- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Arab and Islamic leaders in the United States, speaking as American citizens, loudly condemned the Sept. 11 attacks, unequivocally backed America and spoke of it as their country.
But they are showing signs of disunity in other areas.
In a few instances, some of these leaders appeared reluctant to identify the perpetrators as part of an Osama bin Laden or Islamic-fundamentalist conspiracy.
"We absolutely condemn the attacks, but our fantasy and wish is that it won't turn out to be Muslims or Arabs who did it," Dr. Laila Marayati, a physician and spokeswoman for the Muslim Women's League, said in an interview. "During the Oklahoma City bombing, we said to ourselves, 'Oh, God, don't let it be one of us.'"
And some leaders yesterday said the United States, to avoid making more enemies abroad, must first prove to the world that the people it targets for retaliation committed the crime.
Although most Arab-American leaders say this is not the time to bring Middle East policy into the discussion, some of these leaders are now hinting that anti-American terrorism is rooted in American foreign policy in the region.
"We can suppress terrorism by force, but not eliminate it except by justice. We have to understand when people abroad are angry with this country and come up with solutions," Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said in an interview.
Yet Beirut-born Khalid Saffuri, president of the Islamic Institute, said there was no justification for such attacks. "It's wrong for someone to say he understands why terrorists would do this to America," he said. "There is never an excuse for doing it."
On Sept. 11, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee rushed out a statement that said: "Arab Americans, like all Americans, are shocked and angered by such brutality, and we share all the emotions of our fellow citizens. Arab Americans view these attacks as targeting all Americans without exception."
On the same day, the Muslim Public Affairs Council's statement said, "We feel our country, the United States, is under attack. All Americans should stand together to bring the perpetrators to justice."
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said fear struck much of the Islamic and Arab-American communities. "This crisis has brought out the nutties. And who knows whether the unfolding backlash [will] grow or shrink?"
"There have been bombings, killings, kids afraid to go to school, and I have been threatened, too messages saying, 'Jim, we'll slit your throat. Every Arab must die,'" Mr. Zogby said.
But he agreed with other Arab-American leaders that given the enormity of the Sept. 11 attacks the relatively few acts of violence and intimidation reaffirms America's tolerance.
Ziad Asali, president of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, said scattered acts of violence and intimidation against Arab-Americans represents a "remarkably controlled anger in this country, given more than 5,500 innocent people were killed by the terrorists."
"American Muslims have to avoid falling into the trap of thinking it's them against us," said Salam Marayati, executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council. "America doesn't discriminate against Muslims or citizens of Arab descent. America is our haven of protection and freedom."
Most Muslim and Arab leaders here went out of their way to avoid the appearance of wanting to restrain retaliation against terrorism.
Abdulwahab Alkebsi, executive director of the Islamic Institute in Washington, yesterday said "that we should go after anybody involved in the attacks and anybody harboring them."
"Our only concern is that law-enforcement agencies should keep Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans as part of the solution and not treat them as part of the problem," he said.

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