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Civil Rights in Peril: The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims.

Civil Rights in Peril:

The Targeting of Arabs and Muslims

By Elaine C. Hagopian, ed.

Pluto Press, 320 pages

These three books examine the racialization of Arabs and Muslims since 9/11. Racialization is the process of selectively adopting ideas about Arabs and Muslims (or anyone who seems like them, such as South Asian Sikhs) as being fundamentally different from others. Racialization is at the root of the naive "Why do they hate us" question. In this framework, because Arabs and Muslims can never be part of "us," it seems impossible to get to the complex, multilayered issues of race and identity, to examine worthy critiques of U.S. policy or to explore the intersection of race, gender, class and nationalism. Instead, racialization preempts engaged discussion about power relationships and various communities in favor of books about the "Arab mind," "Introductory Islam," or what is "behind the veil." In other words, Arabs and Muslims are so different that they need to be explained, whereas we can take for granted that white, Christian Americans are the norm.

A tremendous amount is at stake in seriously thinking about these books. Peter Kirsanow, a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, said that he could foresee a situation in which the public would demand Arab internment camps. While denying his own support of such camps, he warned that if another terrorist attack occurred, the "groundswell of opinion" for detainment would be hard to prevent. In 2003, Howard Coble, the new chair of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on terrorism and domestic security, claimed that attacks on the U.S. generated the appropriate response of Japanese displacement and detention. He asserted that the Japanese needed "protection" from outrage but indicated that "[s]ome [Japanese-Americans] probably were intent on doing harm to us, just as some of these Arab-Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us." During a recent speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, U.S. Representative Sue Myrick, a Republican from Charlotte, North Carolina, decscribed the supposed danger of terrorism from Arabs living in the U.S.: "[L]ook who runs all the convenience stores ... Every little town you go into, you know?" These books not only trace catastrophic anti-Arab, anti-Muslim stereotyping and demonization, particularly after 9/11, they also provide frameworks for progressive attempts to destroy the "us" versus "them" discourse at work.

Elaine Hagopian's edited anthology cogently explores three themes: the persecution of Muslims and Arabs before and after 9/11; the media-sponsored construction of Arabs and Muslims as racialized Others; and the use of the first two themes to justify U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration. In the first section, articles by Susan Akram, Kevin Johnson and Nancy Murray argue that numerous attacks on Muslims and Arabs amount to denying that these communities are political beings with varied aspirations, identities and beliefs. They show that U.S. government and legal responses have historically pivoted upon the conflation of Arabs and Muslims with terrorists and fanatics. While this book clearly focuses on Arabs and Muslims, the authors would do well to put their claims in the context of racial profiling of other religious, ethnic and racial minorities. They fail to distinguish the post 9/11 "hunt for the enemy within" of Arabs and Muslims from governmental and legal attacks on the rights and dignities of others in the U.S. The racialization described is profoundly linked to the American experience with Native Americans, the legacy of slavery and attitudes towards immigrants. A deeper interrogation of the American psyche would help the authors' attempts to reject the notion that history began on 9/11.


In the second section, Robert Morlino and Will Youmans explore the vitriolic hatred of and ensuing incitement of violence against Muslims and Arabs, looking at the way "experts" like Bill O'Reilly and various journalists simplify, distort and charicaturize Muslim and Arab minorities in the United States. Youmans specifically examines a network of these experts, particularly Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson, who draw upon and facilitate merging U.S. and Israeli views on military offensives and the "war on terror," predicated upon writing off Islam's possible coexistence with the West. This piece offers a fitting transition to the final section, in which Samih Farsoun, Naseer Aruri and Elaine Hagopian examine how the U.S. state's national security framework rests firmly on Samuel Huntington's controversial "Clash of Civilizations" thesis, harshly summed up as: "Islam has bloody borders." The first two sections illustrate that there is only one way to exist in the new world order, although the definition of a good and civilized Westerner seems to shift and fragment.

The third section convincingly shows that U.S. identity desperately fears but also needs militant Islam. After the Communist bloc disappeared, the U.S. had to find new sources of "threats" to its borders in order to continue its policies of discipline, order and intervention. The authors, however, fail to explore the masculinist anxiety at stake, particularly within the neoconservative network, right-wing evangelical Christianity and militaristic policy-making circles. How much of domestic and foreign policy is related to the fear of being emasculated, or losing strength, power and control over others?

Hagopian's anthology is an excellent primer for those who suspect that something horrific lurks behind the terms "patriotism, terrorism and security." The authors wisely stay away from dense critical theory, choosing instead to assail readers with numerous frightening illustrations of an unfolding world that would be comical in its anxieties, if it were not so tragic. The authors also do not lay out why the world looks this way, and the readers must take it upon them-selves to figure out how the history of U.S. domestic and foreign policy has led to this juncture.

Reviewed by Meghana V. Nayak
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Author:Nayak, Meghana V.
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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