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Bush's Rhetoric Fuels Violence, Critics Charge
Published on Wednesday, September 19, 2001 in the Toronto Star
Bush's Rhetoric Fuels Violence, Critics Charge
Influence of `War Drum' Words Feared
by William Walker
 
WASHINGTON - ``Acts of war,'' ``acts of terror,'' ``we're at war,'' ``hunt down and smoke out,'' ``wanted dead or alive,'' ``evil-doers,'' ``mass murderers'' and ``barbarians'' who ``slit'' women's throats.

If the war against terrorism was fought with rhetoric, U.S. President George W. Bush may have won it by now.

But a full week after the horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin-towers and the Pentagon, the war hasn't begun. No bombs have been dropped. The U.S. government is still crafting a coalition of nations to help it fight.

Americans, polls show, have gone from shock to emotion to a white-hot fury. Some have now taken it upon themselves to launch an ugly race-based war on the home front.

That has led observers to wonder whether Bush's overheated rhetoric is backfiring against Arabs and Muslims, not just in America, but in Canada and Britain as well.

``It's quite unfortunate to see the president's heightened rhetoric and the use of the word `crusade,' for example, which has a very negative connotation to it,'' said Shaker El Sayed, executive director of the Muslim American Society and Islamic Circle of North America.

``You listen to (Defence Secretary) Donald Rumseld, (Secretary of State) Colin Powell and the president and they're all beating the war drums. This is hurting our community,'' he told The Star, shortly after meeting House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt yesterday to express his concern.

Bush told reporters on Sunday: ``This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while.''

Yesterday, Bush said he regretted using the word ``crusade,'' with all its historical connotations of religious war, to describe his campaign against terrorists.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush only meant to say that his is a ``broad cause'' to stamp out terrorism worldwide.

At least two murders in the United States are believed to be racially motivated by hatred toward Muslim and Arab Americans.

The FBI is also investigating 40 hate crimes - those are the cases it knows about.

Muslim community leaders here say there have been hundreds of attacks:

  • In Dallas, Tex., Bush's home state, Waqar Hassan Choudry was shot dead in an apparent revenge attack. Three mosques in Dallas have also been hit with either gunfire or firebombs.

  • In Mesa, Ariz., a man was charged with murder and attempted murder when he drove by and fired shots into a gas station and a house. Shot dead was gas station attendant Balbir Singh Sodhaid, who was said to resemble the ``prime'' terrorist suspect in the attack, Osama bin Laden.

    Sodhaid was actually Sikh. Many Sikhs are also being targeted. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee questioned Bush during a telephone call last Sunday about the U.S. violence.

  • In Hamilton, Ont., a Hindu temple was fire-bombed and there was violence at a mosque.

  • Outside London, England, a racially motivated attack has left an Afghan cab driver, 28, paralyzed from the neck down. Another Muslim woman was attacked in London by two youths as she walked home.

    Across America, there are reports that many Muslims have been taunted on university campuses, that some Muslim women have had their veils ripped off.

    Many Muslim women are afraid to leave their homes to buy groceries for their families.

    Council on American-Islamic Relations head Nihad Awad wants Washington to prosecute the perpetrators of revenge attacks to the fullest.

    ``It's un-American to indict 7 million Muslim Americans because of their religion,'' he said. ``Many are being singled out because of the way they look, the way they dress and the way they talk.''

    The revenge attacks are even more tragic because Arab and Muslim Americans have been as victimized as anyone else.

    Near Ground Zero in New York, Saleem and Talat Hamdani wept as they kissed a photo of their 23-year-old son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, known as Sal, who is missing and presumed dead in the World Trade Center rubble.

    Still, few are willing to criticize Bush for the tone of his comments, even if it appears they may have contributed to inflaming a radical element in American society.

    Copyright 1996-2001. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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