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September 13, 2001: Is vengeance yours

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Today, an email came to one of the mailing lists to which I belong. In response to my comment of sympathy for all the Sikhs, Arab-Americans and Muslims who now face suspicion and are being apprehended by police, or abused and insulted merely for looking 'odd', a woman replied with flames and anger. How dare I express sympathy for those beseiged by what is now amounting to profiling. How dare I protest the discrimination that is rapidly building against anyone who looks like they might be Middle Eastern?

I was not so much shocked as saddened by the reply. It's easy to have that naive hope that those with whom you are in daily contact might also share your values. The fact that several others on the list replied immediately in defense of the sympathy I'd expressed was encouraging, but this reply came on the heels of even more horrifyingly offensive missives from people who actually insisted that Middle Easterners living in America were surely celebrating the attack behind closed doors. I replied back to her as gently as I could, but as expected, I have received no reply. Those who spew hatred invariably turn a deaf ear to any request to think first about what they say.

The men who hijacked those planes appear to have been Middle Eastern, if reports from those poignant cell phones calls are to be believed. This much at least, we know. But what we do *not* know is who was behind the attacks. Despite the fact that there is yet absolutely NO proof whatsoever that bin Laden is behind this, there is this undercurrent of certainty that it was, indeed him, and that shortly we will be declaring war on Afghanistan. This idea is bandied about as fact, not just by the common citizen, but more importantly by those who should know better - the government and the media. Need I remind everyone yet again that despite the dead certainty by everyone that Middle Eastern terrorists were behind the bombing in Oklahoma City, it turned out to be folks as American as you and I?

The important thing to bear in mind is that first we must find out who is guilty. And it is most certainly not up to us, the common everyday American, to determine who is and isn't guilty. How dare anyone condemn someone based merely on the color of their skin, or the god(s) that they may choose to worship? What kind of blind fool directs their anger to his or her fellow Americans simply because they are different, or might have once come from a country where terrorists reside? What other qualification has there ever been to be American than to simply reside here, or be born here?

Someone wrote in to another mailing list asking for us to define the difference between vengeance, and punishing those responsible. My reply is as follows:

"The difference is that punishing those responsible means first *finding* the responsible parties and bring them to *justice* - a justice that other civilized people who were not immediately affected would agree to. Vengeance is going out for blood, finding some way to 'get them back' for all the pain and suffering, and to heck with whoever is hurt in the process."

If asked, we all want to punish those responsible. But it is up to the authorities to determine who those may be. Our duty, as American citizens, and simply as decent human beings, is to avoid sinking into the emotion-driven need for vengeance instead. Our duty is to be willing to stand up against racial and religious prejudice if we see it, to defend ALL Americans, no matter what color their skin might be or where they might be born. I implore all of you to find the courage somehow to do this. There have been too many victims already. We do not need to add any more to the list.

Because if you cannot rise above your anger and do that - if you sink instead into this pit of mindless violence, of hatred and bigotry - or even if you stand by and support it by your silence, then tell me, what makes you any better than those who perpetrated this attack against us.

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