By Leo Frade
Freedom Fries–do you remember them? It was only eight years ago when two “patriotic” representatives from Ohio and North Carolina declared that all references to the French fries and French toast on the menus of the restaurants and snack bars run by the Hose of Representatives would remove any reference to the French.
This action by Congressman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio), who was in charge of oversight restaurant operations for the chamber, and Robert B. Jones (R-North Carolina), never came up for a vote in Congress, but received plenty of publicity. It was intended to express displeasure with France’s “continued refusal to stand with the U.S. allies”–in other words, for refusing to go to war against Iraq due to doubts about the validity of claims of weapons of mass destruction.
The French Embassy in Washington, D.C, made no comment beyond pointing out that what we call “French fries” come from Belgium. Nathalie Loisau, an embassy spokeswoman said: “We are at a very serious moment dealing with very serious issues, and we are not focusing on the name you give to potatoes.”
As we come to the end of a decade since September 11, 2001, I want to remind everyone to take a moment to consider first the sacrifice of our Armed Forces around the world in responding to the treachery of the fanatical attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
It didn’t take long to realize that Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban were in cahoots with each other in Afghanistan, so we proceeded to respond to their destructive challenge. Unfortunately for us, we lost our focus and decided to look elsewhere for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and before we knew it, we were involved in war there, weakening our efforts in Afghanistan. The end result we now know: There were no weapons of mass destruction, and the cost of our Iraq intervention was thousands of lives lost, as well as the expansion of the influence of Iran in that area, to the detriment of our security and that of all the moderate regimes of the Middle East.
In May 2005 Rep. Jones, having arrived at the belief that the United States went to war “with no justification,” said of the “Freedom Fries” episode, “I wish it had never happened.” By July 2006, the House of Representatives had quietly changed the name of the two foods in all of its restaurants back to “French fries” and “French toast.”
Unfortunately the backlash of hate after September 11, 2001 went much further than changing the names of a couple of our favorite foods. There were victims who didn’t die due to the hatred of the terrorists, but due to the hatred of so-called “patriotic Americans.” No attention, no funding and no public support has been given to these victims, who were killed because they were either Arab or Muslim or simply looked like “Middle Eastern types. “
One of them was Baldir Singh Soldin, a Sikh from India who was gunned down on Sept. 15, 2001 in Mesa, Ariz.–the same state that is passing anti-immigrant laws that could persecute minorities.
The Arizona killer of the “turban-wearing Sikh” killed him outside his gas station. His killer spent hours before the murder in a bar, bragging of his intention to “kill the ragheads” responsible for September 11, 2001.
Waqar Hasan of Dallas, Texas, was also killed the same day. He was a 46 year old from Pakistan, murdered in the convenience store he owned by a fellow Texan named Mark Stroman. Stroman was also convicted of murdering another “Arab-looking” person in nearby Mesquite, Texas, and admitted to authorities that he had injured a third victim, a Bangladeshi, between the two murders. He bragged that, “I did what every American wanted to do after September 11, but didn’t have the nerve.”
Stroman was executed last month for the murders. It is interesting to note that even on the day of the execution the only surviving victim, Rais Bhuiyan, who was blinded in one eye by Stroman’s attack on him, continued to plead for his attacker’s life to be spared, saying that his Muslim faith required him to forgive.
Then we have Adel Karas, 48, a grocer from Egypt who happened to be a Coptic Christian, killed on September 15 in San Gabriel, California.
I could go on and on with these sad and violent examples of our hate and overreaction against those who are our neighbors–often our fellow citizens of this country–but simply don’t look exactly like us. Suffice it to say that according to the Human Rights Watch, assault and vandalism against Arab Muslim and Christian Americans have increased by 1,700 percent in the past ten years.
How will you respond as we approach the tenth anniversary of that fateful and murderous day, September 11, 2001?
I call you first of all to pray for our troops around the world who risk and sacrifice to defend our freedom against those who would destroy us. But I also call on you to remember that our freedom is equally threatened when we forget that this nation was founded with the astonishing provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—that from the beginning we intended to be different from regimes past and present that dictate to their citizens what to believe and how to pray.
Perhaps it seems unfair to us that Muslims can have in this country the freedom to practice their faith that we, as Christians, would not be allowed in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia or the newly formed nation of North Sudan; but we are called as Americans to preserve our commitment to a freedom that includes the right to worship and pray to God as we understand the Deity to be, to practice any religion—or none.
We dishonor both this commitment to liberty and our call as Christians to love our neighbor when we fan the flames of hatred and fear with asinine ideas like banning mosques from our communities, or outlawing the practice of the Muslim code of Sharia law.
As a Christian I rejoice to proclaim the Good News that our Lord Christ loves and cares for all humanity, and that he will indeed draw the whole world to himself. But as an American I am also proud to say that America belongs to all who swear allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”
This unity, my dearly beloved—this welcome for all who love liberty–is our weapon of mass destruction against all hatred and dictatorships that may threaten our country and “this fragile earth, our island home.”
The Rt. Rev. Leo Frade is Bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida.