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Is there a solution to racism?
"Is there a solution to racism? I believe: there is. Knowledge is power and should be used to educate people about the harm racism does and the factors that contribute it. Cultural personality has to grow or be revived. The agents and forces of racism, wherever they come from, need to be exposed, and their untenable positions confronted and defeated."
Racism is a crime against humanity that needs to be confronted and defeated by all means necessary. However, fighting racism is not that easy and never will be easy. It has learnt to adapt and camouflage itself under different guises in continental Europe and North America making it more difficult to identify. (I provide below some examples to understand the subtleness of this ideology, which sometimes can be missed by many.)
Among those wishing to visit a western European country or Canada or U.S.A., the percentage of non-Whites who’re denied a visa has always been disproportionately higher compared to that of White applicants from similar economic backgrounds. And this gap widens when it comes to Muslim applicants from Asia and Africa who are selectively discriminated by western embassies. Colored (non-White) people entering a Western country go through more stringent checking at the port of entry. The waiting time for citizenship of a colored person is unusually longer. What is also important here is to realize that all these practices predate 9/11.
A fundamental right of Muslim women is now curbed in France under the name of secularism, which is nothing but a disguised form of racism that chokes religious freedom and right to choose. Germany is considering imposing laws that would force khutbahs to be delivered only in German. Violence against immigrants from Africa and Asia is quite common in many western European countries. African and Vietnamese students studying in Russia often face violence from ultra-nationalists. Hate crime against residents from the former Soviet republics is quite common there. On the last week of December 2004 scores of Muslim Americans returning home after attending an Islamic conference in Toronto were (discriminately) fingerprinted at the Niagara Falls entry point. The advocates of hate are now exploiting the 9/11 paranoia to impose draconian measures that would further limit civil liberties of Muslims in Europe and America.
It was not too long ago that President Bush appointed a neocon who epitomizes bigotry mixed with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian paranoia to a federally funded institute. This, in spite of the fact that in 1990 this xenophobe had said: "Western European societies are unprepared for the massive immigration of brown-skinned peoples cooking strange foods and maintaining different standards of hygiene... All immigrants bring exotic customs and attitudes, but Muslim customs are more troublesome than most." (National Review, 11/19/90) This bigot also said, “Iranians and Pakistanis, to take two groups of non-Arabs, are at least as widely conspiracy-minded and as anti-Semitic as, say, Tunisians and Kuwaitis.” (Commentary, May 1999) In the Jerusalem Post, he later wrote, “There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military, and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches, synagogues and temples. Muslim schools require increased oversight to ascertain what is being taught to children…” (The War’s Most Agonizing Issue, Jerusalem Post, 1/23/03)  These statements say much about how the United States government condones racism and bigotry.
After the murder of Theo van Gogh, a racist and bigoted Dutch filmmaker, the Netherlands, which until now has always claimed to be more tolerant than the rest of Europe, is openly hounding its Muslim population, on the charade of fighting terrorism. Not only have attacks on mosques, Islamic schools and Muslims’ homes become common, but also immigration and security officials have stepped up their search and interrogation activities. Government ministers and opposition leaders have thrown their weight behind tougher immigration and asylum laws and procedures. Even a close friend of van Gogh’s has pointed out since his death how racist Dutch society is. Prem Radhakishun, a lawyer and broadcaster, said: “Thirty percent of Dutch people are racist, thirty percent are not and the rest do not know what they think.” That is too high a number to ignore! In 1991 Frits Bolkestein, the outgoing EU commissioner, felt it necessary to issue the warning that unless tough immigration measures were introduced, the “divisions within society” that were allegedly already caused by the “inflow of immigrants” could get out of control. The Dutch intelligence agency is on record as having said that “around 100 to 200 Muslims are under surveillance at any given time.” Mosques, schools and homes are also under surveillance, although, interestingly, it does not seem to prevent the attacks (burning, breaking etc.) to which they are now frequently subjected.
Europeans have always resisted pluralism. Varian Fry, an American, wrote of his experience about hatred and bigotry in his autobiography - Assignment Rescue: "In 1935, I had visited Germany and had smelled the air of hatred and oppression Hitler had brought to his country. While in Berlin, I had seen the first great pogrom against Jews. ... I saw young Nazi toughs smash up Jewish-owned shops and I watched the horror as they dragged people out into the streets and beat and kicked them. .... I watched as they drove men and women, cut and bleeding, down the streets, hitting them with clubs, calling them vile names. They knocked down an elderly man and, as he lay on the pavement, the young toughs kicked him in the face again and again." Has the pattern of violence against the ‘other’ people changed? No, only the victims’ identity has changed: now they are mostly immigrant Muslims.
