Tag Archives: racism

Myth of the Cold Trail: All-American Terrorists

Less than 72 hours after two bombs went off in Boston, killing three and wounding hundreds, Human Events (a conservative newspaper) has already begun to lament the cold trail left behind by the perpetrators. President Obama briefly addressed the media and, at first, refrained from using the words “terror” or “terrorism”. Janet Napolitino has claimed there is no “broader plot” involved in these bombings. These three developments more than anything lead me personally to believe that these bombings were domestic in nature, probably spawned out of the same sort of nativist, racist movements that inspired Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph.

Immediately after the bombings, the New York Post zeroed in on what it labelled a “suspect” – a Saudi man in a hospital who was caught running away from the  carnage. Once he was no longer a “person of interest”, the trail goes cold.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that the US Department of Homeland Security gutted its domestic terrorism office after a 2009 report on right-wing terror was leaked, causing political backlash.

What ultimately happened?
Napolitano eventually told Congress that DHS was going to remove the report from its websites. Some of the people in the media assumed they were recalling the report. That never happened. There is actually a formal process involved when you want to rescind a report. The only reason you do so is if there was something erroneous in the document.[…]

Is it off the DHS website today?
Yes. It was removed from various law enforcement computer systems, and classified systems too. […]

What happened to your DHS unit?
[…]Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Analysts then began leaving DHS. One analyst went to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], another to the FBI, a third went to the U.S. Marshals, and so on. There is just one person there today who is still a “domestic terrorism” analyst.

Though terror from the domestic right in the United States has caused hundreds of deaths in the past twenty years, in recent times we have been quietly ushered away from such scenes of violence, politicians describing these as “lone wolves” who, for instance, fly planes into federal buildings for reasons of mental insanity. It echoes the response in Norway to the Anders Breivik trial, where a man who penned a thousand-word manifesto espousing fascist and nationalist ideals was simply labeled (and tried as!) “insane” for murdering 77 mostly young people.

The excuse in Breivik’s case and in other American cases was that it was important not to create a martyr. This is false. Martyrs are created everyday in the world wherever American bombs make contact. The true reason is to not push the idea that American supremacy – rooted in white supremacy – results in such violence.

To describe something as American, or All-American, is a bestowal of value.  Nothing negative is described as “All-American” – the enemies of our society do not look American, they do not act American, they are as far away from American as possible. Muslims and Arabs, after 9/11, stressed their “American-ness” in an effort to stem racist violence. The people in our prisons are mostly of color – certainly not considered “All-American” by any measurement of common mythology. Terrorists, likewise, are foreign to our body. In our collective mindset, as former Obama advisor David Axelrod says, “The word has taken on a different meaning since 9/11“. The mythological unity that was culturally and politically required for the total commitment to economic disaster and total war also required doing away with white terrorism.

The American myth is rooted in Wild West shoot-outs, covered wagons, individualism, self-reliance and a lot of guns. What is left unsaid but is certainly understood in this is also the total supremacy of the white man. If white men become terrorists in official parlance, then our national identity is shook to its core. The ideas of self-reliance, individualism, conquering “untamed” peoples and lands would be suddenly revealed as packed together with a racial myth that is still even used to challenge the legitimacy of the president, who is of color. Why has the trail gone cold in the Boston bombing? Why have white terrorists been labelled “insane” or “lone wolves”? It is because our society is still dependent on this myth of white supremacy to hold up a national identity that enables the continued subjugation of billions worldwide, including the American poor, seen in their laziness and lack of material success as unAmerican and generally portrayed as non-white.

The left, people of color and feminists understand too well that white supremacy exists at the expense of our safety and security. Occupy and other leftist movements are busted up with violence while the Klan gets a police detail when they march and the Tea Party is seen as a viable, legitimate political force in the United States – something that can find a home in the system of American/white supremacy.  When the media ignores this connection, when the government has no one to take care of tracking down these (white) terrorists, when we are told the “trail has gone cold”, then we are also given an implicit message: Watch your back! They are still out there! 

what’s changed since then?

