As you read the title of this piece, did you already have a view of “Arab Americans”? Do you already have a sense of what an Arab American would feel and say? If so, please do not read further because it is rather unlikely that this short assay will shine any new light to your existing thought process.
For those staying with me, I want to start with a story a friend sent me recently via email. A wise mother asked her son to place some eggs, carrots, and a few coffee beans in three pots with water, bring to a boil, and then report on the changes. The mother, having heard the descriptions then said that there are different kinds of people in the world. There are those who are like carrots- when faced with adversity, wilt and become soft, and lose a lot of their essence. There are those who are like an egg- when faced with heat and stress, look the same on the outside but are hardened in their hearts and toughened in their souls. The mother told her son that she hoped she raised him to be like the coffee beans- the hotter and rougher it gets, the more flavor and good essence is released changing the surroundings to something good and wonderful.
I thought of this story as I reflected on how different individuals reacted to the horror of the violence of 9/11, the violence before 9/11, and the violence after. In the two vigils I attended on 9/11, we collectively and individually reflected on seeing the faces of goodness and heroism as well as the faces of murder and evil. What happened in the year that followed really tested us in ways we have never been tested before.
There were those of us who turned the adversity into hatred and violence. There were those of us who buckled under adversity and even retreated from the world. But then there were also those of us who reached out to others, showed more love and compassion not only to families and friends but to all humanity. There are those who reduced our materialistic ways and engaged in self reflection or turned to a spiritual life. There are those who engaged in direct non-violent action against the violence and the wars. The growth of those seeking a better future based on non-violence has given us hope. I look at what transpired in this year not only with hope but also with sadness. The sadness is for those who have learned little from this tragedy. Following are the numbers of civilians killed in one year since 9/11:
– over 250 Israelis (by Palestinian suicide and other bombings) – some three to five thousand Afghans, tens of thousands of Iraqis (due to the sanctions/blockade led by the US) – over 1,200 Palestinians (by the Israeli occupation forces funded by our tax money) – perhaps up to hundreds in Columbia (killed in a civil war in which the US is heavily backing the government) – tens of thousands from AIDS and from treatable diseases in Africa – and the list goes on.
Polls revealed that most Americans now believe the threat of terrorism has not diminished since 9/11. No one is even able to tell us where Mr. Bin Laden or his top lieutenants are now (we don’t even know the whereabouts of the previous leader of Afghanistan, Mullah Omar). Now over 100,000 US troops have amassed near Iraq, and over 100 British and American jets have just launched a massive air-strike who some believe is the opening salvo of the war on Iraq. Ironically, 100,000 is also the number of US troops believed suffering from Gulf War syndrome acquired in the last major attack in 1990-1991. And by the way, the war on Iraq has been going on for years. According to UN statistics, the sanctions/blockade on Iraq over the past 11 years after the defeat of Iraqi forces have killed over half a million Iraqi children. This is not counting tens of thousands who died due to exposure to depleted uranium from shells used in bombing civilian areas. Cancer rate among children in some areas of Iraq is many folds what it used to be before the Gulf war. Yes, Saddam and Bin Laden are bad guys but are we punishing them or punishing the people of the countries were they reside. Scott Ritter, the tough weapons inspector now states that Iraqi leadership is not a threat to anyone, and that the US was more interested in using his inspection team to spy on Iraq rather than ensure a successful weapons inspection program. He, like many others, is questioning the motivation for going to war on Iraq.
The motivation for our wars in the Middle East is three fold. First, domestic political pressure to continue to support the Israeli apartheid regime has a powerful grip on our government. AIPAC and the hundreds of tax-exempt groups for whom Israel is an essential cause care little about US public interests. The defeat of outspoken congressional representatives like Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKinney in recent elections testifies to the power of money and resources in defeating anyone who speaks out against tax dollars used to fund Israeli aggression. Second, the Arms industry in the US has become very powerful. Lucrative government money circulates through companies like Boeing, McDonald Douglas, and Sikorsky Helicopters, and some of it finds its way to politicians ranging from Senator Lieberman to Vice President Cheney. Fully 60% of our arms exports goes to the Middle East, whether paid for by those countries or funded by US taxpayers (e.g. grants to Egypt and Israel). Finally, the oil industry maintains a powerful grip on our politicians, ensuring that the US is becoming a pariah in the international community for refusing to consider alternative energy and to cut green house emissions. These three groups have clearly colluded and cooperated to ensure that the public remains in the dark about the real dangers to us. These dangers include the spreading world poverty (the widening gap between rich and poor), epidemics (like AIDS), and environmental devastation led by the US which consumes 35% of the worlds natural resources and emits much of its Green House causing pollutants. If you think these are all problems of other people, just review your 401k plan. If you think dumping billions more on “security” will make us any more secure, as a biologist I would merely remind you that anyone can develop a biological weapon, carry it on their body, and target large masses of people in any urban setting. If we think terrorists are attacking us for our values of freedom and democracy, perhaps we should remember that the “Patriot” act and the power it granted Attorney General Ashcroft’s stripped many freedoms and set back our democracy according to most legal experts. Further, France and Italy have freedoms and democracy and no terrorist has targeted the Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Piza!
To really make this a safer planet, we must understand the genesis of special interests, their strong grip on our governments (and many in our corporate-owned media) and the ramifications of all this to the rest of the world. Questioning whether such interests take us away from the ideals at the core of the foundation of this great country is patriotic. Those who work towards a more peaceful world and engage in building rather than destroying are patriotic. They are not passive but active – true patriots – and are vastly more productive and constructive than the many who practice what I call shallow patriotism. Let us pray that those in positions of power wake up and at least smell the coffee.
(Dr. Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is Chair of the Media Committee, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition.)