I work for a woman who happens to be Palestinian. She came to America years ago and is even a Portland State University alumna. Our office discussions tend toward work-related things and Ferragamo pumps. We seldom talk of politics. Usually we talk about the way the American news media portrays Middle Eastern people.
Recently, my employer decided to fly a Palestinian flag out of her office window. This is because she is not afraid to be Palestinian and American at the same time.
This didn’t sit well with a certain Portland citizen. The office staff knew the flag would cause problems, but America is a free country with a First Amendment in its Constitution that allows the freedom of speech. The flag was hurting no one, but this man felt compelled to find our office.
Granted, this gentleman was perhaps not all-together right in the head. Perhaps the events of Sept. 11 whipped him into such a patriotic frenzy that he still has not recovered. What his motivation is, I am not sure. All I know is, he came into our office with his “Remember 9/11” shirt on and began to scream at us.
He said by flying a Palestinian flag, we were “supporting terrorism.” He was abusive to us, assuming all of us wanted war on Israel and America. It never once occurred to him that perhaps it was a wish for peace.
We asked him to leave, because his presence was rather threatening. No one expects to be accused of terrorism early on a Monday morning. He refused and demanded we call the police so he could “expose us for who we are.”
He left, finally, and we called the police. The woman who answered our 911 call was clearly disgusted by the man’s actions. The police were less sympathetic. The first thing out of the cop’s mouth after we told our story was, “Well, do you support terrorism?” Actually, I support the hiring of police persons with college degrees, which clearly he lacked. My boss said, “We support peace.” We gave a description and the policemen didn’t even take notes. I think we’d interrupted a very important doughnut break. It’s cops like that who make good people hate the authorities.
The scariest thing about the whole incident was, no matter how mentally ill the man was, he thought by virtue of being Palestinian, my boss condones terrorism. What she wants is peace, because no one likes seeing their homeland torn apart by strife. And she never talks about who she thinks is to blame for any of the Middle Eastern conflagrations. She’s only mentioned peace.
I’m sure she’s not the only Middle Eastern person in Portland who has experienced the ugliness of a few individuals who are too arrogant to understand that part of the beauty of being an American is being able to come to this country and work toward the American Dream, whatever that means. Most assuredly, the ancestry of the man who stormed into our office was European in origin. Few of us have Native American ancestors.
Even on the news, Middle Easterners are portrayed as glowering, robed bombers of planes. To be sure, there are some bad people in the world, and some of them are from the Middle East. But, there are bad Americans too, and if we don’t constantly keep an eye on what the authorities are doing and to whom, we’ll be no better than we were when Joe McCarthy had full reign of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
You see, it’s easy to blame someone who looks different. Americans are scared because we’ve lulled ourselves into a false sense of security by thinking these sorts of things couldn’t happen to us. Now, we’re taking it out on people who are just trying to live their lives.
I sincerely hope the people who the “Joint Terrorism Task Force” picked up this month truly get due process, as they deserve. Because even if they don’t like America very much, they still get to benefit from what is meant to be a fair system. I also hope those in authority calm down and look at what they’re doing, instead of getting excited because John Ashcroft patted them on the head for doing a “good job.” For better or worse, these people are American and deserve the kind of treatment the Founding Fathers had in mind for us all.