No witch hunts

Ethnic profiling: Anger over terror attacks does not justify collective scapegoating.

September 14, 2001

NOTHING COULD be more destructive to the nation's spirit than indiscriminate jingoistic acts of revenge against Islamic believers in our midst, particularly people of Arab origin. Their national origin or religious beliefs do not automatically link them to terrorist activities.

This should be self-evident. Apparently, it isn't. Arab-Americans and Muslims have been targeted in sporadic incidents that cannot be allowed to continue or spread.

This nation faces a delicate dilemma. Mounting evidence points to Middle Eastern leadership in this week's unspeakable bloodshed. This means that the nation's intelligence agencies will work overtime to play catch-up without having the adequate language or cultural background for the job.

The probers' handicaps and scramble should not be an excuse for insensitivity. Yet the crudeness of the recent federal probe of Chinese-American scientists raises this as a very real possibility.

Maryland is multicultural. This diversity gives us strength, although many in our state have limited understanding of the nuances of various religions or ethnicities.

Our academic institutions attract hundreds of foreign students and scholars. Some are savvy and knowledgeable about our way of life; others are bewildered by the size and seeming confusion of the United States or Americans' ignorance about foreign countries.

Students from Muslim countries, in particular, are often vocal in their criticism of U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East. At a time like this, some of their perspectives and views may seem shocking or unreasonable. That does not automatically make them terrorist sympathizers.

However, nothing will turn them more quickly into lasting, embittered anti-Americans than indiscriminate and unfair branding. It would only confirm their worst stereotypes about the United States and Americans.

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