Racism in Reporting, Jingoism as Foreign Policy

All Arabs are not Muslims. All Muslims are not terrorists. The Middle East does not operate as a single mind. No one knows who flew two planes into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, and crashed a fourth in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. But, as we in the United States were victimized by the terror that many people of the world are subject to every day, the Arab bashing began immediately on CNN, the networks, and in corporate radio and newspapers. Several web sites, described as ‘Arab,’ were shut down, ostensibly due to an overwhelming amount of hate mail. A local New York reporter told a captive audience that the responsible party was either a “Middle East country, or as the evidence suggests, Osama bin Laden.”

What evidence? At that point there was none and there may still be none. On CNN Tuesday morning a reporter pushed a former Clinton aide to express why it was “an attractive option” to find bin Laden responsible. Regardless of the former aide’s reticence to place blame, and clear statement to his pure speculation on the matter, the reporter was relentless until a list of possible connections was postulated. And in turn, immediately reports came in from friends and colleagues of verbal and physical assault on Arab-Americans, Muslims, and people of South Asian descent.

Arab-Americans were called on by the corporate media to explain bin Laden, Islam, and suicide bombers. Palestinians were accused, by way of showcasing eleven-year-old footage, of celebrating the bombings. Arafat was forced to deny culpability, as was the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, while others in the ‘West’ were expected only to express sympathy and sadness. This led to the nearly constant bottom-screen ribbon on CNN, which read, “Hamas and Palestinian groups deny responsibility,” to an audience unprecedented in size, perpetuating the stereotype of Palestinians, Arabs, people of the Mid-East, as a single entitiy and as terrorists. Where was the ribbon that read, “White, male Gulf War vets deny responsibility,” if we were truly looking toward those who have committed such acts in the U.S. Timothy McVeigh’s 1993 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City was immediately blamed on the “Middle East” in the corporate media. Arabs in the U.S. are forced into issuing denials. Take for instance the heavily reported on man detained for driving a car with a Palestinian sticker on the outside, and a photo of bin-Laden on the dashboard. Of course, the photo, it turned out, was of the man’s father. But this was barely news.

CIA trained bin Laden also issued a denial. If, as some are warning, he wants to engage in a full-scale war with the U.S., why deny the attack? Why did the U.S. give the Taliban 120 million dollars this year? Saudi billionaire bin Laden, along with the Taliban, overtook Afghanistan with U.S. help in 1997. Now U.S. jingoism is pointed at the drought ridden country. 5.5 million Afghanis will be dependent on food aid to survive this winter, yet international aid workers have been evacuated for fear of attacks by the U.S. Iran, after having long been trying to get back in the good graces of the U.S., has once again closed its borders to starving and fearful Afghan refugees. But the corporate media would have us believe that the Afghan people are our enemies, as well as Iraqis still suffering under the U.S. embargo and bombing, and Occupied Palestinians.

Since Ariel Sharon, the man who led the attacks on Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Southern Lebanon, became Israel’s Prime Minister, U.S. public sentiment had begun a barely palpable shift away from unquestioned support of Israel’s racist policies toward Palestinians. Although not much had been made of Israel’s control of the Palestinian water supply, the economic blockade, and the inability to move freely throughout the West Bank and Gaza, public sentiment was stirred when reports started to mention that the Palestinian buildings razed by Israeli bulldozers or bombed with U.S. supplied weapons, were not only buildings, but were also Palestinian’s houses.

But that slight sea-change in attitude is no longer present. Now as anti-Arab sentiment, fear of Muslims, and the continued stringing together of the terms ‘Middle East,’ ‘terrorist,’ and ‘Islam,’ spins out of control in the media, Israel is taking its cue to escalate its already horrific treatment of Palestinians. Any dissent will easily be silenced as anti-Arab sentiment rages in the U.S. and even papers like the Village Voice run stories such as the headlined, “the Bastards,” which suggested a renewed kinship with Israel because, “now we know what you have to put up with.”

No where do we see a differentiation between Palestinian people and Osam bin-Laden, a wealthy Saudi living in Afghanistan. Nor do we read about Palestinians being Occupied and continually attacked. These issues are especially important to take note of now as consent for war against any and all Arabs is being manufactured in the corporate media.

Dissent, which had been on the rise in the U.S., against corporate world domination, U.S. hegemony, and State-sanctioned racist practices and policies, will now be more difficult to voice. Instant face recognition, controversial a week ago, will now be installed with ease. Internet surveillance has the go-ahead, and any protest, or protester, besides being criminalized, will be viewed as an unfeeling scourge. Meanwhile, ‘man on the street’ type interviews feature hateful rhetoric, such as the war-cry shown on CNN of a man shouting, “this is what you get when you’re soft of Iraqis.” Racist profiling, recently getting the heat it deserved, is alive and well once again. Arab-Americans, and those with “Arab characteristics” are under attack, as are South Asians and all followers of Islam. Arab-American children need escorts to school, where some reports indicate they are being verbally attacked by their teachers, while their mothers are afraid to leave their apartments in order to grocery shop. A Sikh was shot in killed in Arizona Sunday, September 16th. Some Arab-American children and stores are sporting the omni-present U.S. flag as a life preserver.

As the people of the U.S. mourn the proximity of this attack to themselves and their immediate communities, nationalism is marketed as the tool for healing. Rally around the flag, either as a call to war or as communal sentiment of shared loss. But what does nationalism mean to people who are sincerely sporting these flags? It perpetuates ‘us versus them’ jingoism and strengthens U.S. calls for militarization. On Saturday, September 15th, New York Times front page read, “U.S. Demands Arab Countries ‘Chose Sides,'” promoting more racism by equating Arabs with terrorists, and legitimizing the notion that there is a specific ‘Arab world’ and ‘Arab mind.’ Who would not ‘chose sides’ with the U.S., where under the best of circumstances a dissenting country would have its disobedience punished with sanctions and at worst be bombed out of existence. If this is the collapse of the Empire (signs are in place-heavy debt, heightened militarization) or an excuse for war (signs also in place here-domestic unrest, impending recession) I hope the people of the world come together to mourn all of the victims of U.S. imperialism, its own citizens included, protect one another from aggression and hate, and use our time wisely and kindly.