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WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON?
Scapegoating of Arabs and Muslims on the rise
Stoking racism after 9/11

By Sharon Smith | September 24, 2004 | Page 4

THE EVIDENCE is finally in, confirming what opponents of the USA PATRIOT Act already knew: The mass roundup and detention of Arabs and Muslims since September 11 has led to a sharp rise in racism. And the situation is getting worse. Last week, Amnesty International issued a report, "Threat and Humiliation," documenting the effects of racial profiling since September 11, 2001.

In 2002, on the grounds of "national security," immigration authorities ordered young men from predominantly Muslim countries to "voluntarily" present themselves to be questioned, fingerprinted, photographed and assigned a registration number. The program finally ended last December, but the damage was done.

More than 14,000 of the 83,000 men who complied with the order were deported, forced to leave their families behind--most for minor immigration violations--all without generating a single charge of terrorism. Arab-Americans are three times more likely to have experienced racial profiling than whites, but racial profiling against all nonwhites has been on the rise.

"Prior to 9/11, racial profiling was frequently referred to as 'driving while Black,'" the Amnesty report stated. "Now, the practice can be more accurately characterized as driving, flying, walking, worshipping, shopping or staying at home while Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, Muslim or of Middle-Eastern appearance."

An estimated 32 million Americans--equivalent to the entire population of Canada--have been subjected to profiling, while 87 million--nearly one in three people--are at high risk, according to the report. Not surprisingly, hate crimes and other forms of harassment against Arabs and Muslims have risen in tandem with government-sanctioned profiling.

According to "Unpatriotic Acts," the annual report of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), "Reports of harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment against Muslims in the U.S. increased nearly 70 percent over 2002." And the first three months of 2004 saw a 30 percent rise over the same period of 2003, according to CAIR.

Furthermore, the CAIR report argues, "The largest number of complaints reported to CAIR in 2003 are attributed or directly linked to actions taken by federal, state and local government agencies and officials." These include reports of being pulled from cars by police for no stated reason and unannounced visits from FBI agents saying, "We wanted to check you out."

Those on the right continue to stoke anti-Muslim racism. For example, Rev. Flip Benham, director of Operation Save America (the anti-abortion organization formerly known as Operation Rescue) remarked in a recent news interview, "Islam is a lie from the pit of hell. It is a demonic, murderous religion."

And a new book by right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, In Defense of Internment, calls Muslims' claims of discrimination a "myth," while arguing "there is much else we can learn" from the mass internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, "if it is viewed without a knee-jerk impulse to cry 'racism' at every turn."

But many of the right wing's racist assumptions have been absorbed into mainstream politics, in an ongoing ideological shift since 9/11. Last December, the Tucson Citizen published a letter to the editor suggesting readers should go to the nearest mosque and kill five Muslims. Last week, a judge ruled that publishing the letter "was a direct call to violence against innocent Islamic Americans," but the Gannett-owned newspaper is appealing the decision.

Consider what passed for scholarly discourse in a recent issue of the ostensibly "moderate" journal, Current History. "Could it be that something peculiar to the Arab world makes it especially allergic to democracy or incapable of practicing it?" pondered American Enterprise Institute scholar Joshua Muravchik, while noting, "[I]t is impossible to refute this supposition categorically until we have our first functioning Arab democracy."

Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, meanwhile, has gone on record as supporting "95 percent" of the PATRIOT Act's provisions. "We thought that as we got further and further away from 9/11, we would see a decrease in hostility toward Arabs. But instead we're seeing an increase," said Jad Humeidan, director of CAIR Ohio. "Arabs are being denied jobs, housing and apartments, and are being arrested for no cause."

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