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the Enemy Fear
organize to raise awareness of hate crimes. By Sandeep Acharya and
flag should never be waved in fear.
in businesses and homes across the nation, Arab, Muslim, and South Asian
Americans have had to do just that. In order to protect themselves. In
order to prove their loyalty. In order to show that they are American.
Balbir Sodhi should have been wearing the American flag when he was shot
and killed in Arizona. Maybe the mosques and temples across the nation
that are facing threats and destruction should prominently display the
Red, White, and Blue. But shouldnt the existence of these different
people and institutions be tribute enough to a nation whose greatest asset
is its freedom of religion and its diversity?
it be enough that we have to mourn attacks made on our motherland, without
also having to fear retribution from our brothers? And if the terrorists
wanted to take the heart of America, then havent we helped them succeed
by turning against each other?
were just some of the questions that we wanted to ask the people who have
committed hate crimes. But living in the bubble known as the University
of Pennsylvania was, as is often the case, a mixed blessing. On one hand,
we have not really been afraid of being attacked or harassed. On the other
hand, it put us in a helpless position by distancing us from the events
that have been occurring.
I found out on Monday, September 17, that a temple 15 minutes away from
my home in New Jersey was firebombed the previous Thursday, I (Sandeep)
felt helpless and upset. But more than that, I felt afraid for my parents,
who were staying at a temple near Allentown, Pennsylvania, for two weeks
to study Hindu scriptures. Certain members of the local community did
not appreciate the temples presence. I asked myself, What if they decide
to take matters into their own hands?
what stunned us more than anything was how little media attention the
attacks were receiving. We completely understood that the media was quite
busy covering the events of the tragedy on September 11. We were grateful
that President Bush visited a mosque to show his support, and that the
House passed a resolution condemning hate crimes. But what if hate crimes
kept occurring and the public was not made aware of them?
felt that we needed to make sure that the local and national media gave
at least some coverage to the hate crimes and the opinions of the affected
communities, if not to appeal to the people who committed the hate crimes,
then to the general public. If coverage could not stop hate crimes directly,
it could at least control them by raising a public outcry.
temple-bombing incident on Monday night really propelled us into action.
That night we contacted leaders from groups around campus such as Penn
Arabs, Muslim Students Association, South Asia Society, the American Civil
Liberties Union, and the United Minorities Council, asking them to attend
a meeting on Tuesday night. The goal was to get support from all affected
groups, not just one, because this would strengthen the effort. We expected
about 20 people at the meeting, but over 40 attended. This was the first
encouraging sign. The plan was to recruit around 80 to 100 volunteers
to encourage local media and politicians to speak out about the recent
rise in hate crimes. We recruited student leaders from various groups
on Tuesday night. The meeting at which we had planned to organize volunteers
was set for the next day.
under enormous time constraints, people around campus responded admirably.
The administration allowed us to use College Green on less than a days
notice, and even provided sound. The Daily Pennsylvanian helped
bring attention to our efforts by printing up word of the meeting in Wednesdays
paper. Finally, the people at the first meeting did a good job telling
people about the second meeting: while we only expected about 80 volunteers,
we ended up with about 130.
the end, it was tough to get a good idea of how much we did and did not
accomplish. Although the media has been responsive to our calls, it is
tough to tell whether we really encouraged them to report more about hate
crimes on a local level. We are trying to work with local political and
religious leaders to organize an interfaith meeting as a means of responding
to the backlash.
the most successful aspect of the whole effort was how responsive Penn
was to it. We werent working as any sort of student group or organization,
yet when we needed help, faculty, administrative, and student resources
were made available to us immediately. As much as we ourselves have complained
about Penn in the past, our contact with other schools has proven that
it hasnt been so easy to do the same thing elsewhere. As divided as Penn
can be both ethnically and scholastically, everyone really came together
these last few weeks, in these and other matters.
far as the future for minorities is concerned, one thing has been made
clear. The beauty of America is that all citizens have a voice in society
and politics. The best way Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans can
contribute to society and protect themselves in the future is to exercise
this voice. Certainly, this would be a much better way to honor America
than flying a flag out of fear.
Acharya is a junior majoring in computer science and finance and management
from Ocean, NJ. Vivek Arora is a junior majoring in politics, philosophy,
and economics (PPE) and history from Huntsville, Alabama.
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Copyright 2001 The Pennsylvania
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