Following Tuesday's tragedy, there has been a rash of incidents across the country directed against Muslims and Arab-Americans. Other ethnic and religious groups have also been unfairly attacked by people who are too ignorant to know the difference. Indian-Americans and Sikhs, among others, are wary now of walking in public because their style of dress or the color of their skin makes them a target for harassment and violence.
Locally, a group of Arab-American women was spat upon at Tops International on Maple Road. Their crime, apparently, was that they wore scarves on their heads.
In response to the growing fear, the Muslim Student Association held a joint meeting with the Organization of Arab Students in a packed room in the Student Union last Friday. The forum discussed the reactions of the Muslim-American and Arab-American communities following Tuesday's disaster, and the subsequent backlash currently directed against them.
The panel discussion consisted of a five-member team of students with a range of Islamic and Middle-Eastern backgrounds, including Palestinian and Afghan. After every member of the panel condemned the attacks, they explained that the vast majority of Muslims and Arab-Americans are not terrorists and vehemently oppose violence.
A question-and-answer period followed addressing what individual students can do to combat ignorance and assist the plight of students who are discriminated against. The panel also attempted to dispel myths regarding the public perception of Muslims and Arabs.
It's probably safe to say that everyone has felt uneasy these past few days in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But it's unfortunate that some people have directed this insecurity against Muslim or Arab members of the community who are just as American as anyone else. People tend to forget that Muslims and Arab-Americans are counted among the victims in the World Trade Center blasts.
That is why last Friday's meeting is so important. The lines of communication must be opened to the public to prevent acts that serve only to divide the nation when unity is most desperately needed. The ignorant accusers believe those who do not look stereotypically "American" are the enemy. And those categorically accused are afraid to show their faces - even at the grocery store.
A day before the meeting, the OAS met under the protection of three Amherst police officers. The police discussed safety precautions to follow because, as one officer pointed out, "a lot of people are pissed off." Following the meeting, UB senior Amao Harb said, "I try to stay on campus as much as possible because I don't feel safe. I go to class, and then I go home."
Friday's meeting did a great job of allaying such fears. At the outset of the meeting, the atmosphere was markedly tense. Even though MSA announced it only a day before, many students participated in the forum. Through a well-prepared and thorough session of questions and answers, a dialogue was established that enabled people to walk out of the room with more confidence than when they entered.
There was also a notable non-Arab/Muslim presence at the meeting - an encouraging sign. When people condemn countries they can't even locate on a map, or beat up anyone who wears a turban these are sure signs that the public is in desperate need of education.
Multicultural talks on campus also promote diversity. These discussions are effective at bringing people of different backgrounds to sit and discuss issues in one room together. It's certainly a better reflection of the American scene, than allowing ethnic, racial, and religious discrimination to persist under an atmosphere of fear and hate.
Division and fear only play into the hands of the terrorists who tried to sever American unity on Tuesday. Not a single act of discrimination should be tolerated, no matter if the action is a verbal slur, or a physical assault. Otherwise, the people of this nation, who have suffered so much already, are defeated in the end.