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No excuse for this racism

June 3, 2005 | Page 4

I WANTED to relate an incident that took place at the 2005 Left Forum which shows just how common anti-Arab racism has become, even within the antiwar movement.

At the opening plenary of the conference, Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, got into a debate with Tariq Ali about the nature of the Iraqi resistance, and whether the left should support the resistance. Ali pointed out--correctly, I believe--that the left should not accept the media's characterization of the resistance as "terrorists" and "Baathists," and that we need to stand in solidarity with Iraqis who are fighting back against the occupation. Ehrenreich could barely conceal her contempt for the Iraqi resistance.

But this was not all. She argued at one point that she thought the U.S. military could "do some good in the world." Referring to the crisis in Sudan, she said, "Why can't we stop a bunch of guys riding around on camels and raping people."

As we heard her words, several of us in the audience gasped and hissed at the racist image of "camel riders." She seemed unperturbed.

So after the plenary, I went up to her and confronted her about it. Although we disagree on political issues, I said, we should agree that racist rhetoric should have no place on the left. She first responded by avoiding the question: "I meant that we have a strong military--why can't we go and take them out?"

I repeated my argument--because "camel riders" is a racist image, not unlike "raghead" or "towel-head." Did she agree or apologize? No. Instead, she snarled, "My hatred for them is greater than my desire to be politically correct in front of you."

When liberals can be so unapologetically racist towards Arabs, is it any wonder that so many people accept the notion that the Iraqis are incapable of self-governance?
Nagesh Rao, New York City

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