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Where's the compassion
"Beware Thy Neighbor?" [ November, p. 14] a Ruminations opinion piece we commissioned from former magazine intern Alia Malek '96 in the wake of September 11, drew more letters than any story in recent magazine history. While many people wrote to take issue with Malek's views--and to question our editorial judgment for running the piece at all--others sent grateful notes of appreciation and encouragement.
Alia Malek's piece (I almost wrote screed, but thought better of it) requires a response. I'll be brief, in respect for my blood pressure.
Ms. Malek expresses her feelings about the recent tragedy
very well, from "Did anyone I know get hurt?" to "Will
anyone I know now be hurt?" to her "sheer panic" that others
are too prejudiced to understand the "beautiful culture and
history" of Arabs. There is much, much more in a similar
vein but nowhere did I find any condemnation of the attacks
or sympathy for the victims or their families.
As I today returned to my September 11-damaged offices at Moody's for the first time since the atrocity, I found on my desk the November edition with Ms. Malek's article "Beware Thy Neighbor?" To be frank, I was surprised by her lack of compassion for the more than 5,000 innocent people who just happened to be incinerated by 19 racist and genocidal Arab men. Indeed, she does not even mention these victims. Her lack of compassion is nothing less than political correctness run amok, which has produced in her a self-indulgent sense of victimization.
Ms. Malek speaks passionately and eloquently about her ethnic background, as well as her justifiable concerns about a backlash against Arab Americans. Yet, she says nothing about the responsibility that immigrants assume by choosing to live in this country, and the respect they should have for its generosity. No other country in the history of the world has offered so much opportunity to so many diverse immigrant nationalities as the United States. Ms. Malek, if only out of a sense of decency, should also remember that her family has been a recipient of that generosity.
My father immigrated to this country in 1936 from Italy, and
no different from thousands of other young men of Italian,
German, and Japanese descent, went off to war to defend
their adoptive country against evil in World War II. These
young men went off to war to die without complaints. In the
wake of the war, most American Asians, who Ms. Malek would
define as "brown," including my Filipino mother, experienced
racism and prejudice. This prejudice was the result of being
lumped in by many white Americans as "Japs." Yet they
quietly, and with great dignity, persevered to attain their
place in American society. Perhaps Ms. Malek would do well
to learn from other immigrants' experiences and take a
second look at the country that has been so kind to her.
"Beware Thy Neighbor?" vividly describes the reality of
growing up Middle Eastern in the United States. In the
aftermath of the Cold War, Islam and the Middle East became
the new national enemy at the cost of many Arab, Muslim, and
Iranian Americans. The reality of September 11th, a tragedy
that has affected all Americans alike, should draw our
attention to the root causes of such an attack--repressive
Arab governments and failed American policies.
Stereotyping, assumptions, and racial and cultural profiling
will only continue to add fuel to the fire burning in the
Middle East. We should refrain from attacking our own loyal
citizens and instead redirect our anger and policies to
those who are our real enemies.
Poor Ms. Malek! [Her] TV "hijacked" on September 11th, [she] found [herself] traumatized by "utterances" about terrorists, stigmatized as one of the "collectively guilty"?
I submit, first, it was political correctness ˆ outrance that helped turn perfectly legitimate immigration checks into a fatally flawed sieve. Next, with "PC"-mania rampant among so much of America's smugly self-righteous elite, [her] invoking of the World War II injustice visited upon Japanese Americans is ludicrously out of date. Noting, moreover, that September's 19 mass murderers were indeed both Arab and terrorist is as licit as it is relevant to the effort to ensure non-recurrence.
"Beware my neighbor?" Emphatically yes--if, of course, we're
talking here about a him/her (including some a scant few
miles from my home) fairly beaming with glee on September 11
and/or distributing celebratory candy and/or bursting into
euphoric ululation and/or dancing in the street. With
neighbors like that, let's face it, you have real enemies
within .... and no amount of guilt-tripping and inversely
racist Whitey-targeting can distract from that reality!
As a Johns Hopkins alum, I would like to congratulate you on including the recent piece by Alia Malek, "Beware Thy Neighbor?"
I believe the piece was a frank discussion of the difficult nexus that exists between despair and extremism. And it was a bold statement by Hopkins--a recognized leader in free thinking--to help present the author's arguments to the general public.
As a nation, we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the root causes of instability in the Middle East: Israel's continued denial of the Palestinians' inherent right to self-determination. Generations of people living in crushing poverty, hopelessness, and indignity have been neglected by the U.S. for far too long. The sooner our policy-makers recognize that it is in our national security interests to make sure all people are treated fairly, the sooner human civilization can proceed.
Thank you again for including this thoughtful piece. Johns
Hopkins University has once again proven that it will always
be a beacon for truth.
Alia Malek presents a view that is often maligned and
neglected in American media. Arab Americans and Arabs in
general are easily stereotyped as "terrorists" and viewed
with suspicion. It is during times of trial that a nation's
greatness is tested. America must strive not to fall into
the trap of easy assignment of blame against those who come
from a particular part of the world. Moreover, America needs
the support of the Arab world, including Arabs on its soil,
if it is truly to defeat those extremists who wish this
great nation harm.
I find your November 2001 issue a perfect example of the intellectual and moral rot that has come to infect academe-- and further proof (if any more is required) that anyone who gives a cent to a university is a fool.
On the one hand, you run a piece about "losses unbearable" resulting from the September 11 terrorist attacks. Simultaneously, however, you publish an essay from a self-styled Arab American civil rights lawyer rationalizing away those attacks.
Alia Malek bemoans the "5,000 Iraqi children who die monthly
under a sanction regime." Apparently Saddam Hussein--the
source of her 5,000 monthly figure--is simply a blameless
bystander. She bemoans "the refugee camps of Gaza." One
might ask why the Arab oil billionaires who have extorted
their unearned wealth from the civilized world have not done
more to assist the brothers they are so fond of shedding
crocodile tears over.
I would like to express my disappointment in the Johns Hopkins Magazine's editorial choice for the Ruminations section in the November 2001 issue.
Ms. Malek has taken for granted the liberties and opportunities the American society afforded her and her immigrant family only to turn around and take this tragic occasion to complain about her petty frustrations familiar to any immigrant. All this in the wake of thousands of people's funeral pyre set by Arab males whom she identifies with by choice in her article.
As a first generation immigrant who chose to come to this country, I enjoy daily the opportunities the American society has given me, for which I am very grateful.
I work in a building whose front windows look directly to
ground zero and I am reminded daily in many different ways
of the atrocity that Ms. Malek has only seen on TV. Down
here, we count our blessings daily. The petty and selfish
business of discrimination hardly enters our thoughts
nowadays because we have more important things to do here:
rebuild downtown, reconfigure our lives, and give thanks
that we are alive!
Thank God Alia Malek had the courage to share her life experience in her article "Beware Thy Neighbor?"
The mournful, joyful singing of "America the Beautiful" these last months expresses one truth about America--the liveliness, openness, diversity of much of our society. Its true beauty.
But it does not express another truth, just as true: the grotesque and terrifying face of an America--not individuals, but institutions--that toward many people in the world not only seems, but is, oppressive and destructive.
Many Americans know the beautiful face so deeply that they can only think the other way of seeing us is rooted in sheer evil: How else could anyone be filled with rage at America the beautiful?
The often devastating behavior of the American government and corporations abroad does not--God forbid! --justify terrorist attacks against America. Those who want to resist oppressive institutions have choices: They could choose the path of Gandhi, King, Solidarity in Poland. Choosing mass murder instead is unjustifiable.
But if we take the trouble to see our other face, it should instruct us that the struggle against terrorism has two aspects: not only bringing to justice the specific band of terrorists, but also transforming our own behavior so as to end the pools of despair and rage out of which terrorism sprouts.
Malek held the mirror up to the other face of America. I
hope we will not flinch from looking at it.
Thank you, thank you for Alia Malek's article on anti-Arab bias. As an Arab-American, I share her past experience and present fears. Even my 7-year-old son remarked, "We should lie and not tell people we are Arabs, so no one will hurt us." This is not about mere political correctness. Discrimination against law-abiding citizens undermines our democratic way of life.
Like Malek, I am holding my breath.
Malek finds it hard to understand why the terms "Muslim" and "terrorist" are often used interchangeably. Despite the overwhelming public and official pronouncements and agreement that these terrorists are representative of neither the Muslim religion nor the Arab people, the facts of recent history have promoted an unfortunate, but easily explained, blurring of the distinction.
The terrorist tragedies of our generation, from Iran to Lebanon to Somalia to Yemen to New York, have been the work of Middle Eastern fundamentalists. Most of the conflicts of the past decades (Kuwait, Kosovo, Chechnya, etc.) have involved similar radicals pitted, rightly or wrongly, against "the evil Satanic West."
Perhaps non-hyphenated Americans would be more compassionate if there were greater signs that the Arab world had unequivocally repudiated the terrorists and their tactics. Insisting that they will support us, but only if the United States will "fight fair" by killing only warriors or not attacking during Ramadan (the Yom Kippur war was also during Ramadan) seems disingenuous. Putting up a sign on a bombed building that reads (in English) "Baby Formula Factory" or hiding ammunition in a building marked with the Red Crescent is not "fighting fair."
