In the best American traditions, an unending line of men and women
warns us about generalizations, apportioning collective blame, or
the unthinkable - inflicting harm to our neighbors because they
are of Arab origin or of Moslem faith.
That is as it should be and someone like myself, enjoying the privilege
of access to the people of this great country, has an obligation
to fall in line.
I confess, the air time devoted to the absolution of Arabs and
Moslems seems excessive. I admit, Tom Brokaw's near-hysterical repetition
of the word "bigots," describing Americans experiencing
a natural human reaction, disturbed me. But Mr. Brokaw was tired,
and I sincerely defer to native-born Americans in all matters of
tolerance. In fact, I got a lecture from Representative Barney Frank
during hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives because of
what he denounced as my mistaken belief that Americans are the most
tolerant breed on Earth. But they are. Mr. Frank is living proof
that they are.
Nothing should be allowed to change that blessed tolerance. Nothing.
When I now raise questions about our Arab and Moslem neighbors,
it is not because nineteen of the nineteen highjacker/mass-murderers
were Arab Moslems. It is not because Arabs were dancing in the street.
It is not even because of the unspeakable affront of Yassir Arafat
sending us a cheap camera trick while thousands were giving real
The puzzle for me is the absence of a speech by an American of
Arab origin or Moslem faith that would make me feel better. The
statements are fatuous, commonplace, flat, defensive. Even when
the president visited Washington's Islamic Center Monday afternoon
and spoke eloquently about the greatness of Islam, no Moslem present
seemed able to say a single word appropriate to the occasion. Why?
A disturbing suspicion is creeping into my brain. They are not
giving us comfort because they cannot give us comfort.
Ever since the establishment of the state of Israel, the entire
Arab/Moslem world has focused on what they call the "Arab Cause"
- drowning every Israeli man, woman and child in the sea off Haifa.
The spectacle of so huge a segment of the world focusing its entire
attention upon the destruction of a tiny country is unique in the
history of the world. It distorts everything.
Yet it would not surprise me to learn that practically no Arab,
no Moslem is able to take distance from the "Arab Cause."
And that may be what stands in the way.
How are you going to be a genuine American if the soul of generation
upon generation is consumed by the determination to kill certain
people? The trouble with statements coming from Arab/Moslem sources
since September 11 has been the underlying implication that they
have a just cause, even though its representatives "went too
far" this time.
They don't have a just cause - not if they are American. I am not
certain they understand that.
The right of Israel to exist, and America's prerogative to protect
it, has not been a topic open to rational discussion with Arabs
and Moslems anywhere. Arabs and Moslems in America see themselves
unequivocally on one side, and it is not the American side.
America has had a long-standing policy about the matter, and if
they - not as individuals but as a community - disagree with America's
policy as a matter of course, they are a permanent source of discontent.
They may not be able to understand that in moments like these it
is irrelevant whether the Palestinians or the Israelis are right.
It is irrelevant whether it's about Jews, Tibetan Monks, Hottentots
or the duckbilled platypus. Americans of all stripes discuss these
and other issues day and night. Americans disagree about them day
and night. But when the chips are down, Americans are Americans
and other matters fade into instant oblivion.
The chips are down. The crisis in our midst is real because, quite
seriously, I am not sure Arabs and Moslems are able to treat the
big questions as other Americans do. We should have heard official
statements from Arab and Moslem Americans about the guilt and shame
they now feel. Yes, we should say we don't hold them guilty. But
they should respond by saying they feel responsible, even though
they did not physically participate.
If, instead of saying they are afraid to go out, they would tell
us they are ashamed to go out, we would go to their houses and drive
them to the food store in our own cars.
That's how Americans are.