After McVeigh Execution, It's Time for an Apology

Category: World Affairs Topics: Oklahoma, Terrorism, Timothy Mcveigh Views: 712

Six years ago on April 19, 1995 at 9:02 AM, a truck filled with explosives made from farming materials, exploded in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City.

The bomb was placed there by Timothy McVeigh. It ripped the guts out of the eight story government building, burning the image of a smoldering heap of rubble in the minds of every American who followed the events in the news media. The explosion, the worst act of terrorism in the history of this country, took the lives of 168 people, including 19 children, and injured 500 more.


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But Americans don't want to remember that on April 19, 1995, the first targets of American anger were Arab Americans.

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This week, on June 11, McVeigh was put to death by "lethal injection" after being convicted of the bombing in 1997 and sentenced to death by the US Judicial system.

In the six years since the bombing, the people of Oklahoma have built a "memorial" to the victims. McVeigh spent the time refusing to repent. He went to his grave defiant, quoting the dark passages of a poem titled "Invictus." "Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, my head is bloody but unbowed."

Everyone had their moment of justice, in their own way. The nation which was "shocked" by the worst incident of terrorism in this country; the people of Oklahoma City, relatives and friends of the victims, the US Government, which was the intended target of McVeigh's rage, and even McVeigh who put his cause on the front pages of every American media source.

However one group was left out of this "healing" process. Arab Americans.

But Americans don't want to remember that on April 19, 1995, the first targets of American anger were Arab Americans.

We were brutalized in the news media and on talk radio programs. American officials described the attack as a "strike against the American heartland." And they pointed a steady finger at Arab "terrorist" suspects.

They referred to these suspects in the media frequently, almost as an after-thought, as the country agonized and explored every aspect of the suspected Middle East "conspiracy".

The sinister figure initially blamed by the media and the US Government was "the infamous olive skinned man," Middle Eastern, Arab.

The country discovered many days later by accident that McVeigh was the primary suspect. They didn't discover him by applying the sophisticated methods of "profiling", in which people with black hair, brown eyes, Arab World origin and olive skin yanked embarrassingly from airport terminals by security and given the third degree.

It was by accident that McVeigh was apprehended.  Seemingly, with all the anti-Arab hysteria, it was the only sure method of learning the truth. Ninety minutes after the explosion, McVeigh was pulled over by an Oklahoma State Trooper for driving without a license plate, and was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

The next day, sketches of two suspects were released by the FBI, including one of a generic looking Arab. 

On April 21, two days later, McVeigh is finally recognized as "one" of the suspects and the hunt continued for the "Arab" accomplice.

The "Arab" suspect slowly drifted into the horizon of American bigotry, racism and hatred. Terry Nichols, a second accomplice, another American, replaced the "Arab" suspect and was eventually convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.

McVeigh is a reminder that American Democracy and this country's sense of right and wrong is flawed. He was trained by the U.S. Army, a decorated Army veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Americans don't like to be reminded of this, or of the fact that Iraq's Saddam Hussein was also trained by the American military when they needed his brutality to put down the Iranians.

Had McVeigh killed 168 Iraqis, he would have been handed a medal of honor, because in the court of American justice, it is all right to kill Arabs.

It is all right to continue a vicious embargo against Iraq more than a decade after the war, an embargo that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi babies. It is an irony in that the 19 American children and babies who died in the daycare center at the Murrah building have become the symbol of the gut-retching rage of the American public against McVeigh, who called these young victims "collateral damage".

Yet when Americans hear the same terms used to describe innocent Palestinians killed in confrontations with Israeli soldiers outfitted with American-made weaponry, they don't seem bothered at all. "Collateral damage", "collective punishment". These are terms of a racist hypocrisy that are wrong when used against Americans and acceptable when used against Arabs.

For most Americans, McVeigh's death brings to closure a horrific chapter in this nation's history.

For me, however, an American-born Palestinian and Vietnam Era Veteran, the chapter is still wide open.

It will not close until Americans accept their role in the killings of my people in Palestine and the underlying current of racial hatred that feeds a continuing stream of hypocrisy.

Someone must apologize to Arab Americans too.

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Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American author living in Chicago. You can visit his web site at hanania.com.


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