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Neither clothes nor religion define a person as an enemy



Published: Thu, September 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The terrorists who toppled the World Trade Center's twin towers could not have viewed their victims as men, women and children with homes and families and loved ones. They must have viewed them as a faceless enemy, and so they were able to kill them, even the fellow passengers they had stood in line with only a short time before.

When people become less than people in the eyes and minds of others, nothing good follows.

The world saw history's bloodiest single example of that kind of dehumanization last Tuesday in New York, Washington, D.C., and Somerset County, Pa. And the civilized world was shocked and appalled.

What's happening: Unfortunately, a small minority of Americans is giving the rest of the world an opportunity to be appalled by its behavior in the United States. We're talking about the bigots who are venting their anger and frustration on people living in this country -- many of them citizens themselves -- who "look" like terrorists.

In some cases, these bigots act with such monumental ignorance that it would almost be funny, if the results of their bigotry were not so ugly and, in the worst cases, tragic.

The most glaring examples have involved the victimization of Sikhs, the followers of an Indian religion that requires the men to cover their hair with turbans. Apparently any man with a headdress and facial hair looks like Osama bin Laden to some bigots.

In Mesa, Ariz., over the weekend, a gunman drove into a service station and shot the Sikh owner to death. He then fired on a Muslim at another nearby station and on the home of an Afghan family.

When Frank S. Roque was arrested, he declared: "I'm a patriot. I'm a damn American all the way."

No, he's a damned fool and a damned killer and will be tried in an American court as such. He's been charged with murder and if there is any justice, he will be convicted of it.

It makes no sense: Holding a Sikh responsible for the actions of a fundamentalist Muslim makes as much sense as holding a Jew to account for something done by a Baptist. Indeed, holding all Muslims to account for the actions of the fundamentalist minority makes no more sense than holding all Christians to account for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.

Across this great nation there has been an outpouring of support and prayers for the East Coast victims of terrorism. Much of that support has come from Middle Eastern and South Asian communities, and many of those prayers have been said in mosques and temples, as well as in churches.

In far too many cases, men and women going to those mosques and temples had to fear for their very lives because a minority of Americans see anyone who is different from them as an enemy. No Americans should go to work, to school, to the market or to a movie in fear because of the color of their skin or the cut of their clothes.

That is not the American way.




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