Communique Editorial Vol. 16 No. 5

11 Dec
Congressman Keith Ellison from Minneapolis, the first Muslim ever elected to U.S. Congress

Congressman Keith Ellison from Minneapolis, the first Muslim ever elected to U.S. Congress

SIX Muslim religious leaders were escorted off a U.S. Airways plane on November 20 because a fellow passenger—who saw three of them conducting their daily evening prayer—thought they looked “suspicious.” So suspicious, in fact, that after having been removed from their plane to Phoenix, and returning to the airport the next day to catch another flight, the airline ticket agent told them their money had been refunded and that the airline would not sell them any more tickets.

Last July in London, police officers shot a Brazilian in the head six times, and once in the shoulder, suspecting him of being a suicide bomber. They were in the Stockwell Tube Station—a place where immigration checks had been stepped up—and when the police challenged him, he jumped over the turnstiles and ran. His visa status was uncertain, home ministry officials said at the time, and he was apparently afraid of being deported.

More recently, an American citizen of Iranian descent, 23-year-old college senior Mostafa Tabatabainejad, was tasered repeatedly in a UCLA library computer lab by campus police. Asked to show ID, he refused, believing he had been singled out because of his Middle Eastern appearance. He finally agreed to leave, but was nonetheless tasered five times. The campus police continued delivering the nerve-stunning electric shocks, even after putting Tabatabainejad in handcuffs.

There are several issues at play in these incidents: police brutality, the legitimization of force, an atmosphere of fear, racial profiling and, most importantly, the “war on terror.”

Many of these issues have existed since before Bush’s Orwellian-named war. But this war has also bred a culture of fear in which those in authority feel justified in singling out people who look or act differently than them, especially Muslims; shooting first and thinking later; and continuing their behavior, partly because they are not punished for their actions.

Anti-Muslim racism—which goes beyond racial profiling but includes it—is not limited to immigrants and ordinary people. Keith Ellison, the Minneapolis congressman and the first Muslim ever elected to Congress, was interviewed by the notoriously inflammatory CNN host Glenn Beck, who asked his guest to “prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”

On previous shows, Beck distinguished between “good” and “bad” Muslims, calling for good Muslims to shoot bad Muslims in the head, and warning that “Muslims will see the West through razor wire [referring to concentration camps] if things don’t change.”

The war on terror has become an excuse for the Bush administration and its partners to bomb populations and illegally invade countries. Like a schoolyard bully, the United States refuses to abide by world rules and rewrites history when convenient.

No wonder, then, that authorities (such as the police) in the countries conducting the war on terror follow their leaders’ example in declaring their own form of war against anyone who looks or acts “suspicious,” especially anyone who might be Muslim.

The world needs to show trigger-happy police officers and war-waging presidents that their actions have consequences, and that they will have to face them. And the media—instead of printing police press releases and ignoring student eye-witness statements; instead of questioning the loyalty of democratically-elected leaders just because they’re Muslims—need to be at the frontline of this fight.

This editorial was printed in the fifth edition(PDF) of the student newspaper of the School of International and Public Affairs, Communiqué, where I was editor-in-chief, in the fall of 2006.

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