While relatively few are engaged in euphoric celebration on the streets, and fewer still in serious analysis about the legality of the assassination itself (explained concisely in a post by IntLawGrrl Beth Van Schaack, most Americans (and indeed people the world over) have been watching bin Laden flash on their TV screens since May 1 (in fact, May 2, for it was past 1 AM in Abbottabad when bin Laden was reportedly assassinated). Indeed, this turbaned and bearded face had become synonymous with terrorism since 9/11 (as captured by IntLawGrrl Diane Marie Amann’s pre-schooler son’s comment). (All IntLawGrrls posts on bin Laden are available here.)
But the last time this ‘face’ of terrorism flashed on TV screens incessantly, several communities that bore outward resemblance to bin Laden began to suffer, gravely. And, to be sure, this suffering had still not subsided by May Day 2011. Now, it runs the risk of multiplying.
Sikh, Muslim, South Asian, Arab, and other Middle Eastern communities in the United States have borne the brunt of mistaken identities and misplaced hatred since 9/11.
And despite strong coalition-building between various minority and non-minority groups, despite strides towards solidarity and sanity, the mistrust and hate were far from over in the United States:
► As indicated in this video, this past February Muslim families attending a homeless shelter fundraising dinner were verbally assaulted by a few hundred protesters who yelled religious epithets at the “Terrorists” and asking the young children, women, and men to “go back home” and “never forget 9/11,” even as the protesters proclaimed with fervor, “No Sharia.”
► In March, in California’s capital city, two elderly, turbaned Sikh men, out for a walk, were gunned down in what is widely believed to be a hate crime.
In his televised remarks on Sunday, which IntLawGrrls posted here, President Barack Obama asked us to “think back to the sense of unity that prevailed on 9/11,” though conceding that he knows “it has, at times, frayed.” But now, when images of terrorists with turbans and beards are once against flooding TV screens, one wishes he would elaborate on the “fraying.” That he would elaborate on how Americans can truly illustrate that “the United States is not at war with Islam” (and anything ‘Islam-like.’) That he would explain that, of the American people who “did not choose this fight,” some were twice afflicted — by external threats like all others, and by internal threats from some others. And that he would warn the nation against succumbing to such ignorance once again.
The responsibility to protect against backlash has thus far not been fulfilled by the government or by the media. No one has made the statement that bin Laden is the ‘face of terror’ because of his terrorist acts, not because of his turban or beard.
Does such a statement seem too obvious?
Not to the families who worry not only about retaliatory attacks and global ramifications of bin Laden’s assassination, but also about re-victimization by their own neighbors. Not to those who wonder whether the ‘Hey Osama, go home’ slurs will increase or decrease in middle-school playgrounds. Not to the family of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was murdered in a hate crime on September 15, 2001, and whose family recently had to spearhead a campaign against Arizona politicians seeking to remove his name from the 9/11 victims' memorial.
It is about time that all those informing public opinion recall the lessons learnt since 9/11 and begin stating the painfully obvious.