By Balint Vazsonyi, September 18, 2001
“It is very important,” Vice President Dick Cheney lifted a finger for emphasis
on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, “that we do not convey an impression
as if we had declared war on Islam.”
He was just one in a long line of men and women who warn us about blaming
Arabs or Muslims. The other night, Tom Brokaw’s voice reached fever pitch as
he called those engaged in finger-pointing “bigots, bigots, bigots.”
It is very commendable and very American that we want to guard against harm
coming to innocent Arabs and Muslims, especially when most of us have a
good idea about the bloodbath, were the tables turned.
But I believe we might have the entire question upside-down.
Americans may have reason to believe it is Islam that has declared war on the
rest of us. Many have given passionate assurances on television that the events
of Sept 11 represent an aberration of Islam.
The trouble is that the people I have heard were neither Arab nor
Muslim. Americans need to hear such disclaimers from the source. Yes,
expressions of “regret about the loss of life” have come our way, but a word
from the Imam at Friday’s national prayer meeting, asking Allah to forgive the
crimes committed in his name, would have lent much more substance.
Instead, he pleaded that we protect his brethren from harm.
The Arab community and the Muslim community now have a unique
opportunity to line up with America in an unequivocal manner. They also have, I
think, an urgent necessity to do so — here is why.
Of the 19 hijacker/mass-murderers, 19 were Arab Muslims. Not 18, not 17–all
19. Not one Norwegian, Bushman or Tibetan among them.
And Arab Muslims have been attacking civil aviation over a period of 30
years by now. We may not approve of ethnic/racial/religious profiling, but they
have done their own.
Now to a more distant, though no less relevant, story.
It is Thanksgiving 1990. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are spending it in
Saudi Arabia, invited by its rulers to protect the country — not against the
infidel, but against a fellow Arab Muslim, Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Having raped
Kuwait, Iraqi forces were poised to storm Saudi Arabia, a country unable to
U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush arrived to share the Thanksgiving
meal with the armed forces whose commander in chief he was.
Upon arrival, the Saudi hosts informed him that the sight of a banquet
connected in any way, shape or form with Christian traditions, giving thanks to
God, was so hateful to Muslims that the president and his lot would have to
repair to the high seas, far from the shores that would be soiled, defaced,
desecrated by their act and presence.
(Astonishingly, the president of the United States complied.)
The foregoing did not happen in Islamic fundamentalist Iran, or under the Mullah
of the Taliban regime in fanatical Afghanistan. It did not happen in communist
It happened in enlightened, America-friendly Saudi Arabia, whence
princes of exquisite taste come to be celebrated among the playboys of the
Here then is a question Americans are entitled to have answered. When Arabs
and other Muslims arrive and settle in America, when and how does the
miraculous transformation occur whereby the Christianity — or Judaism — that
surrounds them ceases to offend?
The job for a Ted Koppel today is to assemble a group of serious
representatives and scholars of Islam who are leaders of their communities in
America. We would like to hear from them, firsthand, readings from the Koran,
and from the works of distinguished Islamic scholars, in which specific
teachings are promulgated about religious tolerance.
We need to know whether the willingness to live in peace with others is
viewed as a temporary concession or a permanent state.
A few suggestions for making the event a success: Please, on this occasion, try
not to lecture us on the Palestinians and Israel. The slightest attempt at
justifying the events of September 11 renders all further discussions moot.
Bear in mind that our own commitment to religious tolerance is enshrined in the
supreme law of the land — it is independent of all religions.
If you propose that Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in the same God,
please explain why we cannot give thanks to our shared God in Saudi Arabia.
I do not envy our Arab and Muslim neighbors. Given their realities, it is hard to
see how they can distance themselves from the “Arab Cause” — which is
simply to drown every Israeli man, woman and child in the sea off Haifa.
Our reality is that, protestations notwithstanding, last Tuesday’s attacks
were committed on behalf of the “Arab Cause.”
On Sunday, Tim Russert looked Vice President Cheney straight in the eye. “The
first confirmation of hijacking occurred at 8:20,” he said. “The Pentagon was
hit at 9:40. How could that much time not give us the opportunity to act?”
Mr. Cheney hung his head. “Americans,” said the Vice President of the United
States, “are not trained to destroy civilian airliners.”
Apparently, Arabs are. The people have a right to know whether Arabs
and Muslims who live in our midst are different.
Only they can give us that assurance.