Ever since America realized on Sept. 11, 2001 that we really didn't know enough about the Middle East or the Islamic world, our response has been driven more by fear than reason.
Americans are the most educated people in the world, yet many act, in the face of a terrorist threat by a small handful of groups that embrace a distorted spin on Islam, like they know nothing.
As a result, innocent people who "looked" Middle Eastern were arrested. Hundreds were arrested and falsely charged facing years of imprisonment until the charges were dropped or overturned.
If you had Arabic writing on your store window, such as in Chicago's Southwest Suburbs and in cities throughout the nation, the windows were shattered by vandals in the wake of the attacks.
It is that lack of education, driven by fear that pushed people in the first half of the 20th Century to form lynch-mobs and vigilante groups that murdered innocent people for crimes they did not commit.
It even pushed some to murder others for innocent actions that, through the mix of ignorance and hatred, were deemed wrong. Like when a young Black boy whistled at a young White woman.
"Hatred" drove the racism against African Americans in this country, but it was the lack of education that fueled its hate.
This time, American anger has resulted not in lynchings, but in the destruction of innocent lives. Arab and Muslim Americans have been forced from jobs and prevented from being hired. They are ostracized by society and their children are expelled from public schools. They are denied places to practice religious freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Their property is vandalized by total strangers who have come to hate anyone who "looks" Muslim. Islam is a religion and has no "look" at all.
Now, the "The Justice Department," an oxymoron when it comes to terrorism, wants to free FBI agents to target people based on "the way they look."
That's not investigation. It's harassment. But in today's society, that is what many Americans prefer, creating a false sense of security through comfort, rather than through professional anti-crime techniques.
I know America must do something. Arabs and Muslim Americans, despite how we have been mistreated, must step up to the plate to help sort through the confusion of the threats that emanate from the Middle East and from the Islamic World.
The truth is Arab and Muslims HAVE NOT done their part as "Americans" to help.
We denounce International terrorism, but we stop short of denouncing those extremists and fanatics who are right in our midst whose rhetoric and actions make the terrorism in the Middle East possible.
Many of these extremists receive funding from local government because the extremists have been experts at wrapping their agendas in the innocent blanket of providing social, education and health services to those in need.
And because Arabs and Muslim Americans fail to speak out, the "Justice Department" sees them all as "suspects."
Americans can't tell the difference between Palestinians and Pakistanis, Iranians and Indians, but we have to learn to distinguish between real moderates and the extremists if we plan to defeat the terrorists. Profiling can't do that.
No wonder in the face if this confusing terrorist threat, Americans turned towards President Bush's simplistic mantra that drove us into Iraq in the first place -- You are either with us or against us. That is the same idiocy that drove vigilantes and mobs to persecute and murder innocent people in the 1950s.
I recently graduated from the FBI Citizens Academy in Chicago. I know I must help this country see past its fears and growing hatred to recognize the true threats. Yet I was dumbfounded at how easily the "Justice Department" experts lumped everything together. And they can't tell the difference between real threats to America and unrelated political maneurvering.
Hamas, for example, is a terrorist organization. But it is not the same as "al-Qaeda." Built on years of failed peace and oppressive polivies, Hamas seeks to stop the peace process with Israel, not destroy the United States. It is a huge mistake to confuse Hamas and al-Qaeda. Each should be understood in their real context.
Another group called "The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian", commonly called the "Jabha" in Arabic vernacular, is a terrorist group, too. They have representatives in many American cities. But they are neither anti-American nor are they the same as al-Qaeda. Yet ask the "Justice Department," and they will insist they are all one and the same.
Americans, and especially our "Justice Department," need more, not less education. Targeting Arab and Muslims in America is not only an unprincipled, immoral way to conduct an investigation. It is ineffective.
And instead of complaining about the "Justice Department's" misguided profiling policies, Arab and Muslim Americans to break away from the extremists and the fanatics who operate right under our noses. We need to start naming names instead of protecting them.
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