- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

In the wake of the horrible tragedy that has befallen our nation, Americans of all backgrounds and faiths have united in profound grief, outrage and condemnation of the cowardly acts of murder perpetrated in New York City and our nation's capital. American Muslims join our fellow citizens in mourning our losses and in offering our deepest condolences and prayers to the families of those killed, injured, and still missing. As both loyal American citizens and devoted Muslims, we hope that those responsible for these heinous crimes against innocent civilians be identified and brought to justice swiftly.
The criminals that carried out these coordinated attacks - regardless of whether they are based in a foreign land or homegrown here in America have displayed the utmost cowardice and lack of regard for the fundamental value of human life. When the dust has settled amidst the carnage in New York and Washington - and the names of the many, many victims are revealed - it will become apparent that no faith, no ethnic group, no race has been spared from this act of terror. The victims will be identified as, simply, Americans, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims. White, black, red, yellow, brown. Indeed, the victims will reflect the diversity of our country, one of our most remarkable strengths as a nation. And the tales of heroism and rescue that will no doubt emerge in the days to come will also reflect the unity and diversity of America.
American Muslim leaders have been quick to condemn these terrorist acts, while simultaneously rallying community support for donations of blood and funds to assist those devastated by the attacks. Unfortunately, in parallel fashion, American Muslim leaders have also had to focus their attention elsewhere. Our community's leaders have been urging media and government officials to provide facts and avoid speculation as much as possible in reporting on the attacks and the ongoing investigation. We have especially been urging members of the media to avoid finger-pointing that might result in a backlash against our community.
Still fresh in the minds of American Muslims is the widespread scapegoating of Arabs and Muslims that occurred in the hours and days immediately following the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995. Soon after that bombing, media outlets rushed to broadcast rumors and speculations linking Arabs and Muslims to the crime. These rumors would, of course, eventually turn out to be unfounded when Timothy McVeigh was arrested. However, the damage had already been done. In the immediate aftermath of that bombing, more than 200 incidents of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab threats, harassment or violence were reported. Irresponsible media coverage undoubtedly contributed to the atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust that led some to vent their misguided anger against American Muslims and Arabs.
Already, in the early aftermath of yesterday's horrific events, American Muslims, mosques and schools from New York to Dallas to California have been on the receiving end of death threats and bomb scares. There have been unconfirmed reports that New York City cabbies of Middle Eastern heritage were dragged from their cabs and assaulted. And Muslim women wearing Islamic attire have been told by community leaders to stay indoors for fear of being attacked.
While the actual motives and identities of the perpetrators of yesterday's terror attacks remain to be determined, American Muslims are united in declaring that no political cause could ever be advanced by such immoral, unconscionable acts. Even if God forbid the criminals who executed this cowardly attack are ultimately identified as Muslims, we urge our fellow citizens to refrain from indicting an entire faith of one billion people, seven million of whom are also Americans. Assigning blame to Muslims or the religion of Islam would be as ridiculous as faulting Christianity for the taunting of Irish schoolgirls in Belfast, or condemning Judaism for Israeli transgressions against Palestinians. In this time of overwhelming communal grief, every disparate segment of our country must come together in a show of national unity. We are united in our anguish - true - but we are also united in our resolve.

Riad Z. Abdelkarim is director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

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