CJTC — The Center for Justice, Tolerance & Community University of California, Santa Cruz
CJTC — The Center for Justice, Tolerance & Community



All one people: We can’t let fear, hatred consume our lives

Manuel Pastor and Dana Takagi
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Sunday, October 14, 2001

Since September 11, much of our attention has been focused on either the tragic stories coming from New York and Washington or the confusion and fear coming from Afghanistan. Foreign affairs has dominated the policy scene, with the administration’s plans to build a grand anti-terrorist coalition, and the most recent assault on Taliban targets in Afghanistan itself, provoking concern and sometimes protest by those who argue for “justice, not revenge.”

Here at home, the calls for justice-not-revenge are equally relevant. In the wake of the attacks on the twin towers has come a frightening wave of attacks on the innocent Americans. In Arcadia, the Egyptian owner of a local market was shot and killed; the local police have claimed robbery as a motive but his anxious family has noted that no money was taken and the FBI has classified the incident as a hate crime. In Mesa, Arizona, a gas-station owner was slain, with the suspected killer shouting, “I stand for America all the way,” as he was handcuffed. In Los Angeles, an immigrant was beaten in front of his house — and his wife and daughter — with the assailants screaming racial insults against Arabs, and claiming their actions were in the mane of the United States. In Oklahoma, a young woman was killed when a vehicle full of white males shouting, “Go back to your own country” pinned her against another vehicle, then backed up and ran over her.

Strikingly, none of these victims were Muslim: the Arcadia market-owner was a Coptic Christian, the gas-station owner was Sikh, the immigrant beaten in front of his family was Mexican, and the young woman in Oklahoma was a full-blooded Creek Indian. While Muslim Americans have obviously been the key targets since Sept. 11, hate crimes and discrimination have not been limited to them and our response should not be, either.

In announcing the most recent air strikes, President George Bush was careful to note that Islam was not the target. Earlier, the president emphasized that many who lost their lives in New York were Muslim and urged Americans to refrain from making Muslims or Arab-Americans the mistaken targets of our grief.

But it is worth noting that one of the Muslim leaders who eventually met with the president was also stopped by five FBI agents on his way out of Washington, a moment of drama punctuated by humor when he answered the question, “With whom are you meeting?”

The story reflects a reality: Most Americans, including those entrusted with enforcing our laws, are unfamiliar with Islam as a religion and American Muslims as a community. Our perceptions are shaped by media stereotypes, with a rifle lurking under every robe and an oppressed woman under every hijab. The secrecy that marked the conspiracy of Sept. 11 has been unfairly extended to a whole culture, with Islam viewed as impenetrable and resistant to building new bridges. Recognizing the problem, many mainstream Muslim organizations have reached out to educate the public and form new coalitions.

The current crisis calls us to look deeply in our souls and hearts for new forms of tolerance and inclusion, particularly given the trying and frightening times. But we are also called to examine the broader implications for policy. Arab and Muslim Americans, for example, have long been concerned about secret evidence laws that allow immigrants to be held without due process, and they worry that many who bear no stain of guilt will be caught up in the new investigatory efforts which all Americans support. These communities have complained for some time about racial profiling, particularly the challenges of “Flying While Arab” — a phenomenon starkly illustrated by the experience of Ashraf Khan, a San Antonio businessman and an 11-year resident of Texas, who was removed from a short flight to Dallas by a pilot who said, “I’m not going to take you. Myself and my crew don’t feel safe flying with you.”

Tackling the difficult questions of civil rights in a time of terror is important for all Americans. Hate crimes have risen against many groups in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, and racial profiling by government authorities is hardly a new issue for many minority Americans. Moreover, potential forward movement on issues such as immigration reform will remain stalled in the climate of racial fear that has emerged.

The implications of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the current military actions for racial relations are wide-ranging and so should be our response. As a way of helping this process, a collaboration of four research centers at UC Santa Cruz is sponsoring a conversation on “Race and the Crisis” at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Holy Cross Parish Hall; the late start is to accommodate those who will also want to attend the town hall meeting earlier that evening sponsored by the City Council. Speakers at this session include activist and scholar Angela Davis; the founder of the Islamic Networks Group and a member of the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission, Maha El-Genaidi; and the editor of a national magazine dealing with race, Bob Wing.

But this is only the beginning. We need a combination of face-to-face communication and strong civil rights laws. We need a mix of work on prejudice and changes in the larger structural forces that produce racial inequality. We need to learn to treat each other more gently and we need to take a forceful approach to tackling discrimination and violence in any form.

But most of all, we need each other.


Manuel Pastor and Dana Takagi direct the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community at UC Santa Cruz.