Circling their Wagons

Circling their Wagons

this text is found in the pamphlet S11: Truth and Consequences (Solidarity-Arm the Spirit 2001, ISBN 1-894820-35-5), available for $2.75 US from Kersplebedeb (email me for details )

Like Pavlov’s Dog, many White Americans have harkened back to their traditional cultural rituals in this time of crisis, both as a means of personal catharsis and political growth. Little wonder in the land of Wounded Knee and Old Dixie, that this has signaled a quick increase in violent attacks on Arabs, Asians and anyone else who “looks terrorist”.

To quote from the Political Research Associates website:  

At least five South Asian or Middle Eastern Americans have been slain so far and dozens of incidents of harassment, intimidation, and terror have been reported, against Arab-Americans, Muslims, Sikhs, Pakistanis, and other South and West Asians, according to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. In Mesa, Arizona, a Sikh man was shot, the suspect shouting ‘I stand for America all the way’ as he was handcuffed. In Los Angeles, an Egyptian American man was shot; a Persian woman was beaten; a gun was shoved into another woman’s face; a Spanish-speaking woman was attacked after being told ‘you foreigners caused all this trouble!’; and another was attacked after being told ‘America is only for white people.’ In San Francisco, a bag of blood was thrown on the doorstep of an immigrant-services center. In Chicago, 300 people waving flags and shouting ‘USA! USA!’ tried to march into a mosque; a firebomb was tossed into an Arab-American community center; and a Moroccan man was attacked with a machete. In New York, two Pakistanis were killed on Coney Island, a Sikh man was attacked with a baseball bat; two others attacked with a paint-ball gun; another was fired upon with rubber bullets; a taxi driver was pulled out of his cab and beaten; and a Pakistani woman was chased by a car, whose driver threatened to kill her for ‘destroying my country.’ In Cleveland, a Sikh temple was attacked with lit bottles of gasoline. In Tulsa, a Pakistani was beaten by three men. In Dallas, a Pakistani grocer was shot dead; elsewhere in the state shots and firebombs were lobbed at mosques, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Islamic Society building.

Gallup polls in the weeks following the attacks indicate Americans evenly split between those who approve and disapprove of requiring all Arabs – including citizens – to carry special identification papers. A majority approve of Arabs being required to undergo special security checks before boarding airplanes – a sentiment clearly behind the spate of reports of pilots using their discretionary powers to kick Arabic looking passengers off their planes. According to the Federal Aviation Association “Under FAA security rules, the airline has no choice but to re-accommodate a passenger or passengers if their actions or presence make a majority of passengers uncomfortable and threaten to disrupt normal operations of flight.”

Racism is an almost constant companion to the kind of jingoistic patriotism that was unleashed following September 11th. As one journalist observed, “In the frenzy that followed World War I, the Palmer raids, led by an attorney general whose house had been bombed, included the detention, beatings and deportations of thousands of people, most of them immigrants. Each successive war featured its own shameful excess. World War II had the internment of 110,000 Japanese, the Korean War coincided with McCarthyism, and during the Vietnam conflict the F.B.I. infiltrated antiwar groups.”

Or as John Conyers (D-MI), dean of the Congressional Black Caucus, noted in a  recent article: “Historically, it has been at times of inflamed passions and national anger that our civil liberties proved to be at greatest risk, and the unpopular group of the moment was subject to prejudice and deprivation of liberty. In 1798, Congress enacted the notorious Alien and Sedition Acts, making it a federal crime to criticize the government. In 1861, at the beginning of the Civil War, President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, citing the need to repress ‘an insurrection against the laws of the United States.’ Ulysses S. Grant sought to expel Jews from southern states. World War II brought about the shameful internment of Japanese Americans, which even the Supreme Court failed to overturn.”

Yet while the State seems content to let the American cauldron of hate simmer, so far there has been no move towards the kind of internment policy pursued in World War II against the Japanese. Rather, the current climate is being exploited to undermine what solidarity and concern might otherwise exist for increasing numbers of immigrants who are finding themselves under arrest and held on flimsy evidence. It is also paving the road to more stringent controls on the lives of immigrants and a general tightening of the borders.

Furthermore, the present racist climate provides fuel for the white fires of repression that the likes of Bush and Ashcroft are preparing to light under our feet. Already legislation that the State had on its agenda for some time is being fast-tracked amidst claims that dissent=complicity with “the terrorists”. Almost overnight there is broad political support for what they’re calling “Fortress North America”, the idea of a continental perimeter to keep out potential hijackers and such. The CIA is hoping to get the ban lifted on foreign assassinations just as airline pilots are hoping to get given guns and the FBI is hoping to get a green light for its famous Carnivore programme.

Nor does every assault on dissidence come in the form of new legislation or regulations. Immediately following S11 a number of political prisoners and prisoners of war* were placed in isolation, generally without any reason given. At least two of these prisoners were denied access to their lawyers and religious advisors. There have also been reports that prisoners of Middle Eastern descent were segregated at FCC Coleman in Florida, the guards joking that in a state of war they would be exterminated by poison gas.

Outside of the prison system there has been a move on the part of the political establishment to create a state of mass conformity. In Canada, noted feminist professor Sunera Thobani has been subjected to a barrage of criticism in both the media and the House of Commons following her quite sensible observation that U.S. foreign policy resorts to terrorism itself, and is steeped in blood. At Concordia University in Montreal the radical Student Union – known for its strong stand in favour of Palestinian human rights – has been denounced by B’nai B’rith Canada for allegedly promoting violence, BBC national director Frank Dimant rhetorically asking of the student handbook, “Is this a blueprint for Osama Bin Laden’s youth program in North America?” The pretend “human rights organization” has called for a police investigation of the students…

The honeymoon sections of the Left have enjoyed ever since Seattle – going from success to success, from strength to strength, or so the story went – may very well have come to an end. A backlash that was being prepared before the eleventh has now found a perfect opportunity to make itself felt in ways many might have thought orwellian just a month ago. Within the immediate future we must redouble our efforts towards exposing and opposing repression and racism, both legislated and societal. This does not need to be the end – there are new risks and obstacles out there for us, but if we rise to the challenge there will certainly also be new opportunities within which to advance.          

* Including Sundiata Acoli, Carlos Alberto Torres, Richard Williams, Jose Solis, Antonio Camacho Negron, Juan Segarra Palmer, Philip Berrigan, Tom Manning & Marilyn Buck.

S11: Truth and Consequences page

S11 Anti-War page

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