When the oil-rich Arab nations use their wealth to build decent hospitals in Afghanistan--instead of blaming U.S. troops for "destroying" medical facilities, when they cry out against female genital mutilation and other abuses of women's rights in their midst, when they no longer expect American men and women to die defending their non-democratic way of life, and when they stop justifying mass murder as a holy cause, then the rest of us will see that the true followers of Islam are 100 percent behind us in our defense of the freedoms that we all share and value so highly. Only then will Malek no longer feel the need to defend her allegiance, even when no one is actually questioning it.
Finally, the mention of "American-made" weapons killing
civilians on the West Bank was a poorly veiled attack on
Israel, and failed to note that the "innocents" being killed
were often children forcibly sent to the front lines to
become martyrs, thus "hastening their entry to heaven."
Like it or not, ethnic profiling is justified in this
situation. We are dealing primarily with an organization
made up of tightly knit tribal units. Add to this the fact
that bin Laden uses "sleepers" to carry out his heinous
crimes. While I share Ms. Malek's disdain for those who view
the situation as a racial or religious one, Ms. Malek is not
immune to the "us vs. them" mentality, as she shows in her
comments implying U.S. responsibility for Israeli military
Before the administration and alumni become too proud of themselves for the care and sorrow they are showing for the deaths of Hopkins alumni who died on September 11, I would like to remind you about the Hopkins graduation I attended in June 1969.
I was a physician in the Air Force receiving my MPH. My military colleagues and I were required to wear our uniforms, which we did proudly. At the graduation many undergraduates wore black arm bands because of the Vietnam War. We were required to listen to a student give an anti-war speech, as if any of us wanted war. One student asked our military group if we were afraid to be at the graduation. We asked him in return, "Should we be afraid?" He turned around and walked off. This was my last memory of being at Hopkins.
I loved being at the School of Hygiene and Public Health. My
love of Hopkins and the faculty allowed me to overlook being
threatened at graduation. But I have often wondered if the
undergraduates still look down on military people and
threaten them at graduations.
I am delighted to see the love of orchids thriving at Homewood [ "Fulfilling Blooms," November 2001]. Surely Hopkins and Mark Robbins are the richer for the influence of these extraordinary flowers. I remember the many specimens that were raised in the '50s and '60s in the old campus greenhouse (near the President's House) by biology professor Robert Ballentine, my "doctor-father," now deceased.
Bob occasionally shared their beauty and care and culture with me and, thus, taught me far more than how to be just a good cell biologist! A unique treat for me was being able to afford a wedding present for him by taking care of those many orchids during his honeymoon.
Mark Robbins' fulfillment in his "real-world" hobby must
surely nourish his "simulation-world" of macroscopic
I enjoyed reading the account of Lee Miller's book on the
"Lost Colony" in
"Rethinking Roanoke" (November). Regarding
the colonists' motivation for leaving Roanoke Island, would
Ms. Miller care to comment on relatively recent widely
publicized evidence of a severe drought in the tidewater
area during this period? Some historians believe that lack
of drinking water may have lead to the colonists' leaving.
This was not discussed in the article.
John White, wrote that the colonists "intended to remove fifty miles further up into the maine." Miller wonders why the historian David Quinn and his successors maintain that the colonists' migration was north along the coast to the Chesapeake Bay, rather than "into the main[land]" as White says.
"Up North" and "down South" are embedded in modern American
English, and we tend to equate the vertical and north-south
axes in just this way. But this equivalence is an artifact
of modern cartographic conventions, and maybe also of our
mechanized travel that makes light of slopes. To the
colonists on Roanoke Island, a trip north along the coast
would have been neither "up" nor "down"; but as rivers run
down to the sea, inland is "up" from the coast, and has been
so called in English since at least the 10th century. And
the contemporary map reproduced with the article West at the
top, as confirmed by the compass rose ("OCCIDENS"). Perhaps
Quinn was unknowingly misled by our modern idiom into taking
Governor White's "up" as meaning "north" instead of the
direction he more likely meant, "inland."
One of the most overlooked aspects of marriage in America is
its roots in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition
Question, November 2001]. It is now and has always been
a covenant, which is why we say vows such as "for better or
worse," or "till death do us part" at the altar. Andrew
Cherlin presupposes the institution of marriage as motivated
primarily by people's pragmatism. He writes that marriage is
often "a bargain." In America now, where belief in a real
God who will judge our deeds is not all that popular,
marriage is an increasingly untenable position. If getting
married is really just a goal as Cherlin writes or a
favorable alignment of economic or sociological aspects at a
given point of time, then it is no wonder the institution is
in disarray. Goals and emotional needs change throughout
one's life. A covenant before God, as marriage has been
understood to be through our vows said in a church, is not
so easily broken. Given the breakdown of faith and attempts
to meet our own needs first, is it any wonder that marriages
are falling apart, if they are even attempted at all?
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