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Monday, September 17, 2001 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: European Nations Worry about United States’...
2001-09-17

Sounds of the Street; Activists Mourn the Dead While Denouncing the March to War and Attacks on Muslim and Arab Americans

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Racist violence against Arabs or people of Arabic descent has increased around the world. The BBC is reporting that an Afghan taxi driver has been paralyzed after an attack in London. In New York, a caller threatened to harm hundreds of students in an Islamic school. In Texas, a mosque was firebombed. In Wyoming, an angry group of shoppers chased a woman and her children from a Wal-Mart. In Bridgeview, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, police stopped 300 marchers as they tried to march on a mosque. Marcher Colin Zaremba, 19, told the Associated Press, "I’m proud to be American, and I hate Arabs, and I always have." [includes rush transcript]

Around the nation, Muslim and Arab communities say they are being targeted, and the anger is nationwide.

India said on Sunday it had asked the United States to take steps to prevent attacks on Sikhs living in the United States after last week’s terror attacks on two American cities. Several Sikhs, who wear turbans and have beards, have been attacked in the United States after they were apparently mistaken for Afghans and possible supporters of Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden.

Two men were murdered this weekend in what appeared to be the first racist revenge killings for last week’s terror attacks. One was a Pakistani Muslim. The other was an Indian Sikh, who may have been attacked because his beard and turban reminded his attackers of Osama bin Laden, the man widely thought to be behind last week’s attacks and named by the American authorities as a main suspect.

Last night in Brooklyn, thousands gathered in the heart of the Arab-American business district to mourn those killed in last week’s attacks. Many gathered, however, not just to mourn, but also to denounce the Bush administration and Congress’s push for war and the rush of racist attacks against Muslims, Arabs, Indians and other people of color.

Tape:

  • Tom Tomorrow, cartoonist.
  • Purvi Shah, Sakhi for South Asian Women.
  • Khader El-Yateem, Salam Arabic Lutheran Church of Brooklyn.
  • Andrew Stettner, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting just blocks from what used to be the towers of the World Trade Center. This weekend, not much luck with finding anyone alive in the rubble. It looks like somewhere around—well, more than 5,000 people continue to be, if you can use the term, entombed or incinerated by the attacks of last Tuesday, both in New York, the World Trade Center towers attack, and the attack in Washington, D.C., on the Pentagon. We are at a firehouse, Downtown Community Television, just below Canal Street. We spent last week, since the attacks, here, because we were afraid we would not be able to come in to broadcast if we ever left the site. We are in the evacuation zone. It’s loosened up a bit over the weekend. A lot of the emergency vehicles are just a block away from us on Broadway and in that area, as hundreds of emergency workers continue to get rid of, in a very painstakingly slow process, the rubble to still try to find some people who might be alive.

But right now, we’re going to go to another borough, and that’s Brooklyn, because at about 5:00, thousands of people gathered at Court Street and Atlantic Avenue, the heart of the Arab-American community, to show their support for Arab Americans and Muslims. Perhaps an unlikely sound that was part of this vigil, as people walked from the Arab-American business district to the promenade that looks out on the southern landscape of Manhattan—used to be the World Trade Center towers, now simply smoke—an unlikely sound at this vigil was the sound of the shofar that will be heard around the country and around the world tonight for the beginning of the holiest days of the Jewish New Year, and that is Rosh Hashanah. The sound of the shofar was blown last night for the Muslims and Arab Americans and their safety.

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Hello. My name is Khader El-Yateem. My main concern at the church is to make sure our people are safe, and they are not discriminated against, and nobody is attacked because they are Arabs, because, as New Yorkers, as Americans, we are also affected by this tragedy, and we have our own losses in this tragedy. And we just try to work with the community to participate as much as we can, to offer whatever we can to the community for the healing process.

AMY GOODMAN: Which is your church?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: It’s Salam Arabic Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

AMY GOODMAN: And who have you lost?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Well, we have—not directly from our church, but from our community, we have two people who died in the—in the crash. And we have a few people from our church who have been attacked because they are Arabs.

AMY GOODMAN: What has happened to them?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: One person, some of the people went and throw eggs at his house. The other person, about five or seven youth went to his store, destroyed the sign, throw dirt on the goods he has in the store, and wrote some words, graffiti, which is insulting.

