Talk about timing. The same day the Sun-Times ran my last column, in which I denounced a fake rape story by a south suburban high school senior who described her alleged attacker as Arab-looking, police said a Muslim student at west suburban Elmhurst College admitted she was not the victim of a hate crime on the school's campus.
Boy, did that get my "fans" busy, sending e-mails and calling, certain they had an "a-ha" moment. "Hey Sue," one sneering voice asked, "you gonna do a story on the Muslim student at Elmhurst College now?"
Why, yes I am.
If Safia Z. Jilani, the Elmhurst College sophomore, thought she was going to bring attention to the discrimination and hate crimes that befall Arabs and Muslims, she failed miserably. If anything, she just gave the haters of the world a little more ammunition.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, many Arab Americans have wrongly found their patriotism questioned. The trash talk in the current campaign -- that if Barack Obama is Arab (he is not) that's reason to disqualify him as presidential material -- has made Arabs feel marginalized.
Faking a hate crime or rape is an outrage. Real people are victims of both, and they are physically and emotionally damaged. And in both situations, victims sometimes are damaged a second time when law enforcement doesn't take them seriously…
When I wrote my initial column, I interviewed Shafic Budron, a member of the national board of directors of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and past president of the Chicago chapter. During our conversation, he offered the supposition that if the tables were turned and an Arab student had been involved in the Palos Heights hoax, serious criminal charges would have been leveled against her, and her photo would have been shown.
I thought about that when I read that Jilani, the Muslim student at Elmhurst College, was charged with filing a false police report, which is a Class Four felony. If found guilty, she could face one to four years in prison. Her name and photo appeared in newspapers and on the TV news.
The Stagg senior remains anonymous, probably because she faces no criminal charges. We've heard vague promises of some community service in the future.
Two misguided teens have admitted to police they did very wrong things, but the handling sure is different. Makes you wonder why.