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January 7, 2009

The Last Acceptable Racism?

Today's blog was inspired by a blog written by our friend the Czech: "Is It Illegal To Be Muslim in the USA?" which discussed the recent AirTran incident.
What else did they “do” to appear suspicious to those around them? If a white, non-Muslim couple had had the same discussion as Ms. Ijaz and her husband while waiting for a flight, can we reasonably expect that they would be prevented from boarding the flight and questioned by the FBI?

Now we know that this story is almost old news already. Everyone has written about it. There was just something about the way the Czech phrased her title that really got me thinking. Is it illegal to be Muslim in the U.S.? It may not technically be, but people have certainly been acting as if it were.

She also referenced in her blog, an incident that took place in December in Georgia, where a Muslim woman was arrested for refusing to remove her head scarf at a security checkpoint. Back in July a woman was denied a job at an Abercrombie Kids, because her headscarf did not "fit the Abercrombie image". The sexist-racist-Islamopohobic trifecta of Mona Awad's lawsuit. Just today we saw an article about a man who sued JetBlue (and won) after he was told to remove a t-shirt with Arabic writing on it. And who can forget all the bullshit comments made during Barack Obama's campaign?

What the fuck!?

The saddest part of the AirTran story, in my opinion, wasn't that they were subjected to such horrible treatment (although yeah, that was pretty bad). The saddest part was this quote from one of the detained passengers, an American-born lawyer, Atif Irfan:
"My wife and I are generally very careful about what we say when we step on the plane," he said, adding that they have received suspicious looks in the past. "We're used to this sort of thing but obviously not to this extent."
It completely and totally sucks that this incident happened. But even more so, it sucks that the Irfan family (and countless other Arabs, Arab-Americans, Muslims, Hindus and other "foreign looking brown people") have to be very careful about what they say. It sucks that they're used to this sort of thing.

It sucks that unfounded suspicions of Barack Obama being a Muslim cost him some votes (obviously not enough though, phew, but it still did). But even more so, it sucks that his religion was an issue at all.

It was Colin Powell (go figure) who said:
Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
Sometimes it feels as though Muslims/Arabs are one of the last remaining groups of people which it is still "acceptable" to be racist against. Sure there are still a lot of anti-Semites and white supremacists and other people that breed hate... but part of our own government still continue to condone Islamophobia (and Xenophobia).

Now I can't necessarily get the real heart of this issue because I don't have much personal experience on it. I'm not Arab or Muslim and I think I can only count the number of Arab/Muslim people I know on one hand. But in the same way that I care about gay rights, despite being heterosexual... I care about sex workers rights, despite not being involved in sex work... I care about abortion rights, despite being a parent... I care about this issue.

And so I'm pissed off.

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Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the shout-out!

Sometimes it seems that being Arab and having family in, say, Palestine, and/or being Muslim can be an identity folks feel they have to closet. In recent writing and conversations I've encountered this sentiment: Muslims wonder: when is the best time for me to reveal my religion at work? To my friends?

And someone of Arab heritage may feel hesitant to even state where zie is from in mixed company.

That is messed up for real.

"Sometimes it feels as though Muslims/Arabs are one of the last remaining groups of people which it is still "acceptable" to be racist against."

I know you qualified this statement with "it feels" but it sounds a little oppression olympics-esque. Just sayin.

Good post! I hadn't heard of the JebBlue incident. Christ.


Just to clarify - I don't think any kind of racism is acceptable. But it's definitely considered acceptable by a lot of people who would never consider themselves racist.

If you discriminate against black people, it's racism. If you discriminate against Arab people, well that's just taking 'safety precautions'.

Prejudice against Arabs/Muslims is practically government sanctioned. It sucks.

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Linda-Sama said...

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reading. writing. revolution. said...

You are absolutely right, although I dislike the term racism considering we are all of the same race. This is though undoubtedly discrimination, and it needs to stop. Our way of life is in jeopardy because we are greedy, arrogant assholes as a country as a whole, which is detrimental to a lot of the rest of the planet and creates ire and angst and hatred, resulting in our current security situation. To combat that, we sow more hate through our actions, violate our own principles, and preach fear. Then to top it all off, we use xenophobia (Muslims and now Latinos) to assuage the masses and blame everyone but ourselves for our predicament. There is no excuse for our poor behavior. We are unwilling to walk our own talk.