War on Terror

A lot of the warmongers have been gloating over the last few days, not so much over the fall of Kabul to the Northern Alliance but at the peaceniks who opposed US-UK involvement. Having a good gloat is one of life’s most underrated pleasures, of course. As gloating goes, however, this has been pretty feeble stuff, and it is sad to report that the single most stupid column in this tradition was written by the once-admirable Christopher Hitchens in the Guardian.

It is true that many opposed the war because they feared that millions in Afghanistan would starve during the winter if the supply routes were cut off. If food convoys are able to enter the country safely again – and it is a big if – then this is marvellous news, for which we should be thankful. But the major reasons for opposing the British and the American participation in the war in Afghanistan remain as valid as they ever were, and in the midst of the mindless jubilation of the cheerleaders’ chorus, it is worth reminding ourselves what some of these are.

We oppose the clampdown on civil liberties licensed by Mr Bush’s “war on terror”, which has already led to the absurdities of the Patriot Act and to an executive order permitting extraordinary military tribunals in the US, and to Mr Blunkett’s proposals to allow indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects in the UK. We fear the open-ended nature of the Orwellian “War against Terror”, which permits the State Department to open and close hostilities against Iraq, Iran, Syria, Pakistan and various other regimes in the region as the mood takes them. We hate the double standards of US policy in the Middle East (and elsewhere), which underwrites the criminal regime in Saudi Arabia, supports the criminal behaviour of Israel in the Occupied Territories, and sponsors the crime of the UN sanctions regime against the people of Iraq. We have always thought, and continue to think, that the hunt for the perpetrators of the September 11 atrocities should be an international police operation, and that to insist on conceptualising the current crisis in military terms is to hand an important victory to the terrorists themselves. And we have never thought that destroying still more lives from the air – with the detestable use of “cluster bombs” and the inevitable civilian “collateral damage” – is any kind of appropriate response to the abominable destruction of the World Trade Center.

The record of the Northern Alliance in power, of course, is grim. It is not quite as grim as the record of the Taliban in power, but it is close. Since it is possible that the US will find ways to restrain these allies of theirs this time around, there is some reason, though not nearly as much reason as the mainstream press has managed to find, to think that things might have changed for the better in Kabul and Northern Afghanistan. In these times we do well to study the statements put out by Amnesty International or Oxfam, which sound important notes of caution; to continue to read the careful reports from Robert Fisk in the Independent; and to reflect on whether the sudden “collapse” of the Taliban may be no more than a prudent decision to fight from Afghanistan’s hills rather than attempt to defend fixed positions against relentless US bombardment.

When the military campaign brings peace and self-determination to the peoples of the Middle East, then the gloating at people like me can begin in earnest. But, please, not till then.


From The Onion:

LEXINGTON, KY.  According to friends and colleagues, for nearly two months now, Michael Schloegel has been acting like he was interested in Afghanistan long before Sept. 11.

“Ever since the attacks, he’s been making like he’s been a Central Asia expert for years,” said Lisa Reames, a longtime friend of the 30-year-old University of Kentucky graduate student. “Like, the other day, he was saying how after the Soviets left Afghanistan, an alliance of mujahideen set up a new government. Then, he said he remembers when the Soviet-backed government replaced President Barbrak Karmal with Muhammad Najibullah in ’86. Yeah, fucking right. I’m sure he was aware of that when he was 15.”

Friends concede that the intelligent and well-read Schloegel may well have known something about Afghanistan prior to the crisis, but they say he is exaggerating the depth of this knowledge.

“I’m sure Mike knew more about [Afghanistan] than I do,” roommate Ben Ware said. “He probably knew what the capital was and maybe some real basic stuff about the Taliban. But I lived with him over the summer, and I don’t recall him ever going off about the history of the Northern Alliance like he does these days.”

Ware said Schloegel is often seen carrying books related to the crisis, including such current bestsellers as Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History and Ahmed Rashid’s Taliban. Ware said he is “99.9 percent sure” that Schloegel purchased the books in recent weeks. …

One of the picture captions reads: “Above: A receipt shows an Oct. 30 purchase date for a book Schloegel claims to have bought three years ago.”

Facial Hair

It’s time to address the issues that matter. From Online Pravda:

by Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey

“You can say a lot about a person from an analysis of his beard”, according to barber Nazirullah, in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Barber Nazirullah declares that “Osama Bin Laden is a leader and a fighter. He does not need luxury or comfort. He is a man who can lead a hard life for a long time. He is not worried about anything else”.

