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U.S.: Some Turn Against Fellow Muslim Citizens

  • Andrew Tully

With so many victims still buried in the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Defense Department headquarters, Americans have hardly begun grieving over the 11 September acts of terror against New York and Washington. They are demonstrating emotional resilience by keeping their focus on the future -- and their love for country. But Americans are angry, too, and some of them are turning against fellow citizens whom they associate with terrorists -- fellow citizens who are Muslims. Our senior correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 14 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Americans may be mourning the dead from this week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but their actions indicate that they are eager to resume their lives positively despite their grief.

Still, there is a dark side to America's response to the incidents. News accounts say investigators suspect a Middle East connection, and a few Americans are lashing out indiscriminately at Muslims living in the country.

These assaults on Muslims are varied -- and, according to news accounts from around the country, they are many.

For example, on 12 September, a drunk man tried to use his car to run over a Pakistani woman at a parking lot in a city not far from New York, then followed her into a store and threatened to kill her for -- as he put it -- "destroying my country." The man was stopped before he could harm the woman.

In another incident the same day in Gary, in the Midwestern state of Indiana, a man in a ski mask fired a high-powered rifle at an automotive service station. One of the workers there is a native of Yemen who is now an American citizen. Police are still searching for the gunman.

And that night, a mob of about 300 people tried to march on a mosque in Bridgeview, a town near the central U.S. city of Chicago. Some in the crowd carried American flags and chanted, "USA! USA!"

Police managed to stop the march, and three people were arrested before the mob was dispersed and order was restored.

This would not be the first time that immigrants have been victimized by Americans angry about an act of war committed against their country.

The terrorist attacks this week have frequently been compared with Japan's surprise attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941. Some comparisons seem valid, others may be far-fetched. But there is one eerie similarity, according to Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, in Washington.

"Japanese Americans faced a horrible backlash after Pearl Harbor and were in fact rounded up and put into camps, to the eternal shame of America. And we hope that isn't a similar situation developing here, in which there's unjustified backlash against ordinary American Muslims and Arab-Americans."

Hooper told RFE/RL that his and other Islamic and Arab-American groups have tried to demonstrate their loyalty and good will in many ways, most prominently by urging their members to show up in large numbers at blood banks and hospitals to give blood that will help the victims of the New York and Washington attacks.

U.S. President George W. Bush stood up for America's Muslims yesterday at the White House. In a telephone call to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York state Governor George Pataki, who are leading the rescue effort at the site of the World Trade Center collapse, the president said Americans must not accuse Muslim neighbors for this week's act of terrorism.

"Let's be mindful that as we seek to win the war [against terrorism], that we treat Arab-Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve. I know that is your attitude as well -- [it is] certainly the attitude of this [federal] government -- that we should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror."

The anti-Islamic actions of the few, however, do not detract from the positive spirit that most Americans are showing. They are coping with their grief by turning out in droves to give blood. Police departments and emergency services from around the country sent reinforcements to New York to help with the rescue effort.

And above all, the nation's citizens are displaying more patriotism than they usually do. Major retailers around the country reported that they could not meet the demand for American flags.

Patricia LeCerf Hickey, a native of France who works in Washington as a business manager, told RFE/RL that she finds Americans unique in their solidarity after such tragedies. She said she was particularly impressed by the droves of people who showed up at hospitals to donate blood for those injured in the attacks.

An interviewer -- who is American -- asked her if she did not believe that anyone from any country would do the same. Hickey replied that only Americans would ask such a question because they assume that people in other countries are as generous as they are themselves.

Hickey also said she was touched by a 12 September prayer vigil for members of Congress in the Rotunda of the Capitol.

"I was just astounded by something so corny for me, and at the same time as beautiful as people spontaneously holding hands and starting singing -- all the people from Congress. You know, French people would find that corny. And at the same time, I was just moved by it."

Hickey said she was also impressed by the way Americans mourn: not by dwelling exclusively on the great human loss, but by moving ahead with determination to catch the authors of the attacks, to repair the Pentagon, to rebuild the World Trade Center from its foundations.

The same attitude was voiced yesterday by Bush, when he spoke to reporters after his telephone call to New York. He spoke of the anguish Americans feel, having witnessed on television the devastating attack on their country. But he also spoke of his compatriots' determination.

"Through the tears and sadness I see an opportunity. You know, make no mistake about it, this nation is sad. But we're also tough and resolute, and now's an opportunity to do generations a favor by coming together and whipping terrorism -- hunting it down, finding it, and holding them [the attackers] accountable."

Moments later, his eyes filled with tears, the American president spoke of the pain being felt by the families of the many who died as a result of the attack.

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