The past week or so was full of contrasting images. It began with an email I received from Anya Cordell, an activist, and since September 11, a relentless fighter against bigotry and racism. I met Anya while filming in Texas with some of Mark’s victims. Anya has been involved in post 9/11 work with several hate crime victims (to read more about Anya’s work read our Close Up Anya sent me the following Letter to the Editor, which she recently found in Newsweek:
A Better Life, but No Assimilation
I still cannot understand why Muslims flee their native lands seeking a better life in Britain or any other Western nation, only to want to turn these countries into clones of the failed states they just left (“Jihad Chic Comes to London,” March 23). The only rational explanation is that instead of assimilating into their adoptive homes, these radicalized Muslims simply want to spread their fundamentalist brand of Islam and transform Europe into Eurabia. Shame on the politically correct politicians, appeasers and journalists who sit idly by and allow these radical Muslims to do what the Nazis ultimately could not: bring the West to its knees.
Kelly Van Rijn
Washington Township, N.J.
I received this email on my blackberry while traveling in the high Andes of Peru, a region populated by indigenous, mainly Quechua-speaking people, long subjugated and discriminated against by the descendants of the Spanish conquerors of Peru.
A few days later, Anya sent me the recent study by FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting), Smearcasting: How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation. In her email, Anya quoted chilling segments from the report:
CNN commentator: “I’m telling you, with God as my witness…human beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you [Muslims] on one side of it…When people become hungry…they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen…In 10 years, Muslims and Arabs will be looking through a razor wire fence at the West.”
Third most popular political talk radio show host: “They say, “Oh, there’s a billion of them [Muslims]”. I said, “So kill 100 million of them, then there’ll be 900 million of them.””
Best selling author: “If you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em.”
Fox news host: “The U.S. should bomb the Afghan infrastructure to rubble…taking out their ability to exist day to day will not be hard…If they don’t rise up against this criminal government, they starve, period.”
“These claims,” Anya concluded her email “though outlandish, are then given credence by being repeated, in mainstream outlets. It’s worth remembering that those who put forward the arguments found in the FAIR report often stand to profit greatly from book sales, consulting and lecture fees—for their views—often, the more outrageous and fear-inducing, the more profitable and popular. The climate becomes saturated with an atmosphere of suspicion that is increasingly accepted, and increasingly difficult to effectively counter.”
It is against this background that I came back home and found myself riveted by President Obama’s public speeches in Turkey.
Introduced as Barack Hussein Obama, the President went on to say in the Turkish Parliament:
“…I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim community, the Muslim world, cannot, and will not, just be based upon opposition to terrorism. We seek broader engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. …We will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over the centuries to shape the world — including in my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their families or have lived in a Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them.”
Obama also visited the mausoleum for the founder of the modern, secular Turkish Republic, Kamal Ataturk, held a “town hall” meeting with Turkish young people, and visited Turkey’s largest Muslim shrines. Cynics will dismiss his speech as just smart political oratory; Obama’s attempt to reach the Muslim world. But I believe that his speech was also aimed at a domestic audience here at home and that is where, in my opinion, its real importance lies.
Words do matter and symbolic acts go far. It was Turkey’s Prime Minister who commented on the meaning of Obama’s name, as a person who straddles several cultures. It was barely 6 months ago when we wrote a series of articles on the attacks against Barack Obama’s middle name, and his “Muslim” background
“I say this,” President Obama continued his speech, “as the president of a country that not very long ago made it hard for somebody who looks like me to vote, much less be president of the United States. But it is precisely that capacity to change that enriches our countries.” This message was not aimed only at the Turkish people but to us here at home. It is the kind of message that tries to combat the racist, bigoted voices Anya quotes in her email and FAIR covers in their report.
Words do matter. Just ask Mark Stroman, who claims his rage was triggered, in part, by the non-stop coverage of the September 11 terror attack.
Maybe, just maybe, if an American president could have gone on television on September 12th to deliver such a clear message as President Obama delivered in Turkey, the lives of Vasudev Patel and Waqar Hasan, two of Mark’s victims, could have been saved….maybe.