Americans must not turn on one another

Rick Larsen

The terrorist attacks against our country on Sept. 11 have changed our lives forever. We grieve for the injured, the victims and the families of last week’s murderous attacks and we support the heroes who rushed to help: firefighters, police and emergency response personnel. President Bush is absolutely correct when he says that America is at war against terrorism.

Fighting a war against terrorism does not mean starting a war with our fellow Americans, however. As a nation united, decisive action must be taken to ensure that justice is realized. Let me be clear: Osama bin Laden and others responsible for these attacks must be held accountable and brought to justice. Americans must stop attacking fellow Americans: specifically Arab Americans. Vigilantism of any kind will not be tolerated.

Many of us are painfully aware that in recent days brutal acts of hatred and racism have taken place around the United States. Attacks against Americans of Arab descent have occurred in their places of worship and their businesses. Most shocking was the murder of an Arab American in Arizona last Saturday by a fellow citizen trying to exact retribution for the horrific attacks that took place. These senseless acts of hatred only support the cowardly acts carried out by the terrorists in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. We cannot stoop to their level.

As we move forward, we must utilize the lessons from of our nation’s history that hate and fear breed racism and intolerance. A little more than 50 years ago, the unfounded fears of our leaders created policies that forced many Asian American citizens into internment camps. In 1942 more than 100,000 Japanese-American citizens were moved into these camps from Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Alaska. Here in our state, we sent our friends and co-workers to "relocation centers," resembling concentration camps with barbed wire and guarded towers. It is clear that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden do not fully represent Afghanistan, nor do they truly represent the Islamic faith. We must not provide any space for similar actions against Arab Americans or Americans of South Asian descent if our war on terrorism leads us against either the Taliban or Osama bin Laden.

The strength of our democracy is rooted in the values of justice, equal opportunity and tolerance, rather than blind retribution. We cannot protect the freedom that many Americans have died for by acting in bitterness and hatred.

America has the strength and resolve to unify and seek healing, bind up our national wounds and reaching out to provide for the families of the victims of this tragedy. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige and even his life for the welfare of others." I am confident in this time of conflict, we can be the kind of neighbors who act in reconciliation and move forward in hope.

Ultimately, history will judge us as to whether we allowed the cowardly actions of extremists to slow our resolve, unity and independence, or if we moved forward indivisible as a nation in order to rid the world of the evil of terrorism. I have faith we will embrace the latter.

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