2003-02-01 / Community

The Drums Of War Touch Us All

By Miriam Rosenberg

By Miriam Rosenberg

Miriam Rosenberg, a recent graduate of the York College Journalism program, is a freelance writer for The Wave and will be contributing articles on a regular basis.

She's been in the store many times. Never had she been made to feel different - to stand out. Yet, tonight was different. Tonight she was wearing a scarf-like cover over her head to protect herself from the cold and rain. Tonight, before even entering the store, the security guard stared and looked her up and down. Tonight, this Jew felt was it is like to be a Muslim since September 11, 2001.

A story of fiction? No, this is my reality and the reality of what is happening in the US today.

My friend, Shaliza Alli is Muslim, and in the last year she had gotten closer to her religion. For several months last year she began to wear a hijab (the head covering worn by Muslim women).

"When I go into the food store by my house, the security guard stares at me and follows me when I wear the hijab," said Alli. "But when I go in the store without a hijab, the guard pays no attention to me."

Was this her imagination? No! I have been with her several times, both, with and without her wearing the hijab. What she describes is exactly what I have witnessed with her. But, that is not all that has happened to her.

"Once, just a few feet away from me, I even heard him make jokes about terrorists and airplanes," Alli said.

I bring up this story now, because with each passing day the drums of war are getting louder. The inspectors in Iraq may be getting closer to finding what could be called a smoking gun to Saddam Hussein's hidden weapons of mass destruction. The talk gets tougher as President Bush grows more impatient having already said on January 14 that "Time is running out on Saddam Hussein. He must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deception. And that's my view of timetables."

With all of this I can't help but wonder, if we should actually go to war, if the prejudice that spread after 9/11 will again rear it's ugly head. I'm talking about the attitudes that many adopted toward those they believed to be Muslims because of their names or the way they looked. The above story describes the prejudice that followed that September day has never really gone away. The incident I described happened this past November. Since 9/11 Muslims have been called terrorists simply because of guilt by association because Osama bin Laden and his followers say they are Muslims.

After 9/11 many people believed that all Muslims are like in bin Laden - terrorists who want to destroy the United States. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people who follow bin Laden and others like him are extremists. To understand this, you must understand the true meaning of Islam.

From The Muslim Holy Book, The Quran, comes the true law of peace that a Muslim lives by: "Take not life that Allah [God] has made sacred...Thus doth He command you" (Chapter 6, verse 151). The simple translation: "All life is sacred."

The Islamic religion is composed of the teachings of the Torah, the Gospels, and the Old Testament and its teachings believes in peace. I have learned that the three great religions of the western world - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - all invoke the teachings of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. It is because of this knowledge and understanding that I can write this.

Although I am Jewish, the persecution of Muslims is taken personally. As I mentioned earlier, my best friend is a Muslim. She is an Indian from Guyana who grew up in this USA and is also a citizen of the United States.

I have been to her mosque and always been welcomed with opened arms. Shaliza and I have celebrated each other's holidays together, taught the other about our religions and learned about the other's culture. A couple of years ago, when Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped, I lit the Hanukkah candles at her house on Christmas Eve. Then, later in the evening, members of her family said their evening prayers.

A Muslim family and a Jew prayed and rejoiced together.  People who are not supposed to get along celebrated their religions under the same roof. The world did not stop turning because of it.

Many of those Arab-Americans and Muslims who have been targeted for revenge since September 11, 2001 lost loved ones in the attack on the World Trade Center. Many were out on the front lines helping in the rescue effort. They cried when the towers fell. They felt angry that their homeland had been violated. And make no mistake about it, the United States is their home.

Profiling has become a common occurrence in our country. As reported on WNBC news on January 17, for the simplest thing as sending money via Western Union a person with an Arabic sounding name may now be asked to show proof of country of origin before the transaction will be allowed to go through.

"Its Muslim profiling," said Alli. "Just another excuse to be bias against another group."

We cannot paint a whole people -- be they Muslim, Arab, Jew or Christian -- with one broad brushstroke. When Timothy McVaigh bombed the Murah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, did we then call all Christians terrorists? Of course not! Citizens of our country should not let hate and the need for revenge blind them to what is true and just.

Sixty years ago, after World War II began, Japanese-Americans were rounded up and put into internment camps for the "security of the country."  Yet, in 1988 the US government recognized the error of those actions and apologized for "the injustice of the evacuation, relocation, and internment of United States citizens and permanent resident aliens of Japanese ancestry during WWII." 

Will what is happening with the Muslim population today be, for our generation, what Japanese -Americans were put through 60 years ago - hate and discrimination?  Not if we don't let it. Hate, prejudice and discrimination only feeds into what the terrorists who attacked the USA on September 11, 2001 want.  If we let this blind hatred and prejudice rule our actions then history will once again repeat its self, and this time the terrorists will win.


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