Throughout the last decade, we in America were “drunk” on a feeling of invincibility and superiority. Bounded by peaceful nations and oceans, we had successfully insulated ourselves from the rest of the world’s problems. Suffice to say, that all changed September 11. With the initial shock of the WTC attacks having been somewhat lessened, I would like to examine how America is addressing these attacks both culturally and militarily.
After the deplorable way this country treated Japanese-Americans during World War II, it was refreshing to hear President Bush, NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, and countless others try to quell Americans’ xenophobia towards anyone Middle Eastern looking. Unfortunately, this has not stopped a rash of hate crimes and suspicious looks directed towards “brown” people, including many Americans of Hindu (or Sikh) ancestry. The irony involved in all of this is too much to bear.
Just as there are different “white” (Germans, Italians, Irish, etc.,), “Hispanic” (Puerto Rican, Mexican, Dominican, etc.,), and “yellow” (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai) ethnic groups, so are there vast differences in culture amongst those with “brown” skin. We have all heard the lament, “Chinese. Japanese. They’re all the same.” Well, just as neither Chinese nor Japanese are the same, so it is true that not all “brown people” are the same (just as it is with “black” people and Hispanics, none of whom coincidentally come from the country Hispanica). The Middle East and South Asia are composed of a myriad of different of cultures, from Hindus in India to Arabs thousands of miles to the west in Egypt. Mix in Turks, Kurds, Afghans, Persians, et al, and you will find a cavalcade of cultural diversity equal to that of any other race or color.
I use this point not to say “Don’t target me, I’m not Muslim!” but rather to underscore the sheer stupidity behind these hate crimes. Before attacking the World Trade Center, whom do you think Osama bin Laden caused trouble for? His neighbors, of course. In my parents’ homeland province of Kashmir (the northernmost part of India), terrorists, Afghan freedom fighters (some trained by bin Laden) have killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians simply because they were Hindu (the dot people, for those of you planning to attack the next “Arabian” person you see) or Sikh (they wear brown or black turbans). Of course, being Islamic is no protection from those who claim to be the religion’s defenders. Many Muslims (towel, green and white-colored turban, black-veil for women people), whether they be Pakistanis sympathetic to the Hindu cause or Afghan children who simply had the misfortune of being born into a non-Taliban tribe, have also been slaughtered by bin-Laden and his group of fanatics.
Countries like India have fought these fundamentalists (I refuse to use the adjective Islamic for reasons discussed later) for years. Of course, because Bill Clinton’s sex life seemed more important to attend to, Congress paid scant attention to the problems in Kashmir and other parts of the region. Had it not been in bad taste, Indian intelligence, along with those of its neighbors, could have very easily told the U.S. “I told you so” after the September 11 attacks. Having fought bin Laden and the Afghan freedom fighters (some of who received military aid from the US during the 1980s) for years, India is fully cognizant of bin Laden’s proclivity for carnage and, rumor has it, may have warned the CIA about a possible White House attack on September 11.
One must also remember that this attack on the World Trade Center, in what is probably the world’s most multicultural city, represented a sort of Oklahoma City for each country in the world. Besides the over 5,000 diverse Americans, a sizable number of foreign nationals perished, including 250 Indians and 130 Pakistanis.
So, to those whose hearts tremor at the sight of someone brown, I urge you to take a step back for a minute and learn before acting on these misguided whims. Considering recent history, that brown person you see on the street is much more likely to have been or known a victim of terrorists than be a terrorist himself. Whether they be a Kashmiri Hindu like myself, an Afghan woman fleeing the oppressive clutches of Taliban rule, or a recently immigrated Sikh cab driver dropping off some tourist at the WTC the morning of September 11, many of us Americans lumped into this “terrorist” category are really no different than those WTC victims we see on the news. Considering the common enemy we face, these hate crimes against Arab-looking Americans are tantamount to calling the NYC Fire Department terrorist.
Bin Laden has left us with no choice but war. Though personally I believe our military actions will neither punish nor deter those responsible for the attacks (after all, bin Laden and those in his organization are willing to give up their lives for the cause as the suicide bombers did), I, like many other “brown” Americans, give my steadfast support to President Bush in the war effort. At the very least, our allied military campaign, which is likely to include India as well as many Muslim countries, significantly disrupt the operations of Al-Qaeda, bin Laden’s organization. Undoubtedly, bin Laden wishes that the death toll from his attacks would be in the millions, not thousands. All that stands between him and complete annihilation of this country are the limits of time, money, and manpower. Sometimes, as we have seen in the American criminal system, there are people we cannot rehabilitate, deter, or adequately punish for their crimes, yet we imprison them simply because of the threat they pose to society if left untouched. Bin Laden clearly fits into this category; only his threat is to the entire free world.
Our military actions are unlikely to get rid of terrorism altogether as the President so ambitiously hopes. The ESPN clichÃ©, “You cannot stop him. You can only hope to contain him,” usually reserved for top-flight running backs, characterizes the difficulty the US faces in battling bin Laden and his vast terrorist network. Realistically, our war is one of contraction, not eradication. We may not even be able to get rid of Al-Qaeda or even bin Laden himself, but we most certainly can cripple it to the point where it no longer has the ability to carry out a wide-scale attack like the one on September 11. So long as we can lessen bin Laden’s aptitude for destruction, military action is justified.
Right now, America is suffering from the most terrible of hangovers. Now, in response to our seemingly omnipresent enemy of terrorism, we Americans should learn from each other, especially amongst those from the region where this war will be fought, instead of separating ourselves. Our flag comes in many colors, so should our unity.
Returning to the point I made earlier, I did not use the term Islamic when describing these terrorists for a reason. To describe them, as Islamic is insulting to the Muslim religion, which as we should be reminded once more, does not stand for the brutal slaughter of innocent civilians. Moreover, one cannot classify these hijackers as Islamic fundamentalists when they reportedly visited strip clubs and drank heavily in the days before the hijackings. From my limited knowledge of Islam, I know that pork is not to be consumed by Muslims, let alone copious amounts of alcohol while receiving a lap dance. Those in the “Islamic fundamentalist” movement who mistakenly these hijackers as noble defenders of the Islamic faith, as opposed to the evil assassins they really are, ought to take a look at their defenders’ sex lives. Unlike that of Bill Clinton or Gary Condit, this kind of sexual McCarthyism may be actually be worthwhile.