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WHAT WE THINK
Politicians demonize Arabs and Muslims to justify their war
Making anti-Arab racism respectable

March 17, 2006 | Page 3

THE DEMONIZATION of Arabs and Muslims by politicians and the media is on the rise--with all too predictable results.

According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 46 percent of Americans think poorly of Islam today--higher than immediately following the September 11 attacks. According to the poll, the proportion of Americans who believe Islam helps to cause violence against non-Muslims has more than doubled, from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent today. One in four Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims and Arabs.

These numbers are the inevitable consequence of a "war on terror" that has made scapegoats of Arabs and Muslims at home--including the special "registration" of thousands of Arab and Muslim men and racial profiling at every turn--while waging war on them abroad. The blame lies squarely with the politicians--not only George Bush's Republicans, but the "opposition" Democrats as well.

International outrage over anti-Muslim caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad was dismissed by politicians and the media as an "overreaction" to an issue of "free speech."

More recently, Democrats exploited the controversy over a business deal that would have transferred management of six U.S. ports to Dubai Ports World to try to look tougher on "national security" than the Bush administration. "What would normally have been a routine business deal with a stable ally turned into a political fiasco that sent a 'no Arabs or Muslims need apply' message," commented Parvez Ahmed, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Facing dissention within its own party, the Bush administration engineered the Dubai company's withdrawal from the deal. But the ports controversy was another sign that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism is thoroughly acceptable in Washington.

As Middle East expert Juan Cole told the Washington Post, Americans "have been given the message to respond this way by the American political elite, mass media and by select special interests...I think anti-Arab racism and profiling has become respectable."

Just how "respectable" was apparent this month as Washington's elite gathered for the annual policy conference of the American Israeli Pubic Affairs Committee.

"While it may be true--and probably is--that not all Muslims are terrorists, it also happens to be true that nearly all terrorists are Muslim," Dan Gillerman, Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, told the crowd at a March 6 luncheon.

Gillerman's hypocrisy is incredible--and easily exposed. The Israeli military's record of inflecting terror on innocent Palestinians is second to none in today's world--except perhaps for the U.S. government, and the suffering and death it has caused with its occupation for oil and empire in Iraq.

Nevertheless, none of the dozens of Bush administration officials, members of Congress or other politicians present at the AIPAC conference--including prominent Democrats such as former vice presidential nominee John Edwards, Virginia's ex-Gov. Mark Warner and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh--found Gillerman's bigotry offensive enough to offer even mild criticism.

Unfortunately, much of the antiwar movement has been quiet when it comes to standing up against this racism.

Organizations such as the national coalition United for Peace and Justice offered no criticism of Democrats exploiting anti-Arab racism during the recent ports controversy, for example. Many liberals even joined in the rhetoric about protecting "national security."

The antiwar movement has to take a clear and uncompromising stand against racism against Arabs and Muslims at home--because this is another front in the broader "war on terror."

Not speaking out when the politicians of both parties associate Arabs and Muslims with terrorism opens the door to accepting U.S. justifications for continuing the occupation of Iraq--that Iraqis are "prone to violence" and "incapable" of ruling themselves, so the U.S. must remain for "as long as it takes." And, of course, the civil liberties of all of us are at stake if the politicians can get away with racially profiling some people as "inherently" more likely to be terrorists.

Not challenging this bigotry divides and weakens our movement, keeping Arabs and Muslims--those who are impacted most by the war on our rights at home and the occupation abroad--on the outside.

Any antiwar movement worthy of the name has to take up the defense of Arab and Muslim rights--and stand up to this racist scapegoating.

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