After the Oklahoma City Bombing: Lessons from the Muslims' Trial by Fire

By Rahim, Hasan Zillur | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1995 | Go to article overview

After the Oklahoma City Bombing: Lessons from the Muslims' Trial by Fire


Rahim, Hasan Zillur, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


After the Oklahoma City Bombing: Lessons From the Muslims' Trial by Fire

By Hasan Zillur Rahim

Within hours of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, hate calls and death threats began flowing into Islamic centers all across North America. "We will get you on Friday [during congregational prayers]" threatened one caller.

"We're sick and tired of your bombs and your religion," shouted a woman into the phone. "You'll die a horrible death. Get out of our country." "Go blow yourself up!" suggested another.

On the Internet news group, one user said: "We should get rid of all Muslims." Another wrote that the bombing was the "work of Middle Eastern-sponsored terrorist organizations to influence the outcome of the World Trade Center bombing trial in New York." And so on and so on.

The media began pointing its accusing finger at "terrorist Muslims" almost immediately. "Terrorism experts" were convinced of a Middle East connection.

Why? Because certain people of "Middle Eastern" appearance were seen in Oklahoma City and because the state is "rich in oil."

Oklahoma resident Ibrahim Ahmad, on his way to Jordan, was humiliated by British officials in London, and returned to the United States because he was a suspect. People threw trash on his lawn and spat at his wife.

Commentators saw so much similarity to the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut and of the World Trade Center in New York that "an international connection was obvious." The signature of the bombing pointed "clearly" toward Middle East terrorists. The reason? The immense power of the bomb, and the fact that it was delivered in a car.

Muslim leaders and organizations were among the first to condemn the bombing unequivocally, throwing full support behind President Clinton's call for "swift, certain and severe" justice for those responsible.

"A criminal act such as this cannot be legitimized by any cause," declared the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national Muslim organization based in Washington, DC. "Whoever is responsible for this crime must pay for it, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds."

CAIR and other Muslim organizations appealed to the media to exercise restraint and to avoid fanning the flames of racial hatred with insensitive, irresponsible journalism. To his credit, President Clinton said much the same. "We should not stereotype anybody," he urged Americans. "This is not a question of anybody's country of origin. This is not a question of anybody's religion. This was murder, this was evil, this was wrong. Human beings everywhere, all over the world, will condemn this out of their own religious convictions."

Only after the FBI arrested 27-year-old Timothy McVeigh and a motive emerged, however, did the media gradually begin toning down its speculations. Even then, "terrorism experts" continued to warn that the full story wasn't yet known. "After all," they opined, "we do know what happened at the World Trade Center." The desire to believe in some shadowy foreign enemy was so strong that people were unwilling to acknowledge the enemy within.

Muslims must not allow themselves to be intimidated by bigotry.

It is frustrating, and frightening, for Muslims to have to go on the defensive anytime a terrorist act takes place anywhere, until the truth, with all its complexities, is revealed. An appeal has always to be made to the citizenry not to rush to judgment. We Muslims also have to repeat over and over that our religion forbids us to take a single innocent life, for if a person kills another innocent person, it is as if he has killed the entire humankind (Qur'an 5:32).

What causes people to demonize others? Is it the need for a visible enemy? Is it to project one's insecurity and prejudice on people one doesn't want to know or understand? Is it the need to feel superior? We don't know. What we do know is that Muslims must not allow themselves to be intimidated by bigotry. …

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