Last night I was invited to spend some time and meet some good people at the Arab American Institute Foundation’s annual dinner—the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Awards. The invite came, I think, because I spent so much time covering Chuck Hagel’s confirmation to Defense, and wasn’t sure why every association Hagel might have had with an “Arab” group became a cause for red-alert panic. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash was there, as was outgoing Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, as were Congress’s only two Muslim members, Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison and Indiana Rep. André Carson. (Both are African-American, not Arab-American.)
In conversation, before dinner, I noticed something of a pattern. When I met someone whose work dipped into politics or security, I’d bring up Boston, and I’d hear “this is between us” or “off the record.” Even after an opening moment of silence for those hurt in “Boston, as well as in the Middle East,” Arab-Americans and Arabs visiting from the Middle East were careful not to talk about a worry that the culprit in Boston might turn out to look like them.
Lucky enough, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour said it for them. She was there to accept the first Anthony Shadid award for journalism (other awards went to Ralph Nader and Casey Kasem), and she promised that her remarks would honor him, but started with the “elephant in the room.” That would be the Boston Marathon bombing.
“How many of us feel this burden of association and hope beyond hope that this doesn’t turn out to be what it might be?” said Amanpour. “No conclusions yet.” She read from a New York Times essay published that day by Haider Javed Warraich, a medical resident in Boston who fretted that he didn’t run into the action because “I look like Hollywood’s favorite post-cold-war movie villain.” (He had a point. The infamous “Saudi National,” who was briefly fingered by the New York Post as a terror suspect, appears to have been a student running from the chaos like everybody else.)
“There are no conclusions,” said Amanpour. “Is it international? Is it domestic? But like all of you—I’m not Pakistani, and I’m not Arab, but I am part Iranian. And I do understand the burden of association. And I know when we know who did this, we will all unite in strong condemnation.”