Congress Suspends Arab-Bashing, Condemns Violence against American Arabs, Muslims, South Asians

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Congress Suspends Arab-Bashing, Condemns Violence Against American Arabs, Muslims, South Asians

Shirl McArthur, a retired foreign service officer, is a consultant in the Washington, DC area.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress shifted gears from partisan bickering and pursuit of narrow interests to the broader concerns of dealing with the immediate crisis and taking care of urgent legislative needs. One result of this shift is that it will be a few weeks before it can be seen which of the Middle East-related bills previously reported in this column again become active. The ratification process for the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement was accelerated, however, with the implementing legislation passing the Senate on Sept. 24.

Perhaps the most heartening development was the response of most legislators to the acts of violence against Americans of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin.

The day after the attacks, both houses of Congress passed resolutions that condemn the attacks, express condolences to the victims and their families, praise the actions of the rescue workers, declare that the U.S. is entitled to respond, and thank foreign leaders and individuals for their expressions of solidarity. During the "debate" on these resolutions most speakers gave stirring addresses that repeated or amplified on the points in the resolutions, with some adding expressions of anger and outrage. However, some took the opportunity to caution against acts of bigotry or violence against Arab Americans and Muslims.

In the House on Sept. 12, the first and most eloquent to express these sentiments was Rep. David Bonior (D-MI). Then, on Sept. 14, Bonior introduced H.CON.RES. 227, which had 116 co-sponsors and was passed by both houses of Congress, declaring that "the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans, including Arab Americans and American Muslims, should be protected," and condemning "any acts of violence or discrimination against any Americans, including Arab Americans, American Muslims and Americans from South Asia."

Excerpts from some of the House speeches, including an unhelpful statement from Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), are reproduced below. Special dishonorable mention should be given to Rep. John Cooksey (R-LA), who was quoted by The Washington Post as telling a Louisiana radio network that "If I see someone come in that's got a diaper on his head and a fan belt wrapped around the diaper on his head, that guy needs to be pulled over." Cooksey felt compelled to apologize for his remarks on the floor of the House Sept. 21.

In the Senate on Sept. 12, the first, most eloquent, and clearly most noteworthy expression of support for Arab and Muslim Americans came from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of the Senate's most fervent supporters of Israel. On Sept. 13, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), with Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Ernest Hollings (D-SC), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Harry Reid (D-RI) as co-sponsors, introduced an amendment to H.R. 2500, the Commerce, Justice, and State Departments appropriations bill, with essentially the same language as the Bonior resolution, except omitting mention of Americans from South Asia. The amendment passed unanimously and was included as Section 631 in the final bill passed by the Senate the same day. (Unfortunately, H.R. 2500 as passed by the Senate also includes the three sections, Sections 406, 407, and 408, described in previous issues, that effectively amount to recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.) Excerpts from some of the statements in the Senate are also reproduced below, again also including less than helpful statements from Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Zell Miller (D-GA).

HOUSE STATEMENTS

Space does not permit quoting from all representatives who spoke out against acts of violence and bigotry against Arab and Muslim Americans. Those not quoted include Reps. Brian Baird (D-WA), Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Tom Davis, (R-VA), William Delahunt (D-MA), Eni Faleomavega (D-AS), George Gekas (R-PA), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Jay Inslee (D-WA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Ron Paul (R-TX), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), and David Wu (D-OR). …