Here is a very small sample of violence against immigrant Muslims: On May 29, 1993, terrorists torched a Muslim house in Solingen, Germany. Two women and two girls were burnt alive, one jumped out of the window but succumbed to her injuries. This family was settled in Germany for the last 20 years. This was not the first incident of this kind (nor would it be the last!).
On November 1992, firebombs were thrown at two Muslim houses in Molln, a city near Hamburg. A woman and two girls were burnt alive in their beds and nine persons, though with serious burns, survived.
On May 01, 1995, at a rally of presidential candidate Li Pan in Paris, three ‘skinheads’ killed a Moroccan Muslim, Ibrahim, by throwing him into the River Sen and then themselves melted away in the crowd.
On the week of March 20, 2002, several Muslim homes, businesses and institutions, including the prestigious IIIT (International Institute of Islamic Thought), Success Foundation (a non-profit humanitarian relief organization), Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences in Leesburgh, Virginia, Fiqh Council of North America (a non-political religious organization), International Islamic Relief Organization, American Muslim Foundation, were raided by Federal agents in search for information based on alleged support for terrorist groups. Fourteen search warrants were issued for the Northern Virginia region alone. Innocent Muslims were harassed, intimidated, handcuffed, and offices ransacked. For example, Mrs. Ayesha Nudret Yunus, an American citizen of Pakistani origin, and her 19-year old daughter were handcuffed in their home. When she showed her driver’s license to the federal agents she was told that it was fake, before even they cared to check it out (later they found that the license was genuine). The raids were not limited to immigrant Muslims who had become naturalized citizens, but also conducted against Muslims whose families had settled for more than two generations. The home of Laura Jaghlit, an American Muslim, was turned upside down; her father had fought for America in World War II and her brother died in the Vietnam War. The agents mockingly told her family that they might find Osama bin Laden in the basement.
Rather than deeming the 9/11 ‘Attack on America’ as a blowback that had nothing to do with the immigrant community here, a mass hysteria engulfed the nation. When the first news of attack came, I was conducting a class. A participant in my class, talking about the attackers, said that ‘it is part of their religion, you know, to kill others,’ not realizing that her instructor was a Muslim. The class was abruptly cancelled. While driving my car home that day around 12 noon, I saw some sports vehicles and small trucks carrying placards and banners that read: ‘kill all the Arabs’ and ‘kill the Muslims.’ Within weeks following 9/11, many individuals of non-European origin, with any resemblance to Muslims or Arabs, were attacked, a few got killed, and many had their property vandalized. Racial and ethnic profiling or discrimination, including assault, harassment and threats, became quite common.
I provide below a very small list of such incidents happening within the first few weeks of 9/11. The Arab American Institute has recorded hundreds of such incidents.
- The University of Colorado, Boulder, a town that has a liberal reputation, displayed a graffiti on university library pillars saying, "Go home, Arabs,” “Bomb Afghanistan,” and “Go Home, Sand Niggers." (Colorado Daily via u-wire, 9/19/2001)  In Seattle, a sign hung from a footbridge that read: "Death to all Palestinians." (Seattle Post Intelligencer, 9/11/2001) A sign was posted in a California freeway: "Kill All Arabs." (www.hatewatch.org, 9/17/2001) In Los Angeles, a sign was found in the Hall of Records elevator that read, "Kill all towel heads." (Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations, 9/13/2001)
- In Anchorage, Alaska, vandals destroyed several hundred thousand dollars worth of equipment and merchandise at a printing shop owned by an Arab-American. The perpetrators also sprayed "We Hate Arabs" on one of the walls of the shop. (MSNBC.com 9/23/2001)
- In Los Angeles, a Palestinian-born salesman was killed while making door-to-door rounds. His family said that it was a hate crime. (Agence France Presse, 10/9/2001)
- In Reedley, California, Abdo Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni grocer was shot to death in his shop. Family members said that the day before he was killed, death threat that included anti-Arab statements was found on windshield of Ahmed's car. (Washington Post, 10/3/2001)
- In Fresno, California, an Arab American, Rien Said Ahmed, was shot and killed while at work. Witnesses saw four males to enter and leave the store in a white sedan. No money or merchandise was stolen. Ahmed had received threats since mid-September. (The Fresno Bee, 10/2/2001)
- In San Gabriel, California, an Egyptian-American grocery storeowner was shot to death in what the family called a hate crime. Soon after the shot, two men sped off in a Honda, driven by a third man. Money in cash register was not taken. (Arizona Republic, 9/18; ADC, 9/15/2001)
