By Joharah Baker
When people say the world is a different place after September 11, 2001, they are absolutely right. Of course, there have been changes at several levels, which have run deep beneath the subcutaneous layers of politics, mentalities and behaviors. However, one acutely tangible ramification of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon is the manner in which non-whites, especially Arab and Muslim peoples are perceived and subsequently treated in the United States and in other western parts of the world.
No one knows this better than Palestinians at the receiving end of this newly heightened racist mentality. Earlier this month, three Palestinian students were brutally beaten by a group of football jockeys at Guilford College, a small Quaker institution in the southern US state of North Carolina. The three young men, Fares Khader, Osama Sabbah and Omar Awartani, suffered several injuries varying from bruises and abrasions to concussions. While the perpetrators were charged with assault and “ethnic intimidation” charges, the FBI investigation is still pending over whether the attack was a “hate crime.”
According to eyewitness testimonies, there is not a shadow of a doubt that the football players were motivated by anything else. The three Palestinians were called “terrorists” and “sand niggers” and beaten with metal knuckles. The question however, is not whether or not this was a racially-motivated attack – obviously it was – but how the United States has been transformed into a country where such heinous acts of discrimination are reprimanded with as little as a slap on the wrist – the culprits have been released on $2,000 bail.
Not that the United States was ever a safe haven for minorities. On the contrary, the country itself was established through the persecution and marginalization of an entire nation, the Native Americans, or the “Red Indians” as Christopher Columbus so naively called them. (He erroneously believed he had found the path to India when he stumbled on the New World…).
This was followed by the slave trade of Africans from 1565 to 1807, their descendents who later became today’s African-Americans. This ethnic group has historically suffered the most and for the longest from racism than any other ethnic group.
Finally, there are those who help compile what the US has become famous for – a huge “melting pot” of ethnicities, including Asian-American, Arab-American, Mexican, Italian and so forth. All of these groups, without exception, have been the butt of racial slurs, hate crimes and discrimination in the work place and in educational institutions at one time or another and all of them still find themselves on a lower rung of the “food chain” than the average Caucasian American.
Hence, it goes without saying that Arab-Americans have had their share of racist stings. Young American citizens of Arab descent have been taunted by fellow classmates as being “camel-jockeys” and wearing “fig leaves.” They were bullied, sprung with racial slurs and suffered the occasional beating, solely because of the color of their skin, their religion and foreign-sounding names.
But it was not until after September 11th that the situation for this minority group – some who have made their homes in the United States for generations – took a nasty turn for the worse. The FBI was now making surprise raids on their homes and businesses, scrutinizing their bank accounts, their way of living and their way of worshipping. Women who wore the Muslim headscarf and men who made their way to the local mosque five times a day for prayer were immediately under suspicion. Arabs and Muslims were pulled aside at airport security for additional checking, held back for hours and arrested without charge. A recent study presented on an American talk show revealed that while African-Americans have suffered from racism the longest in American history, it is the Arabs and Muslims who are feeling the sting of discrimination the most today.
The incident at Guilford only epitomizes this new and dangerous trend. What is most bizarre about this whole situation is that even according to the simple minds of average Americans, the Palestinians cannot possibly be held responsible for the events of September 11. Not one of the hijackers was Palestinian, nor were the masterminds behind the attack. On the contrary, late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat immediately condemned the attack and even added some audio-visual effects to his words – hours after the news that the Twin Towers had collapsed into a heap of rubble and dust, Arafat was filmed in a local hospital, sleeve rolled up and IV in place, donating blood to the American people.
This was obviously not enough to assuage the fears of the American people that all Arabs and all Muslims were terrorists. Their fears were only compounded by the American media, which portrayed Palestinians as suicide bombing lunatics thirsty for the blood of innocent Israelis, and by the American government. The average American took the bait thrown at them by their president. “You are either with us or against us” George W. Bush told his people on the eve of the US invasion of Afghanistan.
The repercussions of this gung-ho mentality have sent lethal tremors, not only across continents but throughout the collective mind of America. So, while the attack on the three Palestinian university students is abhorrent, it is not only the six jockeys that should be put on trial. It is an entire mindset, created and nurtured by the condescending mentality of a neo-conservative administration that inherently believes it has the right to bomb whole countries, execute leaders and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in the name of their country’s security.
For this, the Arabs, Muslims and so many other people of the world are suffering. It is time for those voices beginning to rise within American society against this blind hatred to turn their cries into a roar. US presidential elections are drawing near. The responsibility lies with those enlightened Americans who see the injustices perpetrated by their own government and people to educate the ignorant majority, because this kind of hatred will only further fester, rise up and spill over, infecting more and more minds and bringing harm to more and more innocent people.
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org (Copy Rights www.MIFTAH.org)