Racism in the Name of War

In mid-December, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) office in California ordered the mass arrest of up to 700 Middle Eastern immigrants. The round-ups in Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County were part of a “counter-terrorism” initiative by the Bush Administration, requiring all male immigrants aged 16 and over from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Sudan to be fingerprinted and registered with immigration authorities by December 16.

Of the several thousand Middle Eastern immigrants who willingly came forward to meet the deadline, one-quarter were arrested in L.A. for minor visa violations. Detainees were herded into jail cells, harassed by prison guards, and threatened with deportation, with out any form of due process.

Under this new policy, you are suspected of being a terrorist simply because of your country of origin. The government has not produced any evidence of links to terrorist groups; the detentions were a textbook example of racial profiling, one of many since 9/11. In fact, many detainees came from L.A.’s Iranian Jewish population and are highly unlikely to have any links to Islamic fundamentalist terrorists.

The government is trapping immigrants in a no-win situation. If you comply with the INS directives to register, you may get arrested and deported. If you don’t register, you may still get arrested and deported! Clearly the purpose behind these arrests is not to find terrorists but to terrorize immigrant communities and take away our freedoms.

A war on Iraq is likely to bring with it another terrible wave of harassment and violent assaults against Arabs and Muslims. In the wake of 9/11, the number of reported hate crimes against Muslims skyrocketed 1,700% nationwide, from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001, including at least three murders.

Despite Bush’s statements that he is not waging a war against the religion of Islam, the US government and the media are directly responsible for whipping up a climate of nationalism and racism towards Arabs and Muslims to increase public support for the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. The constant warnings about potential terrorist attacks, the round-ups of “suspected” terrorists without any evidence, the picture after picture in the media of deranged-looking Arabs have created an atmosphere of hostility towards Arab and Muslim Americans.

Politicians and the media claim that the horrible terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened because Muslim extremists are from “closed societies that hate America for our freedom and openness.” They explain the terrorist attacks by depicting Islamic fundamentalists as irrational fanatics.

However, every religion has its extremists. In fact, the Bush administration is linked with Christian fundamentalist leaders such as Jerry Falwell, who called the Muslim prophet Mohammed a “terrorist,” and Pat Robertson, who called Mohammed a “wild-eyed fanatic,” a “robber” and a “brigand”! (The Economist, 2/8/03)

What explains Arabs’ seething anger towards the US superpower is not the religious doctrines of Islam, but the US government’s policy toward the Middle East. The US provides military and financial support to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as well as to Arab kings and dictators who enrich themselves from oil profits while providing cheap oil to the west and repressing their own impoverished populations. Of course, the politicians responsible for those policies that have created the fury of the Arab world prefer to blame that anger on Islam’s supposedly “anti-American culture” – feeding the flames of racism against Arabs and Muslims.

The government’s new registration requirements are a serious attack on immigrants’ rights. If the government gets away with this, similar attacks could be carried out against the democratic rights of all people of color, union activists, or anyone critical of the government. The government’s racial profiling also emboldens the most extreme right-wing bigots, which will lead to increased violent assaults against Arabs and Muslims as well as immigrants, Jews, people of color, women, and sexual minorities.

We all need to stand together to defend Arabs and Muslims from racial profiling and racist violence by organizing massive anti-racist and anti-war demonstrations. If the police fail to protect Arab-Americans from racist violence, committees of Arab, Muslim, anti-war, union and community activists should be established to help defend Arab and Muslim communities and institutions.

The struggle against racism and war, to be successful, must aim to change the system which breeds poverty, terrorism, war and racism – the capitalist system and its never-ending competition for profits and power. As Malcolm X put it: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

Justice #33, February 2003