Racial Stereotypes Dehumanize!

by Ra Ravishankar

Dissident Voice
February 20, 2003



History seems to be repeating itself in ways more than one. The rulers have been beating the war drums using a plethora of lies, not the least being the pretext of acting in self-defence, McCarthyism seems to be back with renewed vigor as if to make up for lost time, and racial profiling is back in a big way with Muslim immigrants joining their Latin American (with the exception of Cuban) counterparts and Black Americans in the list of the persecuted.


Several commentators have noted the analogy between the WTC attacks and the attack on Pearl Harbor. The analogy, unfortunately, didn't end with these barbarities. Then U.S President Franklin Roosevelt retaliated by interning about 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry. And the current incumbent seems to have given the nod for a witch-hunt of Muslims.


In a report released last August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) found the U.S. government to have detained more than 1,200 (no one knows the exact number for the government refuses to release the full list of detainees) non-citizens for several months without charges (and in some cases, under solitary confinement), denied access to counsel, subjected them to coercive interrogations, and overridden judicial orders to release them on bond during immigration proceedings. The vast majority of the detainees are Muslims of Middle Eastern, South Asian or North African descent. Criticizing that "the U.S. government has failed to uphold the very values that President Bush declared were under attack on September 11", Jamie Fellner, director of HRW's U.S. Program, faulted the Government for having "ignored basic restraints on a government's power to detain that are the hallmark of free and democratic nations." As of July 2002, these detentions and the subsequent investigations had not yielded "any criminal indictments for crimes connected to terrorist activity" [Human Rights Abuses of Post-September 11 Detainees]. The detainees, however, continue to be treated like terrorists, with no idea of the fate that awaits them. The Japanese interns were released at the end of the war. The War on Terror "may last our lifetime", says Vice President Dick Cheney. The natural question that arises then is, are the innocent detainees doomed to a lifetime of imprisonment?


As if this wasn't enough, the INS has now started a Special Registration (read Detainment) process whereby men 16 years of age or older from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are to re-register with the INS. These suspects are digitally photographed and fingerprinted, and asked if they have links to any terrorist organization. In case you didn't know, terrorists never lie! During the first phase of the special 'registration' process, hundreds were detained in Los Angeles. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that most of these new detainees were waiting for approval of their green card applications, while the rest had minor visa problems caused by the INS's inefficacy. As an instance of the INS's bungling, the San Diego Union Tribune reported on July 27, 2002 that the INS had recently failed to process and then dumped more than 200,000 change of address forms thereby putting these more than 200,000 people at risk of wrongful arrest and deportation (for failing to report a change of address). And needless to say, more countries could be included in the list of suspects. As if to rub salt into the wounds, Representative Howard Coble, also the chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security recently remarked that, "some Japanese-Americans probably were intent on doing harm to us [in 1942] just as some of these Arab-Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us." The end to racial profiling is nowhere in sight, but that's all the more the reason to organize and resist. The huge demonstrations following the INS detentions in LA resulted in the release of most of the detainees and probably saved several others from meeting with the same fate. So as to present a united front against racial profiling, several organizations have come together to form the Blue Triangle Network. Since last year, February 20th is being observed as National Day of Solidarity with Muslim, Arab and South Asian Immigrants . Here again, the day has been chosen to emphasize the analogy between the Japanese internment and the current profiling of Muslims, for February 19, 1942, was when Roosevelt issued the infamous Executive Order 9066 authorizing the roundup and imprisonment of people of Japanese origin living along the U.S. west coast.


A plaque at Manzanar, the first of ten concentration camps that held the interned Japanese, reads: "May the injustices and humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism and economic exploitation never emerge again." Are the powers that be listening? If not, then as Edward Said says, "every one of us must raise our voices, and march in protest, now and again and again."


Ra Ravishankar is a Doctoral student in Electrical Engineering at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Email: ravishan@uiuc.edu     


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