Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2002 / 14 Tishrei, 5763

Lewis A. Fein

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What they owe us: The Arab-American response


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- What do we, as Americans, owe our fellow Arab citizens? Legal protection and civil behavior? Absolutely. Freedom from fear and liberty of action? Unquestionably. But Arab-Americans, especially prominent celebrities within this community, also owe their legal brethren - Jews and Christians, agnostics and atheists; all individuals guarded by the Constitution's words and defended by the military's arms - something more, something better: They owe us the public, forceful, undeniable, permanent *condemnation* of those regimes responsible for, or supportive of, the hatred that kills all free peoples -- wherever the enslaved seek emancipation, and whenever the despotic choose to destroy the innocent.

Is such a simple request - that, between advising Americans about respect, diversity of opinion, religious freedom and racial tolerance, these same individuals denounce Islamic terror - inherently unreasonable? Is there a precedent, is there a reason for particularly ethnic celebrities to condemn evil -- especially when such evil, by nothing more than terrible coincidence, bears an Arab signature? If the answer is an emphatic "no," a moral reordering whereby the Congress (or White House or Supreme Court) is merely a printing press for privacy rights and national indifference, then Arab-Americans deserve our pity - the law's enforcement, yes - but our expressed pity. For only the ignorant can overlook what previous ethnic celebrities have done to defeat the forces of barbarism and totalitarianism.

Take, for instance, the great Marlene Dietrich. She is the moral light for all freedom-loving people, the exemplar within and beyond Hollywood. Dietrich is the most famous German woman to have denounced Hitler, to have denied his every request to honor the Fatherland's wishes and the Volk's aspirations; to have publicly condemned the Third Reich's repellent anti-Semitism, its protracted darkness and perverted science. And, lest anyone dismiss her bravery as an attractive starlet's luxury (remember: the world is full of anonymous but pretty women), Dietrich's legacy is clear: She renounced her German citizenship, and she redefined herself as an American -- legally, nationally, politically, symbolically.

Sadly, Marlene Dietrich is dead. She has no Arab-American counterpart, traveling to dangerous places for honorable purposes. Traveling to entertain and inspire American troops, reassuring them that - should they fall before the tyrant's bullet or the Taliban's fire - someone - this face of beauty, power, wealth and fame - will always remember their smile. She has no successor because she has no Arab-American supporters, and she has no supporters because, among the most prominent beneficiaries of American charity and protection, there is no moral demand for a successor.

The only demand is for reflexive tolerance, divorced from reason and devoid of context. A political ransom note, a categorical demand for unquestioned autonomy and collective goodwill . . . in exchange for what? Silence when another Islamic terrorist strikes? When another fanatic detonates another car or building? When Saddam Hussein writes another check for a successful murder plot?

No, all Americans deserve something more, something better. They deserve the reassurance that decorum is not a synonym for denial, for the refusal to condemn evil among polite company. They deserve bravery and citizenship, courage and decency. They deserve support from all quarters, of all races and all religions. They deserve support from Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus. They deserve freedom and protection, man's unalienable rights. They deserve justice.



JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles.Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Lewis A. Fein