As’ad AbuKhalil faces off against a liberal actor, a white woman who proclaims herself as a “voice for Middle Eastern Women”, a huffing anticommunist Cuban ex-pat polemicist, and the very personification of smug white male privilege himself – Bill Maher. What’s surprising about this “discussion” is that so little of the discourse has actually changed since November 2001. The panel makeup remains the same and Bill Maher (and by extension his constituency) continues to know more about Islam than Muslims:

the white convert to Islam

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood.

The Prophet Muhammad, 632 ACE

Despite these famous and remarkable words, in today’s world there is an interest and fetishization of white converts to Islam, especially females. Whether plastered on tabloids such as Lauren Booth or Yvonne Ridley or admired among progressives such as Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) or Shks. Hamza Yusuf and Suhaib Webb, there seems a particular fascination with Muslim converts from white, western backgrounds. This interest is particularly white nationalist in nature, whether positive or negative. White female converts are often exposed to soft accusations of “race traitor” or painted as unstable, recovering from trauma, while male white converts are propped up as “ideal” Muslims for conducting East-West and interfaith dialogue.

Amazingly, the clip above is translated into Arabic and presumably used for dawa (outreach) purposes. Yet the language is laden with prejudices, asking “why” she would convert when she “had it all” – assuming they mean she is white and from a middle-upper class family, beautiful, etc and so why would she choose to convert from this background.

Female converts such as Lauren Booth and Yvonne Ridley are often mentioned as being former alcoholics, Muslim sympathizers, and women without successful love lives. A common assumption within the white community is that these women have met Muslim men and converted only half-willingly, recalling the dizzying spectre of miscegenation which is still an issue both in the Muslim world and in the West – but only when power positions between “races” are assumed to be unfavorable.

On the other hand, male convert figures such as Yusuf Islam, Hamza Yusuf, and Suhaib Webb are singled out to act as bridges between their “new” identities and their former communities. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf acted as advisor to former USA President Bush’s administration and co-founded the “first American madrassa” in California (Zaytuna Institute) while  Sheikh Suhaib Webb is involved with dawa initiatives throughout the United States and runs a wildly popular blog with hundreds of thousands of readers. Besides a hiccup involving the Salman Rushdie scandal in the 1980’s, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) has been considered an icon of moderate and peaceful Islam, quick to speak out against “Islamic” violence. These men, as white converts, are presented in their work and through the Western media as voices of reason in otherwise “unreasonable” Islamic scholarship.

These presentations of white converts to Islam implies a continued obsession with white nationalism and male patriarchy in the Western countries, but also belies a racial or cultural complex within the Muslim world as well. While white converts from the West certainly have contributions to make to the multicultural-linguistic-racial fabric that is a global community of Muslims, we must take care that they are not being valued for the wrong reasons, as tokens or warnings as such. This is not to say that white western converts have not contributed mightily to the Muslim world. Indeed, Shkhs. Yusuf and Webb are accredited and intelligent scholars of Islam and have helped countless Muslims in the West navigate between worlds. Yet when a white convert – no matter their fame or activism – is asked to discuss matters of Islamic jurisprudence or culture simply because of their skin color or cultural/national background, we must be wary that we are not appropriating or emulating white nationalist motivations. Perhaps a scholar would better answer questions or deliver talks rather than someone who can “speak the language” of the West.

There is no doubt that cross-cultural and interfaith dialogue should take place, but we should choose those who are most qualified rather than who looks the best in front of a camera. Likewise, there should be a serious scholarly examination of the hysteria surrounding the media portrayal of female white converts to Islam.

A Muslim is first and foremost a Muslim, and generally Muslim converts will understand this fact well. I would be interested to see if there are any scholarly papers or serious articles addressing this cross-cultural phenomenon of “the white convert to Islam”.

on earnest american patriotism

I was speaking yesterday about Ronald Reagan. “He did a lot of good for America,” someone told me.

“Such as?”

