Now, more than ever, we must discriminate – but how do we do that?

By Debra LoGuercio

©Copyright 2001, 2002,  Debra Lo Guercio, all rights reserved

With Muslims and Arabs facing retaliation throughout the country for the terrorist acts of Sept. 11, we hear shouts of "don't hate, don't discriminate." I disagree. Now, more than ever, we must hate. And we absolutely must discriminate.

Hate is a valid and vivid color on the palette of human emotion. It has its place. Properly channeled, it can be empowering and motivating. Hatred emboldens you to protect the people you love. How hate is channeled is the issue. You can love just one person and no one else. You can channel love exclusively. Likewise, you can also channel hate. Right now, the ONLY direction to channel hatred is at terrorists. Period. And it's more than justified.

Muslims suffering backlash in the United States are not the targets of discrimination. Quite the opposite. They are suffering because of the inability of your average racist lunkhead to discriminate between a terrorist and a Muslim, or worse yet, someone who looks like one.

Because your average racist has roughly the same intellectual capacity as a dung beetle, I'll put this in very simple terms for those who struggle with anything more abstract than "See Spot run." Pay attention now: all carrots are vegetables; all vegetables are not carrots. All beagles are dogs; all dogs are not beagles. All up trucks are automobiles; all automobiles are not up trucks. Now, knit those brows together concentrate really hard: All terrorists who follow Bin Laden are Muslim; all Muslims are not terrorists who follow Bin Laden.

Reserve your hatred for terrorists. Discriminate.

Having said that, I must now spin the issue in the opposite direction. Every Muslim is not our enemy. But is every Muslim our friend? If you believe every Muslim in this country is pure and innocent, you are as stupid as those who believe every Muslim is evil. You are just as guilty of black and white thinking as the most hardened racist. Think in tones of gray, not black and white. I know it takes effort. Do it anyway.

Case in point: "Mohamed the American." In the Sept. 21 San Francisco Chronicle is the story of an "average" Egyptian immigrant living in the Silicon Valley, married to an American woman, socializing with American friends, living in an average duplex in an average neighborhood. Everyone who knew him, particularly his own wife, was shocked upon his 1998 arrest to discover that he lived a dual life, reporting to bin Laden himself. Among the notches on his belt were helping to plan the bombings of two U.S. embassies, as well as plans to assassinate American ambassadors and to kill "United States civilians anywhere in the world."

Just another "guy next door."

If you think terrorists are not among us right now, yank off the rose-colored glasses, Pollyanna. This is not fantasy. It's reality. You can't deal with reality until you're willing to face it. And whether you like it or not, reality is facing us.

Where, oh where, does that leave us. All Muslims are not terrorists. We cannot assume guilt. To do so is ignorant. But some Muslims, albeit relatively few, are terrorists. We cannot assume innocence either. To do so would be naive. How can we tell them apart? They don't walk around with "Terrorists R Us" badges on their shirts. They blend in. How do we discriminate?

The short answer is "we can't." Not because we are hateful, not because we are racist, but because the enemy is so clever, so invisible, that he can hide under our noses. But that doesn't give us the right to hate indiscriminately, let alone lash out. So how do we treat Muslims in this country? With kindness, courtesy and respect, that's how. Let not one hair be harmed on a single Muslim head. Let not one word of violence be reported to bin followers, who will use it to fan the fire of anti-American sentiment.

One of my most cherished values is honesty, no matter how raw or harsh it may be. In complete honesty, I cannot trust all Muslims and Arabs right now. I don't worry much about Muslim or Arab women or children. They aren't the terrorists. But the men. How do I honestly feel right now about Muslim and Arab men? The same as I do when walking alone on a dark street at night past a man. I don't hate. But I don't trust either. I feel cool, wary, vigilance. I don't know if he will assault me or simply pass by. Therefore, I'll watch his every move and react if I have to. I offer neither trust nor animosity. Leave me alone and I'll return the favor.

Given the dual reality that most Muslims are not terrorists but a few of them are, here's a rational approach – be like a vigilant person on a dark street. Do not provoke. Be observant. Be neutral. If you see something suspicious, don't take the law into your own hands. Report it to the police, the FBI or the CIA. It is a civilian's job to be the eyes and ears for her or his country, not the trigger finger. Let our armed forces fight the enemy. It's not your job.

Do discriminate. Reserve your hatred for terrorists, exclusively. But do not act on it. Let our armed forces do that for you. Support them in their efforts to protect us. That is the best way civilians can fight back. Treat Muslims and Arabs as you wish to be treated. Greet them a handshake. The handshake is not simply a greeting. Its was meant to show that your weapon hand is empty – you are not an enemy. A returned handshake should mean the same. Only time will tell if it does.