AMY GOODMAN: What is being done about that?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Well, we are working closely with the police and with the city council, Marty Golden, to try to bring peace and unity. And we did two meetings already in our church to bring the community to speak about peace and understanding and to promote this unity in our community. So we’ve been taking an active role to participate and help in any way we can.

AMY GOODMAN: You said you’re Palestinian American?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Yes, I’m Palestinian Christian, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the response in the Occupied Territories right now?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Well, everybody there is saddened by the attack, and I’ve been in very close touch with my family there, and they’re still in shock. They couldn’t believe it. Or they still cannot believe it, that this has happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Where does your family live?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: We live in Beit Jala, which is five minutes north of Bethlehem.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you give me your phone number to be in touch with you? Do you have a card?

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to the sounds of the vigil for Arab Americans and Muslims.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question: what do you think of the possibility of a retaliatory attack?

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Well, I think that will be—it’s too soon to speak about that, but I strongly disagree with it, until we find out exactly what happened and how to deal with the situation. I do not support it at this time.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks.

KHADER EL-YATEEM: Thank you.

JOE POTASNIK: Good afternoon. I’m Joe Potasnik, rabbi of Congregation Mount Sinai here in Brooklyn Heights. I purposely want to stand next to Muslims and Christians and Jews and members of all other faiths for one simple reason: because terrorism does not want us to stand together, and therefore, the most effective response here is that we of different faiths stand together.

ANDREW STETTNER: I’m Andrew Stettner, and I’m with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. And we’re here today because we’re shuddering that the impact of the World Trade Center attack is being felt all over the country by Arab Americans and Muslims. There have been over 200 attacks in the country, and Arab Americans say they’re increasing. And we’re very afraid, and we’re afraid that the lives of those who were lost will be taken in vain by bombings throughout the Islamic world. So, we’re here with a lot of fear, and really shuddering at the impact and—but confident and hopeful that there’s beginning to be a popular movement that is beginning to say this is not the way to mourn just an incredibly terrible loss that we’re all bearing.

CHORUS: [singing] Peace, Salam, Shalom, come sing with us.
Peace, Salam, Shalom, three easy words.
Peace, Salam, Shalom, come sing with us.
Peace, Salam, Shalom, three easy words.
Peace, Salam, Shalom, come sing with us.
Peace, Salam, Shalom, come sing with us.
Peace, Salam, Shalom.
Peace, Salam, Shalom.
Peace, Salam, Shalom.
Peace, Salam, Shalom.

PURVI SHAH: My name is Purvi Shah. I’m a board member at Sakhi for South Asian Women. And I’m here today, one, because one of my friends was in Two World Trade Center, and she is still missing, Swarna Chalasani, who is a longtime Sakhi volunteer. I’m also here today not only to condemn the terrorist attack and to grieve, but also because there has been a lot of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab-American violence in the city and across the nation, and we wanted to condemn both the violence of the terrorist attacks and the violence and hate crimes that are occurring now.

Swarna worked as a part of Sakhi for peace in her everyday life. She worked with battered women to advocate for peace, to advocate their health and safety. And I think it’s so sad to see that the outcome of this terrorist attack has been to create more violence in our lives instead of more peace. And so, we wanted to share with other people of all faiths, all ethnicities, all cultural backgrounds, a stand for peace, and to really question what we’re doing here—What does it mean to retaliate? What does it mean to have a war on terrorism? What does it mean to have a war on terrorism when you’re going to terrorize innocent people?—and to really raise those questions as ordinary citizens, because I think, right now, it seems like we’re helpless, it seems like there’s not much we can do, but it’s really our voices that matter and count right now. So, that’s part of why we came here today.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the media coverage of the attack and the aftermath?

PURVI SHAH: I think—I mean, I saw the buildings fall, from my Brooklyn window, and I’ve been consistently retraumatized by seeing that image played over and over again, especially having a friend who is missing. It’s a traumatic scene to see continuously the buildings fall and all the mayhem.

