Bigots engender a misguided hatred

In the aftermath of last week’s terrorist acts comes another attack: a nationwide backlash against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent.

Amid the political leadership’s cries for unity and justice, the children of Middle Eastern immigrants are feeling foreign in their own land. It is as if these people are somehow less “”American”” than their peers simply because they adhere to the tenets of Islam and are brown-skinned.

As the child of Indian immigrants, I spent most of my life feeling “”American”” because I was born and raised here.

While I respected and held onto certain facets of Indian culture, I also assimilated into what I consider a diverse and tolerant society.

That is the main reason I am so shocked by the insensitivity some Americans have shown toward Muslims, and particularly people whom they perceive to be from the Middle East.

These bigots compose only a small minority, but they still have the potential to cause catastrophic harm.

Several recent incidents around the United States, including the murders of two men who appeared Middle Eastern to their attackers, highlight this fact.

I am neither Muslim nor of Afghani descent, but in the past few weeks I have experienced what it feels like to be regarded with suspicion and disgust.

On a recent outing with a few of my Iranian friends, during which we were discussing the collapse of the World Trade Center, an older man leaned over to say, “”You guys should have been the ones to die in there.””

Hindsight provided me with a few witty replies, but at the time I was too shocked and dismayed to say anything.

I just stared at him, open-mouthed. I was flabbergasted by how anyone could say something so cruel.

It was not just that incident that showed me that a large, public anti-Muslim and anti-Middle Eastern sentiment is growing.

It is experiences such as that of my cousin, who works in a large New York law firm. A co-worker asked her, “”What is wrong with your people?””

My cousin, incidentally, was born in the United States and spent most of her childhood in New York. Her parents are from India, not the Middle East.

This antagonizing sentiment has also exhibited itself to me in the encounters of friends who feel alienated by the hostile glances of complete strangers.

Even when I attended a memorial vigil — which quickly turned into expressions of anger against “”enemies of America”” — I had to leave because of the quizzical glances from people whose eyes all asked the same thing: “”Why are you here?””

As much as I try to blend in, my dark skin and my ethnic background prevent me from doing so.

I feel strange being made to think I don’t belong in the country in which I have spent my entire life.

I could drape myself in an American flag, cover my car with red, white and blue, but none of this would erase the suspicious misconceptions others have of me. Ironically, people would think I have more to hide.

I am an American, and I treasure and benefit from all the civil liberties and opportunities the United States has to share.

But what I have experienced recently has made me second-guess the truth of our country’s pride in having created a nation with “”liberty and justice for all.””

I don’t want to believe that these words are hollow, especially at a time when national solidarity is most important.

I certainly don’t want to think that my neighbors, my peers and even my landlord see me as less American than they are.

I believe that most Americans know the difference between a terrorist and a law-abiding citizen. I hope it’s just the ignorant few who want to get the Muslims and “”Arabs”” out of this country.

Nevertheless, I believe that as the United States prepares for the possibility of war with Afghanistan and any other nation aiding Osama bin Laden, there is a greater need for tolerance and unity.

I don’t want the terrorists to have been successful in destroying both thousands of lives and our notion of security, as well as fracturing the United States from the inside. That will only create an environment in which Americans are pitted against one another.

It may not be time for a mass “”Kumbaya,”” but we do need one another in this crisis.

This is America’s litmus test before the world. I hope that we do not fail it.

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