After Oklahoma City: Looking For Someone to Blame
By Hania Younis
My co-worker asks me, "You don't feel as badly as the rest of us, do you?" It is three hours after the Oklahoma City bombing. She asks me this question because I am an Arab American. We are both engineers for the federal government and work near Seattle.
"What do you mean? It's horrible!" I catch my breath as I realize we're talking about my loyalties and not the hundreds of lives lost and devastated. "But," I say, "if you mean do I feel more sadness than if this had happened somewhere else in the world, then no, I don't." She looks at me coldly, as though I have no sympathy.
I think about other recent tragedies: women in Bosnia begging not to be raped, whole villages of Guatemalans tortured one by one and killed as their families watched, Kurds pulling in lungfuls of poisonous air, and Iraqi families bombed in their homes. I think about my friend's adopted Palestinian son, found in the rubble of the building in which his entire family was killed.
"Besides," I say, "many people will assume that Arabs are responsible. And whether or not Arabs did this, it just reinforces the stereotype that Arabs are violent."
The television is on all day in our conference room. People drift in and out, watching for as long as they can. There's no evidence yet, but the newscasters still give two possibilities. The first is retaliation for the raid on the Branch Davidian compound. They also say there's been an anonymous phone call from someone claiming to be in Hamas. A man walks in and asks for an update and another immediately states, "Someone from Hamas claimed responsibility." His eagerness to blame this crime on Arabs saddens and frustrates me.
On television a distraught man asks, "Why Oklahoma City? We're good people here." I wonder what cities he thinks are filled with bad people, or what building anywhere in the world would be a more fitting target. All the interviews include statements like "not in America" and "these are innocent people." As though only we deserve to go unscathed by violence. Only we should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The news stations flash back to the World Trade Center and the barracks in Beirut. They want to make a connection early, just in case there is a connection.
When they mention Beirut someone says, "But these weren't soldiers." No, they weren't, I think. But would this be any less tragic if they were? And do we never kill anyone but soldiers? Are our "surgical strikes" so moral and precise that we never leave a scar, neither on others nor ourselves?
So many people still believe that Arabs are violent by nature.
That night my father calls at 11 p. …