America's extremist and his nemesis are both off the mark
At this moment of tremendous sorrow and completely agitated emotions, it behooves all elders, and particularly spiritual men and women, to sound the tones of restraint. Which is why Jerry Falwell, the Baptist minister from Virginia, and other people of his ilk, need to think more deeply about the consequences of their words, indeed their ideas.
Falwell, as usual, comes off like the quintessential American Christian fundamendalist. There he is in the New York Times, just three days after the worst mayhem in American history, and whom does he blame for the tragedy? "Secular groups," everything from "gay rights proponents" to federal courts that established women's right to abortion services, to those who have banned school prayer, to the American Civil Liberties Union, to "all those who have tried to secularize America: You have helped this happen," he accused.
Yes, America has its fundamentalist preachers, those that must always find a way to blame whomever would disagree with them, attempting to pin even this moment of complete disgust on the heads of their antagonists. Falwell represents that kind of thinking very well, and, unfortunately, he is not alone, not here and not across the world. His attitude is in fact not too dissimilar to the one that leads all-too-many Muslim fundamentalist mullahs to preach hatred of America to their masses. Anywhere and everywhere on this globe, it needs to be recognized such attitudes are pitiful and shameful, and increasingly dangerous.
Then there is the brilliant avowed secularist Noam Chomski, who ludicrously claims the plane-bombings that are now estimated to have killed more than 5,000 paled next to Clinton's Sudan bombing. Making quick mention to the recent victims, Chomski's first response all too glibly goes on to make his favorite political case about all the reasons the Arab world is angry at America, hardly even pausing to contemplate the enormity of the crime. That there is much history to fuel Arab hostility toward the U.S. is simple reality. Such sentiment has been wickedly manipulated to commit horrendous murder, but this does not mean it comes out of sheer fantasy. Nevertheless, the alleged crime of Osama bin Ladin is the product of an evil genie; not to clearly see that defines a real dearth of practical sense in the world.
Neither of these men, in their primary public statements focused concern on the fact that across the United States, despite the very welcome and commendable words of leaders who have argued for restraint, violence against people of Arab origin and/or of the Muslim faith, or even of people judged to have similar looks, is rising. Hundreds of personal attacks -- including the completely ignorant shooting death of a Sikh man in Arizona -- arsons, rock-throwing, drive-by shootings and the inevitable profiling by investigators has that minority community, and others, in a justifiable state of fear.
In one case, a man tried to run over a Pakistani woman who was walking across a mall parking lot. In another, a crowd of some one hundred flag-waving people, mostly teenagers, demonstrated angrily in front of a mosque. In some instances, police and FBI have badly overreacted, arresting not only Arab-Americans but also African-Americans and dark-complexion Latino men as a part of the hyperactivity associated with the national investigation. Such is the case with Dr. Basem Hussein, an Indian Health Service contract physician, who initially came under FBI suspicion for undisclosed reasons, but who has since been exonerated.
While some of the police action is understandable, given the magnitude of the crime and the need for high alert, all leadership voices need to weigh in on the side of reason, tolerance and fairness. The devilish minds that concocted and carried out the massacre of September 11 were themselves incited to such actions by the hateful preaching of a number of religious leaders from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, where economic misery, military repression and decades of political frustration have resulted in fertile ground for fanaticism.
Our sympathies, already expressed in these pages for the victims of the attacks and their families, now go out as well to the Arab-American community. Large numbers have voiced their own outrage at the horrible violence and at least several families are known to have lost members themselves to the tragedy. We remember all-too-well how, during the agitated seasons when the American Indian Movement occupied by force the headquarters of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and later, during the confrontation at Wounded Knee, Native people of every political persuasion became targets of hatred and violence, police profiling and unwarranted harassment.
We deplore the attitude displayed by Mr. Falwell, as well as Dr. Chomski's unfortunate choice of words. Mr. Falwell's anti-secularism is in fact particularly anti-American -- an attempt at self-service that arouses disdainful passions and works to disunite the country when it least needs it. In the heat of religious passion, when the flames of war are fanned by mystical exhortation, perhaps secularism, so blatantly maligned, is actually America's and the world's greatest strength.
We commend the consistent efforts by New York Major Rudolph Giuliani and New York Governor George Pataki, by tribal leaders throughout the land and, on the national level, by President George W. Bush, to steer the U.S. people away from such sentiments, stressing instead the multi-cultural basis that fuels Indian country's greatness. At a moment of high danger, clouded by smoke and tears, by deep pain and growing anger, the people of North America need all the calm and reassurance they can get.