are murdered by terrorists, after all, Arabs or Muslims are nearly always the killers. For example, the World Trade Center. The Marines in their bunker. All those college kids over Lockerbie. The Beirut hostages who didn't survive. Robbie Stethem, the Navy diver on TWA 847. Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair. The two U.S. diplomats assassinated in Khartoum. Ohio weightlifter David Berg, who went to the Olympics and returned in a coffin. Alisa Flatow of Brandeis University, bombed in Gaza on her spring vacation.

The great majority of Arabs and Muslims the world over live quiet lives and menace nobody. But a significant subset of Islam, the fundamentalists, is on the march -- preaching jihad, demonizing America, gunning down tourists, and practicing terror. Last week, many U.S. Muslim leaders made a point of insisting that Islam is a peaceful and nonviolent religion. Yet time and time again, fanatics commit bloody enormities in Allah's name -- and sheikhs and mullahs egg them on. And time and time again, one strains to hear any word of condemnation or revulsion or sorrow from America's Muslim and Arab spokesmen.

There are some people "of Middle Eastern extraction" in this country who dream of blowing up World Trade Centers. There are far more who dream the American Dream. It might be easier to differentiate between the two if the latter made it a point to denounce and express loathing of the former a little more often. Not just when parties unknown kill innocent children in Oklahoma, and American Arabs fear they may be scapegoated. The time to speak out is when Islamic fundamentalists or Palestinian extremists kill innocent children in Tel Aviv or over Lockerbie or on a Nile cruise ship, and nobody is blaming American Arabs.

Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for the Boston Globe.

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