WORD COUNT: 706 [Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be contacted at: email@example.com.] On April 19th, Americans of all faiths will mark the 10th anniversary of the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by remembering and mourning 168 of their fellow citizens who died so tragically at the hands of domestic terrorists. Another victim of that attack will be mourned only by those in what would have been his family. According to the Daily Oklahoman newspaper: “Sahar Al-Muwsawi, 26, said”¦she was watching reports of the bombing on television on April 20 when she heard a car’s brakes squeal outside her Oklahoma City home.
Then she heard objects hitting the window and thought people were shooting at the house. Muwsawi, who was nearly seven months pregnant, grabbed her 2-year-old daughter and another child in the home and took them to the bathroom and locked the door. She said she started bleeding and called her husband, who rushed home and took her to the hospital. A stillborn baby boy was delivered several hours later.” (5/20/95) That baby boy was named “Salaam,” or “peace.” In those first frightening days after the bombing, it was assumed by many that “Middle Eastern terrorists” had carried out the attack. That faulty assumption sparked a wave of anti-Muslim hysteria that resulted in almost 250 incidents of harassment, discrimination and actual violence against American Muslims or those perceived to be Middle Eastern. Incidents ranged from a suspected arson attack on a mosque, to drive-by shootings at Islamic centers and assaults on Muslim students.
Many Islamic institutions around America also reported phoned bomb threats, and in one case, a fake bomb was thrown at a Muslim day care facility. Individual Muslims reported a great increase in harassment by co-workers and in public. This harassment led to an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the Muslim community. The collective realization that the attack was carried out by terrorists from the Midwest, not the Mideast, created a teaching moment in which the entire nation reassessed what it means to be a terrorist, and redefined terrorism to include people who look like “regular” Americans. My organization, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), documented the anti-Muslim backlash following the Oklahoma City bombing in a report called “A Rush to Judgment.” That report was the first of CAIR’s now-annual reports on the status of American Muslim civil rights. (CAIR’s latest report is due out in May.) Unfortunately, the trend lines in each annual report have been up, not down, with a particularly sharp spike following the 9/11 terror attacks.
From our polling data, and from the daily hate messages we receive, it is clear that Islam and Muslims are once again being perceived as intrinsically linked to terrorism and violence. I have almost 3,000 e-mail entries in my “Hate Mail” folder. (Any theme involving pork products, which are forbidden to Muslims, and how they will be used to defile Islamic beliefs seems to be a favorite with America’s current crop of Islamophobic bigots.) One fairly representative e-mail, after using the usual profanities, simply said: “You all need to be slaughtered.” The irony of recommending wholesale slaughter of innocents in order to prevent or retaliate for the slaughter of innocents is probably lost on the senders of such messages. In our “Not in the Name of Islam” online petition, CAIR seeks to sever the false link between Islam and violence: “No injustice done to Muslims can ever justify the massacre of innocent people, and no act of terror will ever serve the cause of Islam.” (See: http://www.cair.com/ )
As we mark the 10th anniversary of the Oklahoma City attack, let us all remember that the use of violence and terrorism is not the sole preserve of any race, religion or ethnic group. Let us also redouble our efforts to understand one another and promote peaceful resolutions to all conflicts, whether domestic or foreign. The Quran, Islam’s revealed text, states: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him.” (49:13) Indeed, terror knows no faith.