“Well, you can’t understand, but for one – he made us proud to be Americans again.”

Coming down off the 1960’s and 70’s, when Americans were confronted with the unpleasant realities of racism, war, and misogyny portrayed in some ways for the first time in the public medium via television, Ronald Reagan’s message of “it’s okay” seemed to be a wild hit for a certain class of Americans. Yet this message falls flat for me, because I am too aware of the things America has done that it should be ashamed of. Every thing we could think of seems to be tainted in some way because every positive quality seems to be as the result of some sort of dispossession – whether it be of labor, land, or life.

Emma Goldman once described patriotism perfectly in saying:

Is it love of one’s birthplace, the place of childhood’s recollections and hopes, dreams and aspirations? Is it the place where, in childlike naivete, we would watch the passing clouds, and wonder why we, too, could not float so swiftly? The place where we would count the milliard glittering stars, terror-stricken lest each one “an eye should be,” piercing the very depths of our little souls? Is it the place where we would listen to the music of the birds and long to have wings to fly, even as they, to distant lands? Or is it the place where we would sit on Mother’s knee, enraptured by tales of great deeds and conquests? In short, is it love for the spot, every inch representing dear and precious recollections of a happy, joyous and playful childhood?

If that were patriotism, few American men of today would be called upon to be patriotic, since the place of play has been turned into factory, mill, and mine, while deepening sounds of machinery have replaced the music of the birds. No longer can we hear the tales of great deeds, for the stories our mothers tell today are but those of sorrow, tears and grief.

What, then, is patriotism? “Patriotism, sir, is the last resort of scoundrels,” said Dr. [Samuel] Johnson. Leo Tolstoy, the greatest anti-patriot of our time, defines patriotism as the principle that will justify the training of wholesale murderers; a trade that requires better equipment in the exercise of man-killing than the making of such necessities as shoes, clothing, and houses; a trade that guarantees better returns and greater glory than that of the honest workingman…

So the voting class and the class that contributes to political campaigns depends greatly on the kind of sappy patriotism and revisionism spoonfed by Reagan and his inheritors. No more words about raped nuns in South America, race riots, women raped in South Asia, or millions shipped from Africa to plantations across the south… no more words about nuclear warfare, free trade zones, illegals dying of thirst in the desert, or the crack addict who can’t call his mother from prison because he’s forgotten her number… let’s all gather around and remember the good things about America – the ephemeral je ne sais quoi that fills our hearts when we stand hand-over-heart at baseball games while the national anthem blares over the loudspeaker.

In this vacuum of history, this willful denial, we see a new kind of American character emerging – that of reality television, fast food, strip clubs, easy credit, and housing subdivisions. With no historical heritage, our future can be shaped at the whim of those who control our medium. We fiercely defend consumerism as if it is what will justify our existence as a nation, as if this is what the pilgrims starved and Abe Lincoln chopped wood for!

Still, I feel pangs of guilt when I write about the United States in such a stoic, disinterested, and mostly harsh way. After all – I am an American. My parents are American and my grandparents are American. My children will be American. And I love America – the rolling plains, the staggering mountains, and tranquil beaches. The only heritage I know of is that taught to me in school books as a young child, delightful stories of Jackie Robinson and pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. I cling to the mythology of my history while accepting its ersatz nature. I try and glean values and principles from stories of hard work and rugged individualism. I’m unwilling to so quickly throw it all onto the scrap heap. Here I become a hypocrite: I believe America can be salvaged by going back to this mythology and trying to sincerely adopt the values our textbooks taught us.

Yet it cannot be at the expense of history. We cannot wipe our slate clean by pretending it doesn’t exist. Refusing the face the truth, the bloody birth of the United States, ensures that such bloodshed will continue. Why not instead try and live up to the sacrifices and suffering of those who came before? Why not feel we owe something to the rest of the humanity instead of pretending we have done it all ourselves?

