One week after 9/11, the Bush administration and a large majority of the American people developed the attitude that would later set us on the path to the ebbing of U.S. global authority and shrinking of its self-confidence. It was a week during which the national narrative on the dramatic events of the previous Tuesday had been set and upon which Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rice, and Rumsfeld, using all possible means to heighten the fear of the American public, drafted a plan to piss on the constitution and suckered the American people into two unwarranted wars resulting in over six thousand U.S. casualties and costing tax payers close to four trillion dollars leaving our economy in tatters; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have also been killed and displaced.
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 have defined my generation much like the Japanese offensive on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 shaped the vision of those before. But I cannot help steering clear of the landfill of 9/11 commemorative radio programs and T.V. shows, the landslide of overly maudlin memorials and overdrawn exultation in the heroism of those who died as a result of this devastating tragedy. I feel that the families and friends of the victims need to reflect on their losses and renew their vows of remembrance in complete national silence and away from self-aggrandizing political slobbery. The bereaved, I am sure, mourn every day. It is hard to imagine the final living moments of those who died that day, the great trepidation as the building rocked and creaked, the utter hopelessness of options, the shuddering realization the dice had been cast and their fate had been sealed. The void left by the disappearance of fathers, mothers, sons, and daughter who left home that day to never return to attend to their outstanding plans with their families can never be filled.
But for me, as an Arab American, the atrocious event stands as a stark reminder of the paucity of courage in American politics and the cynicism and hypocrisy of a people willing to compromise on the fundamental principles of the Bill of Rights for the self-serving fantasy that the Arab and Moslem people are inherently inimical to what America stood for. I find it equally tragic that the untimely death of 2996 innocent people was so thoroughly exploited by the Bush administration for partisan political gain, that it was used as exculpation from warping the laws and causing more deaths, to general applause. As an Arab, I never felt that the cowardly terrorist action of a criminal fringe that highjacked Islam to satisfy a psychotic agenda represented me; As an American, I find it difficult to reconcile with U.S. practices that vindicate despotic Arab governments. Conducts such as the imprisonment of children and innocent civilians in Guantanamo Bay detention facility, extraordinary rendition of detainees to countries known to torture prisoners, the legalization of waterboarding and other torturous approaches in interrogation, the authorization by executive order to conduct assassination operations against individuals labeled “military targets” greatly restrict our ability to project our values abroad and should be considered unconscionable dereliction of duty and leadership.
Days after the towers fell, posses roaming New York City streets hunting for Arabs and Moslems became patriots; railing about Islam became fashionable even among those moderates who deplore the suppression of liberties of other ethnic and religious groups. racial-profiling a consensus, the steamrolling of rights and liberties of a single group within our society a patriotic endeavor. Arabs, Moslems, even Sikhs looked suspicious. Rudolph Giuliani, then Mayor of NYC, recognized the precariousness of the situation and pleaded with New Yorkers not to attack Middle Easters. Unfortunately, George W. Bush did not share Mr. Giuliani’s level-headedness when on September 16, 2001, during a press conference at the South Lawn of the White House, he referred to his war on terrorism as a protracted “crusade.” It wasn’t long after that, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Bush At War,” that Rumsfeld raised the possibility ”that they could take advantage of the opportunity offered by the terrorist attacks to go after Saddam immediately.”
Since then, the U.S. intelligence community had been tasked to spin intelligence to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and the targeting of Arab Americans and immigrants has been systematic. Law enforcement agencies took shortcuts with the law. Thousands have been summarily deported while others were extrajudicially detained indefinitely as material witnesses. Thousands more were erroneously put on no-fly lists. Private citizens had their homes searched, cars TTLed (Tag, Target, Locate), and phones bugged for no reason other than holding an opinion critical of the Bush administration and being of Arab descent or Moslem faith. The chipping away of the rights and liberties of Arab Americans was mandated by new laws such as the Patriot Act, thousands of Executive Orders, and amendments to existing laws. It was encouraged by groups such as Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America and the politicians that cater to them.
The blatant infringements are still being carried out during Obama’s watch. In October 2010, Yasir Afifi, a 20-year-old U.S. born Arab from Santa Clara, California, took his car for a routine oil change. The mechanic discovered underneath the car a device he did not recognize. The posted a picture of it on the internet. Two days later, the FBI paid him a visit to retrieve their GPS tracking device. He was never arrested, nor was he provided an explanation as to why he was being surveilled. Consider the case of Khalid Lyaacoubi and Yassine Bahammou, two Moroccans who immigrated to the U.S. after 9/11; they joined the Army as 09 L linguists to support the war on terrorism, and of course to benefit from the immigration process expediency offered by the Department of Defense as an incentive to non-citizen recruits. They were investigated within the framework of Threat Awareness and Reporting Program (TARP) formerly known as Subversion and Espionage Directed Against the U.S. Army (SAEDA) based on an unfounded allegation that they and three other Moroccans were plotting to poison other soldiers. They were attacked by their fellow soldiers and their belongings were ransacked. As counterintelligence threats, they were removed from their regular assignments, restricted to barracks, forbidden to contact family and friends unless monitored by a guard.
To borrow Henry James’ observation, it has indeed been a complex fate – for Arabs and Moslems in the U.S. – to be an American.
A. T. B. © 2011