The flags. The tributes. The patriotic speeches. Since 9-11, all of these things have been understandable. They have unified a country in shock and grief after terror attacks left thousands killed. What is not acceptable, however, is the demonization and harassment of other peoples. While many fellow Americans supported and applauded the use of the phrase “axis of evil,” people abroad have been less than amused by this category, as President Bush recently witnessed on his trip to Asia. Nobody envies the great task before the President, but his speechwriters need to keep diplomacy in mind when trying to rally our American public.
To make matters worse, the profession that normally stands up for the little guy and questions government actions has been shamefully silent. The media’s unquestioning embrace of every action abroad has effectively destroyed the basic tenet of journalism — objectivity. The world, after all, has been reduced to the good guys against the bad guys. And we decide who fits in what category.
Unfortunately, for all of the rhetoric that this war is not against Arabs and Muslims, actions on the ground say otherwise. In the US, there is racial profiling and 2,000 Arabs and Muslims are being detained in prison without charge. Countless newspaper editorials have implied that your Arab-American neighbor knows someone in the Al Qaeda Network. Further, the name, “Osama” ï¿½ popular in the Arab World as it denotes the proud lion ï¿½ has been reduced to utter evil. Some Arab-American Osamas are even changing their name legally to avoid harassment. One can only imagine the reaction if we had demonized the names of Jeffrey, Ted, or Charles. But, we are in a fight against terror, right?
The fight against terror has also been manipulated by Israel to justify the slaughter of more Palestinians. If they storm refugee camps, slaughter, and injure hundreds, Ariel Sharon responds that fighting “terror” is the priority. Israeli analysts on television keep making the comparisons that Israel is like the United States, and they are fighting the Palestinian Taliban. Their war is our war, it’s being said. Israel’s enemies are our enemies. White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, even saw to it to unilaterally include the Palestinian Authority in this “axis of evil” during one press session. It seems these individuals keep forgetting that the United States is not brutally occupying another population, unlike Israel ï¿½ the last remaining occupying force in modern history.
With the daily symmetry to Israel’s security issues comes an increased focus on the Israeli system of fighting terror. But we need to be careful. Israel has a history of torturing Palestinians in the name of security, and most recently, Palestinian youth ï¿½ according to Israel’s own B’tselem. Despite a ban on torture by Israel’s High Court of Justice in 1999, the torture never stopped. Enough loopholes were given to Israeli interrogators. According to one article, nearly 80% of Palestinians tortured have never been prosecuted for crimes. Israel says it is necessary, as they have produced confessions. Who isn’t going to confess to a crime when scalding hot water is poured over their bodies, they are deprived of sleep, are told that their mothers and sisters are going to be raped, or are placed in contorted positions for days?
Israel’s David Ben-Gurion Airport has been highlighted and lauded in media reports. The strict security measures, unfortunately, are only administered to those of Arab descent or supporters of known Palestinian human rights. Arab Christians and Muslims are often separated and subjected to strip searches. Jews are not. There is nothing admirable about a system that bases a security system on one’s ethnicity or religion.
Or are we moving in that direction? When CNN polled people about their support of placing Arab-Americans in concentration camps, similar to those used for Japanese-Americans during WWII, nearly a third said they’d support such a measure if it will help our war on terror.
Is this really my country? What happened to our love for liberty and dignity? We have every right to defend our nation’s security, but security at the expense of people’s rights will only breed further insecurity. And we shouldn’t be glorifying a system in Israel that has been deemed barbaric from as far away as Denmark. Not too long ago, Danes protested against the Israeli ambassador, Carmi Gillon, for supportive comments of torture.
Indeed, changes are required. We are still in mourning, and how unfortunate that some people think so little of American humanity. But let’s try not to disrespect the humanity of other ethnic communities in the process of fighting terror either.
Sherri Muzher is a Palestinian-American activist, lawyer, and freelance journalist.