America is a strong nation. Between the oceans lay a land of rich natural resources and sometimes good and honest people who are willing to work hard. Ask Americans if they’d put time into making their country a better place and so many would step forward. Don’t let them shove a fantasy down your throat to take your future. Instead reclaim the fantasy and inspire yourselves to do better and live up to the gifts you were so blessed to be born into.

another day at the checkpoint

Palestine is icy cold when there is no insulation and drafty windows and heat comes in the form of electric heaters and hot water bottles. People dance from foot to foot at the checkpoint and nobody minds being crowded too much because the wind whips clear through the chicken wire, occasionally slamming a plastic piece of siding so loud that everyone jumps. Above the heads Qalandiya airport sits decaying in the distance. The air control tower stands empty and scrubweed has started to grow on the runway.

This is ridiculous someone mutters in Arabic. They’ve got the old here today.

An old fellahiya woman, crumpled with age and with white hair peeking out under her white hijab fumbles with her blue shopping bags. Is she one of the women you see in Jerusalem sitting on the ground with their herbs and vegetables, selling a kilo and a half for a handful of shekels to make ends meet at home? Her beautiful dress, embroidered with the colors of flowers and sunny days, is the only bit of spirit at the checkpoint on a gloomy, windy day.

Despite the desperation to move – it’s been an hour waiting now before the turnstile – she is shielded from pushing and hobbles through, moving slow with arthritis. She alone hauls her bag onto the X-ray machine and shuffles through the metal detector. A crackling voice over the intercom begins to bark orders in Hebrew. With trembling, oak-like fingers she presents her papers to the girl behind the bulletproof glass. The barking orders escalate into a shrieking insistence and it is clear the woman does not know Hebrew. Those behind the turnstiles watch in silence as the painfully loud, unfamiliar tones grow louder and more painful. A door opens and a young woman with long curly auburn hair comes out with a gun, towering over the woman like some ancient war idol, shrieking and pointing back, back! The woman wordlessly gathers her things from the x-ray machine and shuffles back through the checkpoint to the wordless gasps of the group still waiting. With as much dignity as she can muster, she walks back out through the traffic, soldiers, watchtowers, and children selling gum and information.

With a buzz and a click, the turnstile opens again and now two – no, three are allowed through. An old man drops his change in the metal detector and painfully stoops to collect it from the muddy, cold concrete. More shrieks, low growls, and sarcastic crackling tones.

Wait again for some twenty minutes before the next buzz-click, when more are let through. In line now, waiting with difficulty. It has been almost two hours. Too many through and waiting, a mistake perhaps? The shrieking slams down again, feedback accompanying the orders. A youth who knows Hebrew turns to the crowd. “We have to all go back,” he says in Arabic. Nobody moves. It’s been too long. Such a struggle to wait and squeeze through with bags, two or three to the gaps in the turnstile. No one will be first to move. Soldiers appear alongside the chicken wire with large, other-worldly guns, waving them at the crowd and yelling “RUH!” – move, go, get out. Nobody moves. Who is going to be the first?

The door opens again and out comes a young man in glasses, fat around the waist and with an annoyed look in his eye. He sputters in Hebrew and lifts his gun at the crowd, finger on the trigger. Nobody moves. Who is going to be the first? He steps closer, angry now at the disobedience. There are young and old animals here, animals on their way to class or to work, sick animals, hungry animals, but all the animals are cold and tired of waiting. Go home and bullshit with the friends at Mike’s Place over a beer – You wouldn’t believe how difficult the Arabs were today!

The youth turns again to the crowd, raising his hands. We need to go back through he says.

Back through the turnstiles? someone answers disbelievingly.

“Yes, back through the turnstiles. One by one. They want us through one by one.”

The crowd behind the turnstiles, those still waiting behind the wire, murmur with despair as one by one they are forced to make room for shuffling feet and unwieldy bags. Each one is another five, ten minutes added on to the time it takes to go three miles to Jerusalem.

When all of the people are back through the turnstiles, the door to the booth opens again and out come young women with hair up or down, standing with hips cocked sipping Fantas and lighting cigarettes. It’s time for a break, or perhaps a shift change. They pull out cell phones to call girlfriends in Tel Aviv and bitch about the weather.

