My name is Mohamad Ali Ozeir. My father’s name is Ali. My mother’s name is Khadija. My children’s names are Zena, Hassan, Jenan, Nadine and Sahar. I look like a typical Arab man: dark, Middle Eastern. However, I don’t feel I owe anyone an apology for the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. Most of all, I don’t feel the need to condemn this carnage as an Arab American of Islamic heritage.
As a matter of fact, as a journalist and an activist, I don’t understand the whole enterprise of apologizing and publically denouncing any crime based on ethnic or religious consideration. Because I felt as outraged by the San Bernardino attack, as I did by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in New Town, Connecticut in 2012, by the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina last June, and by the attack on the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, just a few days ago. And I felt equally related to these assaults as to what happened in San Bernardino.
I wonder why we do have a debate about naming the terrorist attacks committed by people of Islamic background. While I can understand the sensitivity shown by the Obama administration toward this point, it is difficult to comprehend the right wing Republican insistence on calling it Islamic Terrorism. What purpose does it serve, other than to slap a wide label on more than a billion people, most of whom don’t even subscribe to the religion, let alone to the politics of its fanatics?
I have some news for those eager to issue the label. Yes, some Muslims are planning and striving to target Americans. Even more would be happy to see such an attack take place on American soil. And many more not only wish to see it happen, but are ready to justify it – in this category, being Muslim is not a requirement. But these are not ALL Muslims, and they’re NOT the majority. They’re not even in the mainstream, and some would argue that they have more to do with American and Western support, training, and alliance throughout the years, than with Arabic or Islamic political influence or agendas. And it is worthwhile to note that Arab and Muslim victims of their violence outnumber all others combined, many thousand times over.
Having said that, what does it matter? For the hate speech peddlers, especially on radio talk shows, and for the participants in the “Silly Season” called the Republican Primary, it is a ploy. It is a tool for energizing the base and motivating the supporters. It is an old political tradition, going back as far as 1798 when the Federalist Congress passed the Naturalization Act. Back then the subject of hate was the French, and since then this country has gone down the same road more than a few times. Arabs and Muslims are the latest arrivals to the labeling circle. So what? The US has proven itself capable of taking care of its own history.
Maybe David Bowers, the Democratic mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, who cited President F. D. Roosevelt in touting the idea of internment camps, didn’t learn his history well enough to know that this country considers the decision to confine Japanese Americans during World War II to be one of America’s most shameful acts. I know this, I am not afraid for my well-being, and I refuse to be boxed in fear or artificial guilt.
The one thing that I do fear is becoming a victim of a shooting, either in a mass incident or single attack. Because with all that’s going on, the stares in public places, the never-missed “random” checks in airports, the “smart” comments and camouflaged jokes, the endless profiling- with all this heavy, discriminatory scrutiny, I find it profoundly disturbing that one right of mine remains untouched, with ironclad protection. As an Arab American of Islamic heritage, I can buy as many guns, military gear, and ammunitions as I please. Isn’t it strange?