- In San Gabriel, California, while grocery shopping, a woman, dressed in Muslim clothing, was attacked by another woman who beat her while yelling, "America is only for white people." The victim was taken to a medical emergency room. (Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations, 9/17/2001)
- In Los Angeles, a Syrian American convenience store owner was twice shot at - two shots on 9/11 and four shots 9/13. (Los Angeles Times, 9/14/2001)
- In San Diego, a small bomb exploded on the sidewalk outside the Islamic Center (9/16/2001), forcing worshipers to evacuate the building during a prayer service. (Los Angeles Times, 9/18/2001)
- A Chicago taxi driver and college student, Mustapha Zemkour, was injured when two men-including a Cook County corrections officer-chased him on motorcycles, then hit him in the face and yelled, "This is what you get, you mass murderer." (Chicago Tribune, 9/18/2001)
- In Chicago, an Assyrian church was set on fire; damage estimated at $200,000 (Chicago Tribune, 9/24/2001)
- In Boston a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian Boston University student suffered two knife wounds in his arm and third puncture to his back on 9/16/01. (Boston Herald, 9/18/01)
- In Boston, FBI agents, mistaking her fiancé's last name with that of Mohammed Atta, dragged a veiled Saudi woman down corridor of Westin Copley Place Hotel, handcuffed and beat her leaving a 6" scratch across her face. She had accompanied her family on numerous visits to Boston for father's medical treatment. (Boston Globe, 9/16/01)
- In Lincoln Park, Michigan, a 45 year old Yemeni-American Ali Al Mansoop was shot 12 times in back and killed on 9/13/01. Attacker broke into his home, saying "I'm going to kill you for what happened in New York and DC". (ADC, 9/21/01, WDIV Detroit, ClickonDetroit.Com 9/21/01)
- In Bronx, NY a Yemeni man working at newsstand was hit on head with a bottle by three men who dragged him to street, yelling, "You Arabs get out of my neighborhood. We hate Arabs! This is a war!" (Daily News, 9/30/01)
- In Philadelphia, an Arab American teacher at a Christian school was told by principal that he was being replaced and they did not want him to return. When teacher asked for reason, the principal stated "...because you're Arab." (ADC, 9/13/01)
- In Houston, a man of Middle Eastern ancestry was wounded with a gun shot by a gunman. The attacker approached victim, then cursed and accused him of having blown up the country and killing his family and friends. (AP, 9/21/01)
- In Dallas, a Pakistani grocer was shot and killed on 9/15/01. (LA Times, 9/18/01)
- In Denton, Texas, an Islamic Society building was fire bombed. (Dallas Morning News, 9/13/01)
I often question: was there a link between racism and the use of offensive graffiti marked on bombs and missiles dropped by our American forces against the Taliban and thousands of civilians who got killed there with no connections whatsoever with either al Qaida or 9/11?  After all when we know that such killing weapons would pulverize all those getting hit, what could be the rationale for the graffiti if not an emblem of a deep-seated problem? How much did the vein of racism contribute to the tortures and abuses in the prisons and detention camps? If the Iraqis and Afghans were Europeans, could such monstrous and systemic crimes take place? Like Rachel Corrie, am I witnessing a chronic, insidious and systemic crime, whose identity the perpetrator is oblivious of? Should I question my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature? And there are many such troubling questions that haunt me.
Is there a solution to racism? I believe: there is. Knowledge is power and should be used to educate people about the harm racism does and the factors that contribute it. Cultural personality has to grow or be revived. The agents and forces of racism, wherever they come from, need to be exposed, and their untenable positions confronted and defeated. The West should not also shy away from admitting that of all religious traditions, it is Islam that has offered a practical solution to combating racism, and has succeeded to a great extent in eradicating this evil (Darfur is only an exception to that record). It is thus beneficial to learn from Islamic traditions as to how Islam has dealt with the problem, and then apply appropriate remedies.
Almost a century ago, Mahatma Gandhi said: “Someone has said that Europeans in South Africa dread the advent of Islam – Islam, that civilized Spain; preached to the world the Gospel of Brotherhood. The Europeans of South Africa dread the advent of Islam, as they claim equality with the white races. They may well dread it. If brotherhood is a sin, if it is equality of the colored races that they dread, then their dread is well-founded.”
Indeed, unlike most religions, Islam teaches that human diversity is a sign of God’s mercy and a portent for the wise: “And of His (God’s) signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colors.” Islam rejects the very notion of chosen people or superiority based on race, ethnicity, color, tribe, language, geography, etc., by declaring: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” In his Farewell hajj speech, the prophet of Islam said, “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.”
