Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Muslims and Racism

Although racism of all varieties obviously still abounds, it appears that Islamophobia is currently the one form that is socially acceptable to express openly. Once again, as I have said numerous times, I do not think the "who is more oppressed?" game is very productive. Thus, my concern in this post is more the way in which racism is explicitly (as opposed to covertly) part of public rhetoric.

The other day I was talking to an older woman, and the subject of the state of Michigan came up. She said, "Oh, they have a lot of problems" (I expected her to say "with the economy" or " with unemployment" or "with foreclosures) "... they have all those Muslims." She was referring to the city of Dearborn, Michigan - a suburb of Detroit - which has the largest Arabic population outside of the Middle East. I don't think this woman realized that many of these people of Arabic descent are Christian, not Muslim. (Lebanese Christians, who came to work in Ford's factory, provided the original pull of Middle Easterners to the area.) I politely explained that Dearborn is a very nice community - no major "problems" of which I am aware, expecially compared to those facing Detroit.

I don't think this woman would have been very comfortable making a similar comment about African Americans (though Detroit is largely African American, and there has been racial tensions along black-white lines for decades). Yet, she did not hesitate in the slightest about making a "Muslim" comment.

Somehow, the fact that some Muslims have been involved with terrorism makes it "valid," in many people's opinion, to speak critically about Islam and to treat Muslims/Arabs/Middle Easterners differently. Nevermind the fact that "Islamic terrorism" (a problematic term in itself) only represents a tiny percentage of all terrorism in the U.S., or the more obvious fact that the vast, vast majoriy of Muslims do not have anything to do with terrorism.

This reasoning is not new: for example, when we were at war with Japan, overt racism and discrimination against Japanese Americans was suddenly trendy. Though Islamophobia definitely is an interesting case, in that it involves the conflation of race, nationality, and religion. Anyone can claim that they are not racist, but just have problems with the (supposed) tenants of the religion. This demonstrates the way in which "cultural reasoning" is often used as a more "progressive" sounding stand-in for racial reasoning (I expect to write a more detailed post about this topic sometime soon). Put plain and simply, rhetoric about "cultural difference" is often just thinly veiled racism.

In the case of Arabs/Muslims/Middle Easterners, "cultural difference" is a totally inappropriate framework in which to understand terrorism. Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterns have all been subject in different ways to colonial rule, neocolonial manipulation, capitalist exploitation, and racism of the "Orientalist" variety. This is the framework in which to understand terrorism. To avoid repeating myself, here are some links to previous posts on the subject:  MENA Dictatorships and Colonialism; The Death of Osama Bin Laden; Religion and Colonialism in MENA.

(And why is it that the "collateral damage" caused by U.S. military interventions in the MENA region is not considered "terrorism"?)

This just goes to show that, despite all the "progressive" trends that have occured throughout the past couple of centuries, we have not gotten past the point of socially acceptible racism.

No comments:

Post a Comment