A NATIONAL petition drive by Arab-Americans asking for the release of their fellow US citizens held hostage in the Middle East is a noble humanitarian undertaking. It's also one of very few things that can realistically be done by the general public to help the five surviving American hostages in Lebanon in their uncertain and threatening situation. For two years, US diplomatic efforts to free the ``forgotten hostages'' -- a few citizens of Western nations who were abducted in Lebanon by a shadowy terrorist group with apparent links to Iran and Libya -- have failed. Mediation attempts by other governments and by private parties have been futile. A military rescue mission does not appear to be a sensible option, either, given that the whereabouts of the hostages are unknown and that the potential cost in lives lost would undoubtedly be far too high. What is known, though, is that the lives of those hostages are in grave danger. The recent killing of one American and two British hostages in Lebanon leaves no doubt whatsoever about their captors' ruthlessness.
The American-Arab Anti-Descrimination Committee that organized the petition drive is a legitimate representative of mainstream Arab-Americans. Its members understand the concerns of Arab nations and support many Arab causes. But most Arab-Americans, like Americans in general, do not condone terrorism as a means to promote political causes. Americans of virtually every ethnic origin are frustrated by random killings and abductions of innocent people.
Taking a stand for the timely release of the hostages in Lebanon, besides the good it may do in attaining that end, can also help improve the climate for members of the Arab community in this country. It is manifestly unfair but true that Arab-Americans feel the brunt of the domestic response to anti-American terrorism. One hopes that the Arab-American plea for freedom for their fellow Americans will be heard both in the Middle East and in the United States. It deserves attention in both places.