A TERRIBLE hate crime against an Iranian American woman on New York’s Long Island has thrown a spotlight on the tide of racism toward Arabs and Muslims that has accompanied the U.S. government’s wars overseas.
Zohreh Assemi was attacked by two men as she was opening her Long Island salon on the morning of September 15. According to reports, the two men were screaming, “Your kind isn’t welcome here. You don’t belong here,” as they forced her inside, slammed her head on a counter and shoved a towel in her mouth.
The two smashed Assemi’s hand with a hammer, and used a knife and box cutter to slice her face, neck, back and chest, before stealing $2,000 and scrawling anti-Muslim slurs on the salon’s mirrors. Assemi told New York Newsday, “They were cursing, ‘Muslim, leave Locust Valley, leave the Plaza [shopping center]. Go back to the place you came from.’”
According to friends and family, Assemi had been receiving harassing phone calls for two weeks prior to the attack. The callers warned her to “get out of town” and called her “a terrorist,” according to the New York Post.
For Assemi, who fled from Iran and got political asylum from the U.S. in 1982, and became a citizen in 2001 in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the racism of the attack was, in some ways, worse than the physical abuse she suffered. “[T]he worst thing they can call me is a terrorist,” she told Newsday. “That hurts a lot.”
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ASSEMI IS one of many victims of the racist climate fostered against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), hate crimes against Muslims rose 30 percent in 2005 to 1,972 incidents. They rose another 9 percent last year. “The bias attack on Zohreh Assemi is an indicator of the rising trend of Islamophobia that is growing in certain segments of American society and is promoted by a small minority of Islamophobes,” CAIR’s Aliya Latif told Newsday.
Evidence of such Islamophobia--and the racist hate crimes it inevitably leads to--isn’t hard to find.
As Socialist Worker went to press, it was reported that a high-caliber bullet was fired through the door of the Islamic Center of South Texas in Corpus Christi--a suspected hate crime that occurred at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In August, in Antioch, Calif., the Islamic Center of the East Bay was the target of an arson that gutted the building and caused an estimated $200,000 in damage. The mosque had been victim to a series of previous burglaries and vandalism.
Meanwhile, incidents of “flying while Arab”--Arab or Muslim passengers coming under suspicion from fellow passengers or the authorities, simply for the way they look or speak--have become common.
Late last year, for example, a group of six Muslim religious leaders were handcuffed and removed from a plane after passengers alerted the fight crew to “six suspicious Arabic men” on the plane. The six drew attention to themselves when they observed their evening prayers in the airport prior to their flight.
Late last month, in a similar incident, an American Airlines flight from San Diego to Chicago was forced to return to its gate, and all the passengers ordered off, after one woman complained that a group of six Iraqi men were speaking Arabic. As Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR, told the Chicago Sun Times, “It is one thing to flag suspicious behavior, but to flag a global language? We are deplaning people for who they are, not what they do.”
Ironically, it turned out that the men were hired by the company Defense Training Systems to train Marines at Camp Pendleton. One of the targeted passengers, Dave Alwatan, was able to show reporters a photo of George W. Bush hugging him in a crowd during one of Bush’s visits to Michigan.
As Imad Hamad, of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, told the Arab American News, “This is not the first time where Arabs and Muslims are deplaned or thrown out of restaurants, buses or their place of work just because of the way they look or speak. If this is not discrimination, then would someone explain to me what it is?”
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THIS IS discrimination, and it should provoke anger. But because it’s directed against Arabs and Muslims, neither the media nor politicians take much notice. In fact, the attacks on Arabs and Muslims often come from just these sources.
Earlier this month, for example, Michigan state Rep. Kim Meltzer introduced legislation under which a city like Detroit would lose millions in state revenue if it keeps its anti-racial profiling ordinance--which prohibits police and city employees from stopping or questioning people on the basis of race, ethnicity, religious dress, physical appearance or immigration status.
Then there is the more indirect effect of the political climate in Washington, especially as both parties ramp up the blame-the-victim rhetoric to excuse the growing catastrophe of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
Such rhetoric rests on stereotypes that Arabs and Muslim are prone to violence and have “different values from us.” During testimony this month from Gen. David Petraeus, Rep. Gary Ackerman, a liberal Democrat from New York, complained, “It seems to me that we’re trying to be in the middle of a dysfunctional, violent family. Can we afford to put a cop in every bad marriage, especially when the parties aren’t even showing up for counseling?”
As for the media, earlier this month, the Columbus Dispatch published an editorial cartoon with a map of the Middle East, depicting Iran as a sewer with roaches crawling out of it. CAIR and others called for people to complain about the racist cartoon--comparing the portrayal of Iranians to Nazi propaganda against Jews.
Yet instead of apologizing, Dispatch editorials editor Glenn Sheller denounced CAIR for “misrepresenting” the cartoon and “fabricating” a false grievance. “If CAIR is truly concerned about the promotion of Nazi ideas and the use of Nazi methods,” Sheller sniped, “it should direct its attention to Tehran.”
Minimizing anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism is certainly not unique. In July, right-wing radio host Michael Savage got away with this racist rant: “[W]hen I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi...That’s what I see--how do you like that?--a hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children.”
Likewise, a May editorial from Investor’s Business Daily, decried the decision of the Kansas City International Airport to provide footbaths for Islamic cab drivers to be able to practice their religion more easily.
“You would think 9/11 would have marginalized militant Muslims,” the editorial stated, “But it’s only emboldened them. Now they’re demanding footbaths in restrooms--and getting them!...What’s next, prayer-rug cleaning? Box-cutter dispensers?”
In October, one of the best-known organizations of the hard-line right wing will take Islamophobia on the road. Ideologue David Horowitz has called for students to host “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” on more than 100 campuses across the country.
A statement about the “awareness week” reads, in part: “According to the academic left, the Islamo-fascists hate us not because we are tolerant and free, but because we are ‘oppressors.’ Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week is a national effort to oppose these lies and to rally American students to defend their country.”
Horowitz and Co. have suggested holding campus teach-ins and sit-ins. Women’s Studies departments and women’s centers would make particularly good targets, Horowitz suggests, because of their supposed “silence about the oppression of women in Islam.”
Speakers being offered for the “tour” include right-wing Harvard historian Daniel Pipes, anti-gay and anti-choice former Sen. Rick Santorum, as well as Horowitz himself.
The tide of racism against Arabs and Muslims is not a coincidence. It is a direct consequence of U.S. wars fought for domination of the Middle East.
Racism in all forms must be challenged. The antiwar movement has a duty to recognize that bigotry against Arabs and Muslims represents another front in the wars overseas that it organizes to oppose--and to stand up against the racist hysteria.