Ray Hanania’s Column
Can the racial bias that exists in a society somehow affect a nation’s foreign policies?
Government leaders in New York will read the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11 at the one-year anniversary ceremonies. They will not read, however, the names of 14 other Americans who died because of Sept. 11.
The 14 Americans were killed in post-Sept. 11 hate crimes. None was involved in terrorism or provoked their attackers. All were singled out simply because they looked “Middle Eastern.”
Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot dead Sept. 15 outside his gas station near Mesa, Ariz. Police said the killer then drove 10 miles to a second gas station and fired several shots at a Lebanese-American clerk.
Ali Almansoop, the father of four children, was killed Sept. 21 at his Dallas/Fort Worth grocery store. The alleged killer was an average American upset over the Sept. 11 attacks, a janitor at a nearby elementary school.
Sodhi, a Sikh, and Almansoop, an Arab, had one thing in common: They looked the same. Thousands of other Americans who looked the same were beaten, harassed and their property vandalized. Several mosques and Arab-American churches were torched, including one in Chicago.
Khazal Al-Rubaii, who believed in the American dream of owning his own home, was moving into it with his family Sept. 24 in Roanoke, Va., when the home was burned to the ground by arsonists.
Fearing they might be mistaken for Arabs or Middle Easterners, Mexican-Americans on Chicago’s Southwest Side wrapped large Mexican flags over their car hoods.
How do you explain it? Some journalists described the attacks against the non-Middle Eastern Sikhs as “misplaced rage.” In other words, if they were really Middle Eastern, one might recognize the cause of the hatred.
I don’t understand it. If you single out people for attacks simply because of the way they look, rather than on evidence of wrongdoing, why wouldn’t it also be logical to believe an American government might react the same way on an international level.
The truth is that an invisible line is drawn in the sand of American morality based largely on race. It separates people who died on Sept. 11 from those who died after Sept. 11. It decides who is right in the Middle East and who is wrong. It decides which efforts get support and which do not.
An American foreign policy driven by issues of personal dislikes and racial stereotypes could explain the president’s mad dash to win public support for an unprovoked military war against Iraq.
It might also explain why President Bush who strives for peace between Palestinians and Israelis refused to speak with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat even before there was ever evidence of actions Bush says he does not condone.
These international policies set a tone for how we operate at home. As our foreign policies become personal, our attitudes about tolerance disappear, too. No wonder so many Americans hate people from the Middle East.
People working to help post-Sept. 11 victims have received no support from our government or public service agencies. In the Southwest suburbs, Arab American Family Services directors Itedal Shalaby and Nareman Taha struggle in cramped quarters with limited budgets and little or no outside government help to help post-Sept. 11 victims.
In the Northwest suburbs, Anya Cordell heads the Campaign for Collateral Compassion and lobbies the Red Cross and other charities to allocate funds to assist post-Sept. 11 victims. The Red Cross and nearly every other charitable agency are ignoring her work, too.
Before we can expect to resolve the problems in the Middle East, we might try to address more threatening problems of race here at home.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American writer based in Chicago and a regular contributor to Media Monitors Network (MMN). His columns are archived on the web at www.hanania.com)