With such profound statements, Islam was able to wipe out age-old ethnocentric notions of phony superiority and exclusive nobleness of mankind. It brought the Abyssinian Bilal (R), a former slave, at par with the Umayyad Uthman ibn Affan (R), a Qurayshite noble. Another companion of the Prophet (S), Abu Bakr (R), who later became the first caliph of the Islamic empire, would say, “Bilal is my leader.” Islam’s credit lies in creating a brotherhood that transcends all other types of relationship. Even after some fourteen centuries later, Malcolm X [Alhaj Malik El-Shabazz] was amazed at his first contact with mainstream Islam when he visited the Muslim world in 1964: “America needs to understand Islam, because this is one religion that erases from its society the race problem. Throughout my travels in the Muslim world, I have met, talked to, and even eaten with people who in America would have been considered white, but the white attitude was removed from their minds by the religion of Islam. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all together, irrespective of their color.”
Would America and Europe heed to the call of Malcolm? What is good: pluralism or racism? Let no chauvinism stand in West’s way to search out and do what is noble to eradicating racism from the face of the globe.
. My own cousin sister and her husband, both millionaires, were denied their visa to the USA for no valid reason. They wanted to visit their son, who has been legally working for the Qualcomm since earning an MS degree in EE from VPI. There are many such examples of visas being denied for no valid reason.
. One of my second cousin sisters is married to an American. She has been living with her husband in Pocopson, PA for the last seven years. However, she has not yet received her citizenship papers. I know of some Russian Jewish immigrants who became citizen at less than half the time she has been waiting.
. See this author’s article - French ban on hijab sends wrong message.
. On Nov. 18, 2004, Roger Boyes reported from Berlin that Anetta Schavan, a powerful regional education minister tipped as a future leader of the Christian Democrats, recently said, “We must now consider legal steps to ensure German is spoken in mosques and Koran schools.” (Reported in The Australian) The report also said that “Measures being considered by the Interior Ministry and other government departments include the compulsory use of German in Islamic schools, more training for Islamic theologians at German universities and more pressure on foreign-born social welfare beneficiaries to attend German-language classes.
. See this author’s essay - What’s Wrong in Putin’s Russia? – for details of violence.
. This practice is not done to returning citizens; however, only Muslims were singled out.
. For details see this author’s post-editorial in the Independent (June 13, 2003): “Nominating an Islamophobe: Is Bush sending a wrong signal?” and “While Bush wants to salvage his image among the Muslims, an Islamophobe is nominated to the US Institute of Peace” in the Weekly Holiday, June 6, 2003.
. http://www.aaiusa.org/pipes.htm (all quotes mentioned here on Pipes can be found in this site).
. See D. Pipes’s article: Improving Islam’s reputation (www.danielpipes.org) where he audaciously suggests that for improving Islam’s reputation Muslims need to reject all contact with CAIR and build organizations that neither ‘apologize’ for terrorism nor seek “the government of the United States to be Islamic.”
. See this author’s article - Anatomy of Racism for supporting evidence.
. http://www.africa2000.com/WAR/war141.html (Read the interview with Prof. Noam Chomsky.)
. Information pertaining to graffiti can be found in many major newspapers in the weeks of attack of Afghanistan. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-610213,00.html ) Use of such derogatory graffiti, however, is not limited to the latest Afghan war, but was also reported during the First Gulf War (1991). Here is a link: http://www.robert-fisk.com/yusuf_progler_1999.htm
. Nonetheless, here is one more from the ABC news (1/6/05) to understand the nature of crime that US forces committed: An Iraqi civilian testified on Wednesday that U.S. soldiers forced him and his cousin at gunpoint off a bridge into the Tigris River and laughed as his relative drowned. Marwan Fadil told the court martial of Army Sgt. 1st Class Tracy Perkins, accused of killing 19-year-old Zaidoun Hassoun by having subordinates push him into the river, that they begged the soldiers to stop.
. There is enough evidence to suggest that the Darfur case is being exploited by western governments to punish Sudan, and prepare groundwork for cessation of southern Sudan.
. Muhammad the Prophet of Islam by Prof. K. S. Ramakrishna Rao, IPCI, New York, p. 7.
. Qur'an 30:22.
. Qur'an 49:13.
. See this author’s lectures on “Brotherhood in Islam” and “The Question of Nationalism” for elaboration on this theme.
. Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley: Letter from Mecca, 1964.
by courtesy & © 2005 Habib Siddiqui
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