Monday, September 11, 2006

OP-ED: Remembering the "Aftermath" of Sept. 11. By Ray Hanania

Now that we remembered 9/11, remember its aftermath
By Ray Hanania

I didn’t have to buy an American flag on Sept. 11 like many of my neighbors who went out and bought flags to fly for the first time in many years.

I already owned one given to my mother by the U.S. 5th Army after my father, a World War II veteran, had died in 1970. Like my dad, I was a veteran, too, and we always flew our flag.

But on Sept. 11, the patriotism of my father’s generation that was driven by justice and respect for human life was thrown out the window. Millions of Americans went out and bought an American flag in response to the Sept. 11 terrorism, and many of them turned the symbol of patriotism into a new symbol of division and even hatred.

Their anger embraced the narrow-minded logic of President Bush who drew a line in the sand and said you are either with us or against us.

From that moment on, America became the land of vengeance, hysteria and injustice.

At my office where I worked as a senior media consultant, a colleague came up to me that morning screaming “We are at war. We are at war. And your people did it.”

My people, I thought? My people happen to be from the South Side of Chicago. She was Irish American and celebrated many of the hyphenated ethnic activities of her community without thought of being unpatriotic. But suddenly, being Arab American or Muslim American meant that “we” were not Americans.

Within a year, I was pushed out of that job and into a new situation where the uneasiness of being Arab in America was unrelenting.

A neighbor emailed me a message threatening me saying I would be punished for what “your people” did.

Again, “my people” as if the breadth of the ignorance and lack of education about the world in America was finally exposed for the very first time in World history.

I called the local police who went to his home and confronted him and asking why he would threaten me, a veteran of the Vietnam War? The man explained, meekly I might add, that he “thought” I was “one of those terrorists” because I was proud to be Arab American and never shied away from letting people know who I really was.

He told the police that he was sorry because he had “threatened the wrong Ay-rab.”

I drove into a shopping mall near my home and pulled next to a car that had words painted on its window and on its fenders and doors. The sentences were all threatening and confrontational.

The sentence on the back window read, “If you want to see jahad or ala, mess with an American.”

At least he spelled “American” correctly, but I could quickly see that the ignorance that Americans have lived in about the realities of the Middle East would soon quickly spill over into a new kind of American hatred, viciousness and even violence against people “like me.”

And sure enough, during the six months after Sept. 11, more than a dozen “Americans” who happened to “look” Middle Eastern had been murdered all across the United States.

In every instance, police claimed that the killings were not hate crimes because there was always another reason why murderers kill people,

In one case, a man hated another and was jealous because he had taken his girl friend. But the man confessed after killing the Arab American that Sept. 11 had pushed him to see that he had to do something.

That murder was never considered a hate crime.

A woman who was a former member of the Chicago Board of Education was walking through O’Hare International Airport returning to Palestine to be by the side of her dying father when the clerk at the airline check-in counter asked her if she wanted “Muslim food.”

No one in the Arab American community had ever heard of such a thing, “Muslim food.” And she asked why they would ask her that. She was taken out of line and to a special place at the airport where all her belongings were searched. And when they searched everything except her purse, she asked them, if you are looking for a bomb, shouldn’t you also search my purse?

The police immediately arrested her for using the word “bomb” in an airport and held her in jail without bond for three days. The FBI declined to prosecute but the angry Chicago Police officer who arrested Amna Mustafa refused to back down.

It was a matter of patriotism to him and he repeatedly scolded her for the actions of “your people.”

Meanwhile, her father died and was buried while she sat in her cell crying. Within a few days, she was fired from her county job but eventually after a long and lonely struggle – because no one would stand up for the rights of Arab Americans, she won her case against the Chicago Police Department which has a history of civil rights abuses and secret criminal gangs.

An Arab man opened a restaurant only six weeks before Sept. 11 featuring Arab food. He was so proud. Everything was perfect. The service was professional. The customers, mostly American, flocked to his store.

For weeks after Sept. 11, his restaurant remained empty and he was eventually forced to close and file bankruptcy.

Many Americans wish to forget and pretend that they do not know, but the in the aftermath of Sept. 11 some of the worst hate crimes and acts of violence against individuals who “looked” Middle Eastern occurred.

And five years later, little has changed.

The mainstream American news media, while it covers the story of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim discrimination vigilantly, continues to discriminate against Arab and Muslim Americans by excluding us from their pages.

We are continually harassed and profiled and prevented from flying at American airports, even though none of those profiled have been involved in any form of anti-American activity.

Hundreds of thousands of Arabs and Muslims have lost their jobs and are unemployed in America because the discrimination has been unchallenged at the nation’s workplaces.

And every day, our loyalty as Americans is questioned by other Americans who have never served this nation in the U.S. Military.

The new patriotism of America is no longer the principles of justice, civil rights and freedom. It is a patriotism that continues to be driven by hatred.

And that is the real tragedy of Sept. 11.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at