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COLUMN SIXTY-FOUR, OCTOBER 1, 2001
(Copyright 2001 Al Aronowitz)

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CHRISTIAN STATIONS SPEW POISON

Subject: Rattling Sabers of Bigotry
Date: Sat, 22 Sep 2001 17:47:34 -0400
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Los Angeles Times - September 16, 2001

Rattling Sabers of Bigotry

By GERALDINE BROOKS

Geraldine Brooks is a former Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal and the author, most recently, of "Year of Wonders."

SAN FRANCISCO -- I spent last week on a road trip I never expected to take. Like thousands of others with busted flight itineraries, I passed my hours in a rented car with the radio on and the voices of America filling my ears.

Driving through the mountains of Oregon and the flat, golden fields of California, when the steady familiarity of Noah Adams and Terry Gross dissolved into static, I would hit the "seek" button and find myself in the foreign territory of small-town talk-back.

Much of what I heard only added to last week's burden of despair. To a deafening rattling of sabers was added a cacophony of ignorant statements. On a so-called Christian station, I heard a preacher tell his listeners that Islam was a cult that worshipped the moon and preached total destruction of Jews and Christians. Callers seemed baffled about which religion the terrorists might have adhered to---"Islam or Muslim?"---or asked which Middle Easterners they'd seen on TV celebrating the bombing: "Is it the Israelis who don't like us, or the Palestinians?" It wasn't just ordinary folk who seemed at a loss. A congressman asked plaintively: "Who are these people and why do they hate us?" A former National Security Administration official, apparently unaware that Algeria's government is waging bloody war against Islamic extremists, named that country as a potential state sponsor of Tuesday's bombing.

When George W. Bush mentioned that he had been seeking cooperation from Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, I remembered how, when running for president, he had not been able to come up with that gentleman's name. Then, he seemed unruffled by his ignorance, and Americans mostly seemed inclined not to mind it. We have all been fat and happy and self-absorbed, watching "Survivor," driving gas-guzzling SUVs and eating our super-sized takeout meals, as networks cut their foreign news bureaus and all the miserable little wars in poor and dusty places got pushed to the back shelves of our conscience like unread books.

Now we have misery aplenty of our own, and some 75% percent of Americans say they support going to war. But against whom? This week we have heard mention of Saudi Wahabis (Bin Laden) and Saudi Shiites (possibly some of the hijackers) at odds in their own land but somehow seemingly united against ours; of Egyptians and Algerians and Afghanis and people with passports from the United Arab Emirates; Palestinians, the government of Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We are willing to find enemies everywhere--most tragically, even among ourselves.

All week, in a journey through two major cities and dozens of towns, I did not see one woman in a Muslim headscarf. It pains me that American women are hiding in their homes. One young Muslim acquaintance told me that she gave up wearing her scarf during the Persian Gulf War, because students on her school bus taunted her and tried to pull it from her head. She is one of more than 6 million Muslims in the United States, and like half of them, she was born here. An American Muslim today is twice as likely to be African American as Arab. These people are us, not them, and they shouldn't have to cower in their own country. As a Jew, I know about blood libel, and about scapegoating, and fear of the other. In this country, of all countries, no one should have to live fearfully on account of her faith.

There is so much support for military action right now that it is hard to remember how little stomach this country actually has for it. I was in Somalia the last time U.S. forces tried a surgical strike against a much weaker enemy--the botched attempt to kidnap General Mohammed Farah Aidid that ended in military humiliation and hideous deaths of American soldiers and civilian Somalis. It is easy to forget the horror of the crashed helicopters in the Iranian desert or the abrupt end to the Gulf War once we got a look at the "road of death" of Iraqi soldiers trying to flee Kuwait.

"An eye for an eye" has become our shorthand for the hot satisfactions of revenge. Few of us reflect that when the Hebrew Bible preached that message, it was the first call in recorded human history for restraint, for a proportionate response to violence. None of the Christian radio stations I heard this week dwelt on the other, famous scripture that takes the message to that harder, higher ground.

If Jesus himself had called in this week to ask us to "turn the other cheek," I don't think they would have let him on the air.  ##

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