Middle East studies in the News
Anti-Arab Racism is Central to Candidate Rhetoric [incl. Steven Salaita]
by Kyle Hayden
In the wake of the primary elections (which won't truly be finished until June, when all states have finally held their primaries or caucuses and delegates have been allocated), there has been sizable talk of one type of person in America and beyond: the Muslim.
Voter turnout is up in the primaries, almost to a level not seen since 2008, when current President Barack Obama ran a vigorous campaign on "HOPE." We all remember the posters.
But turnout is up for disturbing, racist reasons. Rhetoric around Muslims and terrorism is mounting, and the more candidates put themselves on show, the more we must dissect and consider their
We must learn what it says about us, how our depictions of "them" are being turned around on us. In most cases, some feel that Republican candidate Donald Trump is doing the propaganda work of extremist groups in the Middle East, where leaders teach operatives that America is a racist, xenophobic and hateful nation bent on destroying the region and their bodies. So far, the candidates are proving extremist teaching to be correct.
Professor and author Steven Salaita visited MU earlier this month and gave a talk about indigenous communities in the United States. His new book, out in October, is titled "Inter/Nationalism: Decolonizing Native America and Palestine."
However, he has authored other books on the topic of Arab world relations. His 2008 book "The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims and the Poverty of Liberal Thought" contains several essays written with rage and clarity on how racist depictions of Arabs have robbed the United States of the political language necessary for substantive foreign policy discussion and action.
Salaita's essays are just as important today as they were in 2008. He writes:
"The flippancy with which American media apply the word 'terrorist' to Arab populations reinforces the notion that violence in the Arab World is ahistorical and therefore senseless. Arabs in turn become a people without narratives who belong to a culture incapable of rationality. These perceptions skew Americans' understanding of both the United States and the Arab World."
These generalizations are created with the same rhetorical mechanisms as racism.
After almost two decades of racist vitriol against the people living in the Middle East, how else do we explain the violence imbedded in claims made by Republican nomination frontrunner Donald Trump (someone who has never witnessed trauma and violence, only fantasized about violent retribution through the lens of American military brutality)? That we could "do waterboarding or worse," or that "you have to go after [terrorists'] families. That's the only way to really hurt them is if you go after [kill] their families."
Believe me, I wish I were making these quotes up, too.
We have candidates on both sides advocating the monitoring, internment or murder of Arabs and Muslims in the United States and abroad — in a manner rather racist.
Trump is crude because he simply declines to use coded language. His language is blunt and overt. Salaita writes that the "neoliberal murdering class" (like Hillary-Clinton-as supported-by-Kissinger) would use much more coded language to describe their racist tendencies in foreign or domestic policy.
Trump's ideas wouldn't unfold over decades, like our racist totaliziations and generalizations of people in Iraq that led to the deaths of over 120,000 civilians. The results of our actions are still unfolding there. How else do you get American troops to find it acceptable to degrade the people in the countries they invade than with these demagogues? How else do 120,000 Iraqi civilians end up dead? There has to be a concerted effort to dehumanize, that is, to take away the personhood of humans.
How else would it have been acceptable for American troops "guarding" Abu Ghraib in 2003 to torture, or oversee the torture of, people who were otherwise innocent, who were targeted simply because of their looks? I refer, of course, to information released by private contractors in the film "Iraq For Sale," in which private contractors hired to do linguistics work and interrogation at Abu Ghraib discuss how local people were detained for no reason in particular and interrogated about their connection to local terror cells.
The film provides an honest depiction of these brutal state-sanctioned, corporate crimes. In one case, a man detained at Abu Ghraib during this time claims he was chemically sterilized "with a pill" and "can no longer have children."
How do we not realize that stories like these are not fixed in time and place? They travel; people understand them. Particularly, dispossessed and victimized people in Middle Eastern countries get a-hold of these stories, or maybe they experienced them personally, and they react. This is, in part, how a terrorist is created: The murder of families, racism, indiscriminate bombing, drone killings and economic sanctions. It's not some unknowable "Evil" that is endemic to Arab peoples, as
So what's the endgame here? Is it "sand glowing in the dark," as Ted Cruz suggests (from 'carpet bombing,' which is by definition indiscriminate)? How is invoking war crimes a strategy for behaving in the world?
We have lost our sense of history. Any vestiges of sensitivity or humanity had disappeared when, at a rally last Wednesday, Bernie Sanders talked about the attacks in Brussels, proceeded to produce with his fingers a "peace" sign, hold it for about ten seconds along with almost everyone in the crowd he was speaking to, then immediately proclaim that, "We are going to crush and destroy ISIS!" What a short-lived peace it was.
Well, we better get to it. It seems like Governor Kasich is already ahead of the pack, suggesting last week that instead of "watching a baseball game in Cuba," Obama needs to "come home and take care of Brussels," or as Kasich implied, get some "boots on the ground" in Syria.
We should stop referring to our soldiers as "boots on the ground" (another dehumanizing term, directed this time at ourselves) and start referring to them as what they are: meat sacks being sacrificed on the altar of corporate capitalism.
"Send in the meat sacks!" shriek the billionaires as they watch the profits roll in. Send in those willing to die like martyrs for the Greatest Country with the Greatest People and the Greatest Traditions on Earth. Does this sound familiar?Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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