I knew it was bound to happen. Anger overwhelming common sense. Bigotry and racism, fueled by anger, rising to the surface of the public mood.
As I drove into work this morning here in Boston, I switched on the car radio. It was the first time I had been in the car for several days and the radio was still on the local station that broadcast the Red Sox games. The 'sports guys' who host the morning show, who've always been reactionary even in normal circumstances, were practically foaming at the mouth about what had happened at the World Trade Center.
They read several stories about the tragedy from the wires, getting several of the facts wrong. But even if you had been able to tell them this, they probably wouldn't have cared. I shook my head, but as I said, I expected this kind of response from the voices of talk radio. Listening to these, and other talk radio voices, I think I had a glimpse of what it must hve been like for Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor -- only magnified ten-fold because of the size of our current media machine.
I hoped that my Muslim friends who lived in Boston --who I knew abhored what happened in New York and Washington -- would be safe over the next few days.
But then these 'sports guys' did something that deeply bothered me. One of the announcers said "a little mole" had give him some information, and he gave out the names of the relatives of Osama bin Laden who live in Boston, including a niece and a nephew who attend local colleges. (They even got one of the colleges wrong.) They then went on to insinuate that these people were somehow linked to the events of the past few days, just because they were related to Osama bin Laden. The announcers expressed disgust that these people were in our country, that their mere presence was offensive.
Right away I knew this was trouble. This wasn't just anger at a unspeakable act speaking. This was hate speech, pure and simple. Now the ignorance of these 'sports guys' was going to get somebody hurt.
If they had bothered to do any, ANY research at all (most of it available for free on the Web), they would have known that the bin Laden family has had nothing to do with Osama for almost a decade. A respected and honored family in Saudi Arabia, he almost cost them the patronage and support of that country's royal family. People at Harvard have told me that one of the reasons that the bid Laden family established several fellowships at the Harvard Law School to improve understanding of Islam and Islamic civilization was their embarrassment at Osama bin Laden's actions against America. They wanted people to know that not every Muslim felt the same as their relative.
There's even a local Boston example of the ridiculousness of shaming people for the action of one of their family members. What these 'sports guys' had done was the equivalent of pointing fingers at University of Massachusetts president (and former senior Democratic politician) William Bulger for the murderous actions of his Mafia brother 'Whitey' (one of American's most wanted men), and then saying that he should be jailed or deported just because they were related.
I have no doubt that the bin Laden family in Boston is experencing the same kind of pain, and anger, that Timothy McVeigh's father, or Ted Kaczinski's family, experienced at the actions of their relatives. Only this is magnified 1000 times.
It is imperative that we catch the people who did this and hold them responsible. My brother-in-law was on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center on Monday morning for business. If the attack had been one day earlier, my family would have been part of this national tragedy. And everytime I think about the innocent people on the hijacked planes, especially those who had their children with them, a harsh rage fills me.
But wildly pointing fingers at fellow Americans or immigrants whose only crime is that they look like they are "of Middle Eastern descent" plays right into the hands of the people who committed this crime.
One of Osama bin Laden's goals is to drive a wedge between all Muslims and the United States. He believes that if he succeeds in going this, it will make it easier for him to recruit new soldiers for his war against America. If we give in to ignorance, hatred and misplaced desire for revenge, then we have helped the people who committed this horrible crime succeed in their mission.
And thinking that we would do that makes me shudder.