Outside editorial: Take advantage of our diversity

Posted: Monday, October 22, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Dallas Morning News:

For most Americans, the six weeks since Sept. 11 have been no picnic. Yet, even as mailroom phrases like "handle with care" take on new meaning following the detection of anthrax in letters to Congress and a number of media companies, it is worth bearing in mind that the plight of Arab-Americans and other American Muslims also has been difficult.

Singled out by neighbors, targeted by hate crimes, detained by law enforcement, and even evicted from airplanes before lift-off, law-abiding Arab-Americans who have had to put up with such indignities could hardly be blamed for resenting their adopted country. And it is easy to imagine how, in such a climate, others may be ambivalent, even embarrassed, about their own ethnicity and reluctant to draw attention to their culture.

Let's hope neither is the case. If these acts of terrorism, and our reaction to them, result in any one of the ethnic groups that make up the rich mosaic of American culture growing resentful of America, or, at the other extreme, being so eager to blend with the mainstream that they hide who they are, then the bad guys will have succeeded in damaging a country whose greatness derives in part from the rich diversity of its people.

There is encouraging news that some Arab-Americans, and other American Muslims, appear to be resisting both impulses. Rather than assume an adversarial relationship with America and its institutions, Arab-Americans in cities around the country are answering the call put out by the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency for translators who speak Farsi and Arabic. The FBI has fielded more than 15,000 applications for 200 translator jobs.

And, as for ethnic identity, it seems alive and well even in this sensitive environment. At the annual convention of the American Muslim Alliance, a group that seeks to teach U.S. Muslims the ropes of the American political system, participants identified themselves as Americans. Yet many also showed considerable pride in their ethnic background. Of the nation's 7 million Muslims, about 3 million are of Arab descent.

One will not find anything resembling this level of diversity in Osama bin Laden's band of terrorists. Nor among Mr. bin Laden's harborers in the Taliban who, it seems, despise women, Jews, Christians, Westerners and anyone who doesn't look and think exactly like them. Having never experienced true diversity, our enemies don't understand its strength. But they will.

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