Browse Topics

Services

Programs

America Can Improve Itself
An essay by NPR's Scott Simon

audio Listen to Simon's essay.

NPR's Scott Simon
Scott Simon

Oct. 27, 2001 -- American postal workers might have pledged to make their rounds through rain, snow, sleet and dark of night -- but not anthrax, smallpox and sarin gas.

This week, postal union officials have been outspoken in pointing out the difference in consideration that congressional employees received when spores of anthrax were spotted in their workplace, and the now regretted reassurance postal workers got that their chances of being infected were small.

The way in which unions have stepped up to represent their members might remind us of why unions were invented. New technologies of the industrial age were injuring the people who worked in plants, mills, mines and factories. Coal mines collapsed on workers, steel furnaces exploded under those who stoked them. Children were latched into assembly lines. Owners were often reluctant to make the kind of changes to save lives that might have cost them money, so workers organized to save themselves. Nobody else would.

"To let American Muslims live their lives unafflicted by suspicion and fear still requires daily vigilance, but the way in which officials and citizens have risen to the challenge of respecting the rights of people who have been targeted for bigotry may remind us, America can improve itself. "

Scott Simon

Today unions are derided and mocked by many Americans for resisting modern technology and insisting on insupportable pay raises. This week, the postal officials fighting for their members' lives might remind us of why unions are essential in a democracy.

And there is, perhaps, an encouraging sign this week. Omaran Abdeen, an imam at the Islamic Center of San Diego, took a commercial flight and says he was surprised nothing happened. He was treated courteously by all the passengers, crew and security personnel. “I was expecting to be singled out or to be harassed because of my name and how I looked,” Imam Abdeen told The Washington Post. “But I had no problem whatsoever.”

Of course, he shouldn't have had a problem -- no American should. But Mr. Abdeen's experience may reflect a finding this week that federal and local agencies say acts of hate and harassment against American Muslims, which killed six people across the United States after September 11th, seemed to be receding.

It would probably be naive to believe that hate has abated, but perhaps the drop in crimes can't be dismissed as mere coincidence. Over the past month, officials in New York, New Jersey, California, Illinois and Michigan and other states have increased police patrols around mosques. Synagogues and churches have reached out to their Muslim neighbors. President Bush has met with Muslim leaders and visited an Islamic center to say, “This is part of America, too.”

To let American Muslims live their lives unafflicted by suspicion and fear still requires daily vigilance, but the way in which officials and citizens have risen to the challenge of respecting the rights of people who have been targeted for bigotry may remind us, America can improve itself.

Scott Simon is host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.