La ilaha il Allah! one woman cries out, a reminder to everybody that it is only God who can protect them from the evil that he has created.

’tis the season for tension

It’s almost too good that Eid falls around 9/11 and Rosh Hashana, and where we have those patriots in America screaming for Blood to Water the Tree of Liberty:

It happens this way when the claws of madness swipe through the sky. In 1919 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called it for all time, and crashingly so today, when he wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

And now in New York they are turning an empty lot of the old World Trade Center and a mosque that isn’t built and probably never will be, into national fear. Omaha fights the mosque in Manhattan! Some foamer named Jones says he burns the Koran, and he actually is treated as news. All day on television yesterday you had the aimless babbles of this Beck, who looks like he eats Bibles.

They all come with the double barrels of a Low IQ and High Color Fear let loose on cable stations and e-mail, of which yesterday you read in disbelief.

And all day yesterday, while they squalled and broke out poor Jesus at rallies to help them promote race and baseline dumbness, many could barely wait for September 11th, when they can act as owners of the place where the World Trade Center stood. Look around; they say they are victims but they appear to be just another mob trying to take us apart.

from Jimmy Breslen, Harpers

collective guilt

Collective guilt is a funny thing and is often wielded as a weapon of privilege. Israelis, for instance, use collective punishment as a way to infer collective guilt upon communities they attack. Americans, too, have conferred collective guilt onto the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq due to support of “terrorist regimes”. I write about collective guilt today because of the current movement in the United States to force collective guilt down the throats of the Muslim-Americans. Muslims have been a legitimate part of American society since the era of slavery, when the first Muslims were shipped over in slave ships to work plantations in the south. Since then, their presence has been known mainly through the African-American community and more recently through Arab-American and Asian-American communities. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, home makers, teachers, and lawmakers. Recent immigrants from Muslim-oriented countries have been assimilated into American society far better than say, Muslim immigrants in Europe.

Despite this, Muslim-Americans have come under attack in because of 9/11. After 9/11, thousands of Muslim-Americans were imprisoned, attacked, and discriminated against by virtue of their being Muslim. A fatwah issued after 9/11 even suggested that Muslim women in America wearing the veil should remove it lest they be singled out for violence or discrimination. Now, nearly 10 years after the attacks, Muslim-Americans are still accused of failing to feel sufficiently guilty for these attacks that they had little to nothing to do with. After all, the Muslims who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were not American. Yet, with stories hitting the news about a mosque being built near “Ground Zero” and Muslims holding celebratory days at theme parks on 9/12 (which coincides with the end of Ramadan), the pressure is still there and it is still an emotional issue for Americans to cling to. Even the Anti-Defamation League, a group dedicated to fighting racism against Jews – and as they state, all people in general – has come out against the building of a mosque near “Ground Zero”.

The hypocrisy here is astounding. After all, there are too many Americans who would refuse to pay reparations or even apologize for hundreds of years of slavery, the genocide of indigenous Americans, the atomic attacks on Japan, the Vietnam War, and yes, the generations of Muslims abroad who have been annihilated by American aggression. The ADL will come out in support of the firebombing of Gaza and continued oppression of Palestinians at Israeli hands. To admit collective guilt as a community is to accept your place in the food chain of privilege. Who can blame Muslim-Americans for refusing to apologize for the attacks of 9/11? They have simply picked up an American trait during their process of assimilation. Despite many being absorbed as full members in American bourgeois society, Muslim-Americans have their patriotism questioned. Yet, there is nothing more American than a mosque built near “Ground Zero”. Perhaps a more American gesture might be to build a mosque on the ruins themselves à la the American embassy being built in Baghdad.

Either way, there is nothing new about fear-mongering near election season. What remains disgusting is the hypocrisy inherent in such a discussion, as Americans will still steadfastly refuse to accept any responsibility for anything, including the events that could have inspired 9/11 in the first place.