I’ve wished the media would focus on a lot of the healing and grieving and energy that people are putting into making a healing ceremony or a peace out of this terrible tragedy that’s happened. And I also feel that the media have not been very critical of the President’s warmongering stance on this whole situation. I feel like the media has fed into his approach of dealing with this situation by continuously displaying these scenes of grieving and heightening the tragedy in that way. Whereas, I feel like BBC World and other media in other countries have noticed the ways in which this tragic attack does not come out of nowhere, that it has a historical series of precedents. The media has covered the ways in which Israeli tanks are now in the West Bank and the other kinds of after-effects that this tragedy has had.

In fact, terrorism wants to splinter us apart, and we are helping that to happen. We are helping to fuel the war that bin Laden would want us to have. And I feel it’s the media’s responsibility, as well as the responsibility of everyday people and our government, who are refusing to act in peaceful ways, to create other options and to, of course, bring these terrorists to justice, but also not to produce more injustice in the world. I think one of the religious leaders at the National Prayer Ceremony said it so well. He said that we do not want to become the evil that we condemn, and I think that’s a really beautiful way to put it.

TOM TOMORROW: Hi, this is Tom Tomorrow. We came down here to express our belief, our fervent hope, that Arab Americans do not become a target of bigotry and hatred as a result of the terrible thing that we’ve all seen.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m sorry, I haven’t seen if you’ve done any cartoons recently. Have you?

TOM TOMORROW: Yeah, I’ve done a couple. I’m trying not to—this is going to be a very polarizing time, a very divisive time, and I’m trying—I think it’s important to try to have a dialogue. I don’t want to only preach to the choir at this point. So I did what—what I thought was very—very reasonable, very sort of low-key, just talking about how my sense that retaliation might lead to something worse, how we don’t want to use this as an excuse to target Arab Americans, and how we don’t want to see this used as an excuse to pull civil liberties. And even just that, that very, very, very measured thing, has just gotten me a ton of very, very hateful email, people effectively comparing my work as a cartoonist in the newspaper with the act of the people who did this thing to us.

And I’m just worried. I’m just worried that we’re—I’m worried—I’m very worried about what’s going to happen, but I’m worried that we’re headed into a very divisive time, and I don’t want to see it, and I don’t know how to stop it, because people’s immediate reaction is to—you know, is to gather together in the fort, and any voice of dissent whatsoever is sedition, is treasonous. And, in fact, anyone—anyone—anyone is appalled by this, and certainly any decent, thinking person believes that the people who did this should be brought to justice. There are just some of us who don’t want to see the slaughter of innocent civilians responded to by slaughtering more innocent civilians. But I’m not even sure if we’re—I’m not even sure if you’re going to be able to say that anymore. I’m not even sure if anyone’s going to listen. The moment you suggest that there’s any other course of action than a hardcore military strike, people just shut down. They won’t listen. And I think—I think, on the left and the right, we’ve really all got to take a deep breath and listen to each other, because we are all Americans here. Nobody—nobody wanted this to happen. Nobody believed we should see this terrible destruction, this terrible loss of life. We just—you know, in this democracy, we are just coming at this from different points of view, and we’ve got to continue to be able to talk that out openly, in this democracy, or else these guys have won. And I’m just afraid we’re not going to. I’m afraid that’s not going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Where can people see your work?

TOM TOMORROW: Well, I got to say, cartoons just don’t seem awfully important right now. But, you know, if you really don’t have anything better to do, you can see it at Salon.com.

AMY GOODMAN: Cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, joining thousands of others last night at a sunset vigil in Brooklyn, in the heart of the Arab-American community. It was a vigil to call for the protection of Arab Americans and Muslims in this country in the face of rising attacks. In fact, this news has just flashed over the BBC website, that an Afghani taxi driver was left paralyzed in London after a racist attack.

You are listening to Democracy Now! in Exile. When we return, we will go to Europe to find out reaction there to the preparations for an imminent attack and to the attacks that took place last week. We’re doing a two-hour special today, and for those who are staying with us, Robert Fisk will be joining us from Lebanon to talk about his interview with Osama bin Laden. And we’ll also be talking about the legislation, the counterterrorism legislation that is rapidly being introduced into the House and the Senate that would severely curtail civil liberties and increase surveillance. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will be joining us, and we’ll be continuing to go into the streets to a rally that took place this weekend in Union Square Park. It was a rally to remember the dead, to give hope to those whose loved ones have not yet been found, and to speak out against war. Stay with us.

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