More reasons for serious action

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Wed Apr 24 16:04:09 MDT 2002

Race War- George Monbiot

Those of us who opposed the bombing of Afghanistan warned that the war between
nations would not stop there. Now, as Tony Blair prepares the British people for
an attack on Iraq, the conflict seems to be proliferating faster than most of us
predicted. But there is another danger, which we have tended to neglect: that of
escalating hostilities WITHIN the nations waging this war.

The racial profiling which has become the unacknowledged focus of America's new
security policy is in danger of provoking the very clash of cultures its authors
appear to perceive.

Yesterday's Guardian told the story of Adeel Akhtar, a British Asian man who
flew to the United States for an acting audition. When his plane arrived at JFK
airport in New York, he and his female friend were handcuffed. He was taken to a
room and questioned for several hours. The officials asked him whether he had
friends in the Middle East, or knew anyone who approved of the attacks on
September 11. His story will be familiar to hundreds of people of Asian or
Middle Eastern origin.

I have just obtained a copy of a letter sent last week by a 50 year-old British
Asian woman (who doesn't want to be named) to the US Immigration Service. At the
end of January, she flew to JFK to visit her sister, who is suffering from

At the airport, immigration officials found that on a previous visit she had
overstayed her visa. She explained that she had been helping her sister, who was
very ill, and had applied for an extension. When the officers told her she would
have to return to Britain, she accepted their decision but asked to speak to the
British consul.

They refused her request, but told her she could ring the Pakistani consulate if
she wished. She explained that she was British, not Pakistani, as her passport
showed. The guards then started to interrogate her.

How many languages did she speak? How long had she lived in Britain? They
smashed the locks on her suitcases and took her fingerprints. Then she was handc
uffed and chained and marched through the departure lounge. "I felt like the
guards were parading me in front of the passengers like their prize-catch. Why
was I put in handcuffs? I am a fifty-year old housewife from the suburbs of
London. What threat did I pose to the safety of the other passengers?"

Last week, a correspondent for the Times found 30 men and one woman camped in a
squalid hotel in Mogadishu, in Somalia. They were all African Americans of
Somali origin, who had arrived in the United States as babies or children. Most
were professionals with secure jobs and stable lives.

In January, just after the release of Black Hawk Down (the film about the failed
US military mission in Somalia), they were rounded up. They were beaten,
threatened with injections and refused phone calls and access to lawyers. Then,
a fortnight ago, with no charges made or reasons given, they were summarily
deported to Somalia. Now, without passports, papers or money, in an alien and
frightening country, they are wondering whether they will ever see their homes

All these people are victims of a new kind of racial profiling which the United
States government applies but denies. The US attorney-general has called for
some 5000 men of Arab origin to be questioned by federal investigators. Since
September 11, over 1000 people who were born in the Middle East have been
detained indefinitely for "immigration infractions".

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has recorded hundreds of recent
instances of alleged official discrimination in the US. Muslim women have been
strip-searched at airports, men have been dragged out of bed at gunpoint in the
middle of the night. It reports that evidence which remains shielded from the
suspect, of the kind permitted by the recent US Patriot Act, "has been used
almost exclusively against Muslims and Arabs in America". Brown-skinned people
in the US are now terrorist suspects. Some officials appear to regard them as
guilty until proven otherwise.

Similar policies appear to govern the judicial treatment of detainees. During
his press conference on 28 December, President Bush initially misunderestimated
a question, and provided a revealing answer. "Have you decided," he was asked,
"that anybody should be subjected to a military tribunal?" Bush replied, "I
excluded any Americans."

The questioner pointed out that he meant to ask whether Bush had made any
decisions about the captives in Guantanamo Bay. But what the president had
revealed was that the differential treatment of those foreign fighters and John
Walker Lindh, the "American Talib" currently being tried in a federal court in
Virginia, is not an accident of process, but policy. He couldn't treat a white
American like the captives in Camp X-ray and expect to get away with it.

These attitudes pre-date the attack on New York. "Patterns of Global Terrorism",
a document published by the US counterterrorism coordinator in April, appears to
define international terror as violence directed at US citizens, US commercial
interests or white citizens of other nations. Black and brown-skinned people are
the perpetrators of terror, but not its victims.

In Angola, for example, the "most significant incident" in the year 2000 was the
kidnapping of three Portuguese construction workers by rebels. The murder of
hundreds of Angolan civilians is unrecorded.

In Sierra Leone terrorism, the report suggests, has afflicted only foreign
journalists, aid workers and peacekeepers.

In Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army's appears to have done nothing but kidnap
and murder Italian missionaires.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, where terror sponsored by six African states
has led to the deaths of some three million people, isn't mentioned. Yet
domestic terrorism in the United Kingdom and Spain is covered at length.

There is, of course, vicious racism on other sides as well. Bin Laden threatened
a holy war against Jews. The men who kidnapped the journalist Daniel Pearl
forced him to announce that he was a Jew before cutting his throat. I have lost
count of the number of emails I've received from opponents of the Afghan war in
Pakistan and the Middle East, claiming that 4000 Jews were evacuated from the
World Trade Centre before the attacks.

This makes security policies based on racial discrimination even more dangerous.
By treating brown-skinned people as if they are the natural enemies of the
United States, the government could generate conflict where there was none
before. At the same time this policy establishes splendid opportunities for
terrorists with white skins, as they become, to the eyes of officials, all but

This is the morass into which Tony Blair is now stepping. "These are not people
like us," he said of the Iraqi leadership on Sunday. "They are not people who
abide by the normal rules of human behaviour." Some would argue that this
quality establishes their kinship with British ministers. But to persuade us
that we should go to war with Iraq, Blair must first make its leaders appear as
remote from ourselves as possible.

The attack on Iraq, when it comes, could, in effect, be the beginning of a third
world war. It may, as hints dropped by the US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld
suggest, turn out to be the first phase of a war involving many nations. It may
also become a war against the third world, and its diaspora in the nations of
the first.

Macdonald Stainsby

"Simply BEING a Palestinian in what used to be Palestine is a form of
suicide...slower and more painful than using a bomb to blow up yourself [...]."
- American Jew writing to others, email correspondence.
In the contradiction lies the hope.
                                     --Bertholt Brecht

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