Americans must have vigilance, not hate

Monday, October 8, 2001

P Our nation is built on a foundation of what we believe, not what we look like. Those who are scorned just because they look like Middle Easterners don't deserve such treatment, even under current circumstances.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, most Americans naturally have become apprehensive of strangers of Middle Eastern heritage, particularly in airport terminals and on commercial flights.

This apprehension became evident soon after air service resumed following the attacks by Arab airplane hijackers on New York and Washington. The best example was in Minneapolis, when passengers aboard a flight refused to fly because of three Arab-looking passengers, one of whom was an American citizen. In accordance with FAA regulations, the three men were removed from the flight since a majority of passengers did not want them aboard. Similar incidents have taken place elsewhere.

There have been numerous reports of hate crimes against Muslims in this country since the hijackings. In some places, U.S. citizens of Middle Eastern heritage and Muslims are hesitant to leave their homes in fear of reprisal. Many don't venture into public unless accompanied by someone who doesn't look Middle Eastern. And since the attacks students from the Mideast have left American universities to return home.

While there have been threats and violence against Arabs in some parts of the country in the aftermath of the attacks, we know of only one incident locally. A Southeast Missouri State University student who is an American citizen of Turkish heritage said he received a death threat anonymously on his telephone answering machine, and he says he has heard disparaging remarks from others because of his looks.

President Bush has repeatedly said that America's war on terrorism is not against Muslims but against terrorists and those nations that allow them to operate within their borders. He and other U.S. leaders have cautioned Americans not to overreact by taking their frustrations out on Middle Easterners.

Americans should heed that advice. While every citizen of this country has a duty to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity, we should remember that this country prides itself in allowing people of all nationalities to come to America and become citizens.

Muslims and Middle Easterners who are citizens of the United States have as much right as anyone to return to their normal lives and should not have to be subjected to the scorn of a few because of the heritage of those who committed the horrendous acts of Sept. 11.

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