Barber Nazirullah says that a man’s beard, in his culture, can speak volumes about his character. “You can say a lot about someone from the way they grow their beard. Cuts depend on tribal custom and personal preference”. He states that his family have been barbers for three generations and that he understands intrinsically the psyche behind the beard.

“All Afghans have a beard. It is very important. You can only shave it off to go to a funeral or maybe for the first night with your wife”. Regarding Osama Bin Laden, barber Nazirullah is certain that “he is not worried about his beard like a young man. He lets it grow strongly and naturally. He is also greying, which shows a certain degree of wisdom”.

Concerning Taleban leader Mullah Omar, barber Nazirullah declares that “I have heard that he has a good beard. Some say that it grows a lot over his nose. Normally, religious people let it grow below the nose”.

Do you think that you understand — intrinsically or otherwise — the “psyche behind the beard”? There might, of course, be another reason as to why all Afghan men have a beard. Ahmed Rashid, in the fine book that Tony Blair’s supposed to be reading at the moment, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia reminds us (pp.114-5) that:

“The plight of Afghanistan’s women often hid the fact that urban males did not fare much better under the Taliban, especially non-Pashtuns. All Kabul males were give just six weeks to grow a full beard, even though some of the ethnic groups such as the Hazaras have very limited beard growth. Beards could not be trimmed shorter than a man’s fist, leading to jokes that Afghanistan’s biggest import-export business was male facial hair and that men did not need visas to travel to Afghanistan, they just needed a beard. The religious police stood at street corners cutting off long hair and often beating culprits…”

If the reindeer is the counter-giraffe (see below), is the eponymous hero of the magnificent Njal’s Saga, a wise Icelander, famous for his inability to grow a beard – and mocked on that account by his enemies, best understood as the counter-Osama-bin-Laden? It’s a fascinating thought.

Against War

The peace movement is coming together all around me, except on “govchat”, my graduate department’s email chatlist. So I’ve just sent it a message. I’ve suppressed the identities of other participants in the conversation, since I don’t think it’s a public group, and I don’t mention aspects of US foreign policy in the Middle East not because I don’t think these are very important, but because one participant in the conversation who used to serve in the US military said he didn’t like reading “email diatribe after email diatribe condemning the evil imperialistic policies of America while my friends are overseas in harm’s way defending American lives”. So I’ve spared his feelings on this occasion at least.

FIRST, the moral objection. All of us can construct arguments in our heads for why intervention in Afghanistan might be the “right thing to do”, all things considered, thinking especially of the issues which address our particular ethical concerns. All of us can (if we like to do this kind of thing) crunch the numbers in our own moral calculators and decide for ourselves how many civilian casualties are reasonable, defensible, inevitable or legitimate “collateral damage”. XX and YY have both mentioned, for example, the importance of “minimizing” civilian casualties. But this is a vague aspiration, like being “against sin” or “opposed to terrorism” — it’s one we all share. And it is a sad fact that the kind of war which _genuinely_ minimises civilian casualties is almost certainly not on offer. NATO spoke of the importance of minimizing civilian casualties during the Kosovo intervention, yet five hundred Yugoslav civilians were killed (this is the Human Rights Watch estimate), and Amnesty International’s report into the bombing concluded unambiguously that “civilian deaths could have been significantly reduced if NATO forces had fully adhered to the laws of war”. The NATO powers did not adhere to those laws during those eleven weeks (though they said they did), and I don’t think we have good reason to be confident that the Bush administration will during the present conflict, either. Those who think war is OK if civilian casualties are minimized should ask themselves whether they think the mechanisms are in place to secure this goal and whether they trust the US/NATO leaders to incorporate the strictest concern for civilian life into their military decisionmaking. Otherwise it will be a matter for _chance_ as to whether they get the kind of war they’d like to see, and this is obviously too important a matter to leave to this kind of chance. Six thousand-plus innocent people were blown to bits in last week’s atrocity; I don’t believe that any of us have enough assurance that the coming conflict won’t blow a few more to bits, and while I’m perfectly able to draw a distinction between the intended, foreseeable victims of terrorist attack and unintended, foreseeable victims of governmental response, this distinction doesn’t make me feel happy enough to sanction the blowing to bits of those who fall into the latter category.

SECOND, the political objection. We should be immensely suspicious of giving our backing to a war with such ill-defined parameters as this one. WW2 came to have clear war aims: Germany’s unconditional surrender; so did the Gulf War: the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait; so did the Kosovo intervention: the removal of Serb military forces from Kosovo. When our governments announce their “war on terrorism” it is entirely unclear as to quite what it is that we are being asked to support. This is, in fact, where we get very close to “1984” territory: Pakistan is our ally this week for putting pressure on the Taliban; next week it might become our enemy if the US administration chooses to remember that it was considered by Jane’s in 1997 as the “world’s leader in hosting international terrorist organisations”. Eastasia this week, Eurasia the next. Every move the administration makes on this front will be justified with reference to intelligence reports to which citizens don’t have access. Thus the governments say, and the media repeats, that OBL is the “prime suspect” for the 9/11 atrocity. Indeed, it may very well have been carried out on his instruction or by his minions — but we haven’t seen nearly enough evidence presented in the public sphere to persuade a sceptical citizen that this in fact is the case. Many of us much of the time are not wholly confident in the truth of the knowledge which national security organisations like the CIA, FBI, MI5 and MI6 help to generate — yet if this “war on terrorism” is allowed to get going and to escalate, we will repeatedly be asked to agree that acts of violence should be carried out in our names against up to sixty foreign regimes based on the selective leaking of state intelligence which will be almost impossible to verify. Our governments will almost certainly restrict our civil liberties and increase their surveillance over us as a part of this “war” which we are being told may go on for years. In short, we are being asked to put far too much of our trust in the most secretive, least accountable branches of government than is warranted as part of a war which the authorities are so far refusing to define with any precision, and which will therefore be defined as it unfolds entirely in accordance with their own short-term interests, which may very well not be ours.

THIRD, the practical objections. XX is obviously right that “organized elite groups are [not] mere reflections of mass experiences or attitudes”, but do people who favour “war” think that they will be able to break the terrorist networks apart irrevocably and reduce over the long term the likelihood of terrorist attacks on Western civilian targets? Remember that the British state failed to defeat the Provisional IRA in a twenty-year plus conflict despite being able (i) to keep Belfast and Derry under permanent military occupation, (ii) having a rather small local population counted at most in the low hundreds of thousands even passively supportive of the IRA’s activities and (iii) perpetrating a number of severe human rights abuses. Perhaps the Brits were just incompetent, but it seems to me that it is wildly optimistic to think that US military activity in the Middle East will secure the defeat over the long term of fundamentalist terror groups, especially since the specifically anti-US stance of such groups turns on their ability to exploit an already-existing distrust and dislike of US interference in the region, which is likely to increase. Sometimes the media discourse about this crisis focuses on the so-called “rogue” regimes of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, as if they are the chief problem and the major culprits but it’s a very striking fact that most of the hijackers named by the US authorities were citizens of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. For those who preach “jihad” against America it can only be music to their ears when Mr. Bush announces a “crusade” in return. And to pursue the IRA analogy a little further, the British made the biggest inroads into the IRA in the late 1970s period when it treated IRA activity as chiefly _criminal_ rather than military in nature. This was a period when the death toll of the Northern Irish troubles fell sharply and when the number of terrorists being jailed rose substantially. The IRA was under a great deal of pressure, and in the end it was only something as drastic as the self-slaughter of the hunger strikers which enabled it to rally republican support for the armed struggle in the 1980s. I don’t think we’ve yet had a sensible debate as to whether the effort against terrorism should be treated primarily as a matter for international policing rather than military sabre-rattling and intervention: President Bush pre-empted that debate when he immediately branded this crisis a “war against America” and got Mr Blair to make equally foolish public declarations. Of course there would be problems in organising such an international investigation — the Taliban wouldn’t have handed OBL over if a request for extradition had come from a UN body, either — but in general this seems to me an immensely preferable route to go down in formulating anti-terrorist strategy. Strengthen the institutions for international policing, strengthen the International Criminal Court. Build genuinely multilateral institutions. And introduce better airline security and — crucially — a more transparent international banking system.

Each of these three sets of objections seems to me convincing. Together they are overwhelming.

FINALLY: I’m sure that a part of the reason why I feel so strongly opposed to war in Afghanistan this time around is that I made the mistake of thinking the NATO intervention in Kosovo was a reasonable one at the time, yet the arguments for that war still seem to me to be more persuasive than the arguments for this one. Back in 1999 I believed too much of what I was reading in the US/UK press and hearing from the politicians, and I judged there was more merit in the arguments of the various liberal humanitarian interventionists than I do now. Reflecting on and reading about that episode subsequently changed my opinion, and I now feel ashamed for having argued a pro-war position with friends and colleagues. (Relevant factors which changed my mind included my shifting evaluation of the West’s disregard for international law, NATO’s use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium weapons, the avoidable killing of civilians, the course of NATO diplomacy in the period of Rambouillet and the demands placed on Yugoslavia, together with my persistent disinclination to believe that the Chinese Embassy was attacked owing to out-of-date maps being used by US planners.) So some of you may feel that I am overcompensating this time around in confidently rejecting a conflict which I fear is about to start and throwing myself into the peace movement here in Britain, which is now, I am pleased to report, growing fast. I feel more scared about what Mr Bush’s war is going to do to the citizens of the Western democracies and to the peoples of the Middle East than I feel threatened by international terrorists (and yes, growing up in London, bomb scares were part of everyday life). There are a lot of us who share the same feeling. Given that this is supposed to be a war on terror, that’s not good.

The War on Terrorism is like the War on Drugs: the US Government isn’t going to win it, and it has the potential to do a vast amount of harm at home and abroad on the way to not being won.


Michaele writes [23.9.01]: I rather enjoyed reading this. I am hoping that the peace movement here in Seattle receives a well-needed boost when students get back to the UW [University of Washington] in a week. In the meantime, I have been rabble-rousing in email form, and pleasantly surprised that so far my friend Peter is the only one who thinks war is a sensible idea. (Of course, there’s also the parents – but I have long since�given up on trying to persuade them to change their politics). Thanks for speaking for peace on govchat – from previous email conversations I’ve participated in, I can imagine that your voice was well-needed!

A few things

* If you’d like to receive occasional email messages from me collating information about anti-war vigils, protests, rallies and other activities in London and Oxford, tell me. The first listings went out today.

* Utah Senator Orrin Hatch has been writing a song about the events of the last week, called “Americans United”. I don’t think it has been recorded yet, but you can follow Orrin’s career in patriotic song and listen to examples of his work on two valuable webpages here and here. Thanks to Michaele for sending me this important information, and to Raj for the URLs. (Raj says: “Best thing is if you play it backwards, very slowly, you can hear a ghostly voice intoning all eleven Theses on Feuerbach“.)

* And do go and admire MIT‘s homepage, now festooned with CND logos. (Thanks to Rob for this).

Politics and the English Language

At times of political crisis it is usually a good idea to reread George Orwell’s 1946 essay on “Politics and the English Language”. It is full of good advice, most of which I try to follow most of the time, although Orwell would no doubt dislike the number of foreign phrases I contrive to slip into my prose, and the length of some of my sentences. What a joy it is, then, on this occasion to come across these particular words:

“When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases — bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free peoples of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder — one often has a curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favorable to political conformity.”

It is marvellous to find the cliché of the hour, “stand shoulder to shoulder”, in Orwell’s list, but the description that follows also speaks to the present moment. There are good reasons why W. sometimes comes across as a dummy rather than as a live human being, or why we feel that he might not be choosing his own words for himself, but I suspect that it is Mr Blair who is further along the path to transforming himself into a machine. (W. by contrast will always remain a cipher, a middle initial, or perhaps just an uncomplicated tool). Whereas W. needs to concentrate hard in order to get his words out at all, Blair can effortlessly disengage his thinking from his speaking parts, and is able to appear oblivious to the fact that his conversation in filmed interviews in quite inane. (While he does not sound as if he is “uttering the responses”, he always sounds as if he is in church, which is why he is the vicar of St Albion parish). Neither man is very good with verbs, the one because he cannot really talk, the other because he found it politically astute to dispense with them a long time ago.

Massive Troop Movements

David Hare’s 1993 play The Absence of War was in large part about the inability of the Labour Party to win elections. It’s a more interesting and enduring piece of writing than the critics generally took it to be, and I might return to it in future weblog entries. But I thought of it the other day. There’s a scene in the play where George Jones, the fictional leader of the Labour Party (played by John Thaw in the National Theatre’s production) is describing the Conservative Prime Minister, Charles Kendrick.

“I’ve watched him. ‘Massive troop movements’. That’s another favourite of his. He’ll comment on any war. Anywhere. However obscure. I think, why’s he making a statement about some piddling little country ten thousand miles away? And then he’ll say, ‘Overnight there have been massive troop movements.’ He loves them. (He laughs, happy.) After a while, you notice these things.”

It’s not too hard to spot when politicians and journalists are getting a similar frisson of pleasure out of their oh-so-brave words in the current crisis. W. yesterday said he wanted Bin Laden “dead or alive”, and TV reporters in Britain seem to get excited when they talk about secret top-level meetings of the “Cobra group”. I haven’t heard of any “massive troop movements”. But it can only be a matter of time.

The Victims of the Backlash

More good stuff from Naunihal in this morning’s email:

WHY ARE THE VICTIMS OF THE BACKLASH FACELESS? Consider two individuals who have been in the news lately: Sher Singh and Balbir Singh Sodhi. You might not recognize either name but you know the face of one of them. Both of them are Sikh Americans – they wear turbans and have beards. Neither had anything to do with Osama bin Laden.

Balbir Singh Sodhi was a gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona who was tragically shot dead, presumably in a racist attack. Although there has been some coverage of this event, it is considered a minor story. His face is never shown, so the audience doesn’t have a chance to imagine him as a person, tragically shot down for “looking wrong”.

Sher Singh was on the train from Boston to Washington DC when it was stopped in Providence. He was wearing a green turban and had a long beard. He was interrogated for looking “suspicious”. Although he established his innocence, he was arrested on an unrelated misdemeanor charge and led away in handcuffs. This picture was ubiquitous. It was repeated on CNN, and in the local papers. Why ? This was a non-story. A misdemeanor charge of a man who had no connection to the attack. But by showing him being led away in handcuffs, and mentioning that the train was stopped because of suspicious individuals, the media managed to associate him firmly with the attack even while they said he had no connection to it.

Why do we know Sher Singh’s face but not Balbir Singh’s ? Why was Sher Singh’s story major news – when he as known to have no connection to the incident – and Balbir Singh’s minor news – even though his death is part of the backlash ?

Nobody is commenting on the ethics of this, even though the bias seems clear. Indeed, nobody is asking why we are spending more time talking about the loss of curb-side check-in than the death of a fellow American.

It goes further than this, however. While I am pleased to read the backlash stories, they are in some way token. There are other articles about “The American Experience” in dealing with this event, and these in no way show the complete face of out country. Even though I know there were lots of brown-skinned Americans who worked near ground zero – in every capacity from janitor to CEO – most of the faces I saw in the personal stories pieces were white.

The backlash is implicitly reported as a “minority” issue, rather than one which is intertwined with all the other topics being reported. It was only a year ago that people were reporting on the number of brown faces in Silicon Valley and Wall Street, yet somehow stories on the economy only cover people’s fear of flying and not their fear of being assaulted. Have we forgotten all the census stories about the “browning” of America? If not, why is the experience of brown America peripheral ?

In order to be fully effective against the backlash, the media has to report the experience of brown-skinned Americans and Muslim-Americans in the mainstream discussions of “America” as well as in separate pieces on the backlash itself. We need to be seen on page one and above the fold as it were. It is only if the media makes the point that we are all Americans implicitly and explicitly that this point will be heard.

Honor the dead. Fight the Backlash.

For those who don’t know him, Naunihal Singh is a doctoral student at Harvard University and a member of the Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force. He’s a Sikh, an American, and his high school prom was held at the World Trade Center.

Michaele wrote [18.9.01]: I confess that I have been puzzling about how to respond to Naunihal’s concern about which images of Sikhs make the news and which do not. I should preface this with the comment that I really do not mean to be offensive, and that I am only trying to understand the depth of the charges that Naunihal is making about bias in the media.

Naunihal, since you do seem to be well-networked in the North American Sikh community, do you know if anyone has provided pictures of Balbir Singh Sodhi to the media? I can imagine perfectly benign reasons why the media would not show his image: a) they have not been able to obtain any photos of him, in spite of their best efforts, b) his family has actually requested that his image not be shown on television (as sometimes happens in cases of death that do not in any way seem linked with race). If�I am�to blame the media in this case, then�I need to know that a) the media has access to pictures of Sodhi, and b) they have permission to use those pictures, and c) they have nonetheless decided not to use them. If a, b, and c are demonstrably true, then I think the case against the media is quite damning. But if not, then I have to reserve judgment (although I admit to being generally sceptical of the intentions of the media).

It seems to me that there is a perfectly plausible and non-racist explanation for why the media would have images of Sher Singh and not Sodhi. Singh is still alive – they could capture his arrest in action. Sodhi is someone who came to the media’s attention only after his death – so they have to go out of their way to find people with pictures of him when he was alive. That does not excuse the media for overplaying images of Sher Singh in an inflammatory fashion – and without having any confirmed information that he was, in fact, a suspect in the recent attacks. But it might do something to explain why images of him are comparatively easy to come by.

I sincerely hope that you take this in the spirit intended – as a question about the severity of�your charge against the media – and not as an attempt to whitewash the recent coverage.

Naunihal replied [18.9.01]: When they showed Sher Singh they had already been told that he had no connection to the attack. it was a photograph of somebody who had no connection who was being arrested for an unrelated weapons charge. That’s what they said, but the photo made it look like something else since it was put in the middle of news about the bombing. (It turns out he was harassed and chased by an angry crowd. There were some interesting follow-up articles on this subject, but he was again faceless).

As for the photo of Sodhi – there is no reservation either religious or cultural about photographs. Reporters have spoken extensively to his family, and I can’t believe that a man who has been living in the US for some time has no family snapshots anywhere.

As a matter of fact, none of the three people who were shot this weekend have had their faces shown, either in the news stories I read or in the TV news I watched.

Other people I know agreed that it was strange, given that there were 250 South Asians dead in the blast (an unconfirmed number) and many more who worked in the area, that none appeared in the news coverage.

Furthermore something else strange is happening. A month ago, probably one out of every three stock analysts on TV from the brokerage houses were South Asian. I watched two hours of financial coverage and saw only white faces. Not one East Asian either. It’s a noticeable and visceral difference if you’re tuned into these things.

I’m not claiming a conspiracy. I am claiming that in times of stress we revert to a 1950s image of “America” and it shows. Then again, Brit Hume on Fox news said someting about returning to more traditional values and music (!?!) in the face of the attack.

I sent that piece to the Poynter Institute, the main journalistic clearing house, and they agreed to put something up on the subject so I struck a nerve with some professional journalists. You’re right it could all be coincidence, but my gut isn’t happy. I had expected to see the faces of the people who had been shot on TV and in the news … and instead the stories are buried deep in the paper. I wish I had the time to do a proper news analysis … but I’ll bet all images on national TV have gotten substantially whiter. As for the lack of photos of the three who were shot – I think its guilt, pure and simple. We’re in the middle of victimhood and self-righteous anger, and this would spoil it.

Michaele, again [18.9.01]: Thanks for your thoughtful and thought-provoking reply. Funny – the commentators have gotten noticeably male-r, too. News anchors are still female, but the pundits aren’t. I’ve had a number of feminist emails about that issue. It doesn’t surprise me that you would notice a correlation having to do with race as well. (I confess that I have been avoiding TV news these past two days, and getting everything online and via public radio, so I can’t really comment on the recent past.)

Naunihal, again [18.9.01]: I was talking to my officemate Oxana and commented that they were older, whiter and maler. Maybe something about looking establishment and conveying security. This is definitely true for the financial sector cable news where they had been young and minority.

Naunihal, again [19.9.01]: I saw a photo of Balbir Singh Sodhi on the ABC special last night between 10 and 11. it’s out there, but this is the only time I’ve seen it on TV.

More on the Racist Backlash

From the BBC:

“Police are investigating a racial attack – in which remarks were made about the atrocities in the US – which left an Afghan minicab driver paralysed. The victim, who now lives in Acton, west London, had picked up three men and a woman in the area before dropping them off in Twickenham on Sunday. Police officers found the 28-year-old man shortly after 3am outside the Prince Blucher pub on The Green, Twickenham. He was taken with serious injuries by ambulance to West Middlesex Hospital, where his condition deteriorated. The victim was transferred to Charing Cross Hospital where he is currently stable in the high dependency unit. He is paralysed from the neck down. …”

Twickenham is just over the river from where I grew up. The attackers have not yet been apprehended.

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.