More on the Backlash

My friend Naunihal Singh has just sent this email around:

“I’m feeling angry. Nobody on TV takes the backlash seriously – that the President’s remarks, once, are somehow enough. Now to add to the people in hospitals from violent attacks, the property attacks on temples and businesses, there is a death. “I’m from New York City. My Prom was held at the World Trade Center. But now I have to face a threat from two directions – a continued terrorist threat, and one from my fellow Americans.

“Please – help spread the word. Try to inject this element into conversations about the recent tragedy. Anti-Arab sentiment is going to get worse before this is all over – and that means that all sorts of innocent Arabs, muslims, and those who just “look like them” will be at risk. I’ll be damned if I let racism destroy my nation. I can’t do much about Bin Laden directly, but I can try to make sure that he doesn’t “win” by destroying those things I value most about America.

“Honor the dead. Fight the backlash.”

Naunihal’s not the only person I’ve heard from today who tells me that the racist backlash is being under-reported and de-emphasised in the US media; he’s also kept me informed about racist WTC-related violence here in the UK and in Australia. And he’s right to be angry: those who use Tuesday’s atrocity as an excuse for racial hatred and violence are wholly despicable.

Michaele wrote [17.9.01]: [i] There was a great news/talk program on the local public radio station on Thursday that discussed the backlash against Muslims and veiled women and people who “look like” they are Arab or Muslim. (Again, I think the fact that I have heard programs like this makes me mildly more optimistic, although of course I am outraged by the reports I have heard and the shootings in Texas). One of the leaders of a US Muslim organization was being interviewed on the show because he had given a press conference that morning expressing regret about the bombings and the like. The interviewer asked why many organizations like his had waited until Thursday to speak out against the attacks. His response was that on Tuesday it wasn’t clear who was responsible, and for Muslim organizations to speak out at that point would have been inappropriate, since there would be no reason for them to be singled out. (We didn’t expect every Protestant organization to make a public statement on Tuesday…) I found it really interesting that Muslim organizations were being very conservative early on about trying to counteract a possible backlash – not that they are in any way responsible.

Similarly, I talked with a good friend of mine Friday night, a Palestinian who is a political theory professor at San Diego State, Farid Abdel-Nour. We had a long talk about how this is affecting him, his Arab and Muslim students, and the community in San Diego. He mentioned that he was getting multiple calls from the press everyday, and was avoiding his office. He assumed that they were calling him because of his name and his position at the university, as he cannot think of any other reason why they would think to contact him for comment. He has been avoiding them because he doesn’t think that he has anything to say. He may change his mind – we’ll see.

I’m not sure what my point here is, other than to suggest that not all of the silence (which I actually _haven’t_ noticed at all) about the backlash is a result of the media, but it is also caused by some cautiousness among members of targeted groups. That being said, there has actually been A LOT of coverage out here, both locally and nationally, about the backlash. I’ve seen lots of people talking about it on CNN, as well as local TV. That’s not enough to keep crazy Texans from becoming racist vigilantes, of course. But I’m not sure what would be. Within 24 hours of the bombing, I had heard A LOT of people on the news talking about the importance of not turning to violence against people on the basis of some presumed religious or ethnic connection to the violence.

[ii] Where the press went terribly, terribly wrong, I think, was in advertising the Palestinians who were immediately celebrating the attacks. This was the ONLY image of a response from the Arab world in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, and I think that is probably the fault of (a) incendiary press tactics, (b) the slowness of international and in particular Arab public officials’ response to the attacks, and (c) the aforementioned reluctance of Muslim groups in the U.S. to begin speaking out when it was unclear who had perpetrated the attacks to begin with.

[iii] Furthermore, I think that we can be even more critical of Bush than Naunihal’s comments that you quoted suggest. It’s bad enough that he hasn’t repeatedly spoken out against racist violence. The way that he tried to promote unity was through his weird notion of “Judeo-Christianity”. Muslims, he told us the other day, are deserving of our respect because they are a part of “our” “Judeo-Christian” heritage. Aside from the fact that “Judeo-Christianity” is itself a suspect category, which politically is meant to make fundamentalist Christians sound as if they aren’t _really_ anti-Semitic, shouldn’t we reflect on how exclusionary such a category would be, even if it were coherent? Any religious (or non-religious) group that doesn’t fit his “Judeo-Christian” pattern is somehow unequally deserving. Eek!

Naunihal wrote [17.9.01]: The problem is that the coverage is a sideshow. And when a Sikh is arrested on a misdemeanor not related to the attack his face is shown on TV repeatedly; when a Sikh is shot, or beaten with a baseball bat, nobody shows his face.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *