By the sound of things, the terrorist attacks of early September are demonstrating that the world is smaller than we liked to believe—in more ways than one. On one hand, much of the civilized globe is rising to the notion that America was done wrong on Sept. 11. On the other hand, we’re getting glimpses of people with beliefs so scary that we don’t know what to make of them. And I’m not talking about the Taliban.
I’m talking about us.
Last week, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff threatened to file a discrimination suit against Northwest Airlines because three U.S. citizens were refused passage from Minneapolis to Salt Lake City on a Northwest jet. Using some hitherto unknown right, the passengers on that jet voted not to fly with their compatriots and the three were placed on a later flight on Delta. Granted, everyone—especially those in planes or high buildings—are on a heightened sensory alert regarding their safety. But to kick U.S. citizens off the plane?
We all know why it happened. They look like Arabs. No surprise there, they are Arab-Americans. The last time I looked, that isn’t against the law. You may have even seen their pictures in one of the papers or on the news. Scare ya? Well, it scares me, because one of the guys could pass as my brother or cousin. I’m not looking forward to having people look at my brown skin and black, curly hair and start pointing fingers thinking I’m a triggerman for some damned lunatic. Nah, don’t need that. In the early part of this century, Utah was also on heightened alert, taking square aim at immigrants like my grandparents and most of my friends’ grandparents. Few remember, but a whole bunch of Greeks, Italians, Slavs and members of other ethnic groups found bullets in Utah, not hospitality. Why? Because they were considered “unpatriotic foreigners” and they looked “swarthy” to boot. Good for me, because “swarthy” is in these days, at least when it comes to babes. And I’m here to say that because those immigrants fought back in places like Bingham Canyon, Carbon County and Ludlow, Colorado.
Curiously, do the names Sacco and Vanzetti mean anything to anyone anymore? Didn’t think so. In a nutshell, they were ground zero during an eight-year soul search during which American “patriots” labeled the foreign-born as unworthy of the American way of life. Sacco and Vanzetti were executed for a murder some still believe they did not commit. Now an Italian (Rudolph Giuliani) runs New York City, a Greek (George Tenet) heads the CIA, and a Slav (Mike Dmitrich) is a Utah State Senator. Who could have imagined? Well, their parents for starters. This is America after all, not—so far—La Verkinland.
Joe McCarthy? Some other time. The Japanese? Never forget! A black, Mexican--or Arab--president could be just around the corner.
What took place during the 1910s, 1920s, 1940s and 1950s should have taught us lessons for today. Didn’t happen. Mark Shurtleff did the right and proper thing. He upheld his constitutional duties. His reward? Hate mail from so-called American patriots. Go figure.