Tag Archives: racism

Lessons From Columbia ’68

12 May Columbia students had occupied the school buildings, April 1968. Courtesy Life magazine

NINETEEN sixty-eight was a year that shook the world. It also shook Columbia University, rattling it so hard that the president, Grayson Kirk, and the provost, David Truman, fell down—their reputations so tarnished that they had to “retire.” It is a time that haunts the secret underground tunnels under the main campus at 116th Street where student protesters once swarmed. Its ghosts linger in the five buildings—Fayerweather, Math, Hamilton, Avery and Low—that were once occupied by students for an entire week. It blankets the grass where police kicked, beat and arrested hundreds of demonstrators and bystanders.

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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.

Communique Editorial Issue 2

27 Feb

IF you look at this newspaper’s masthead—that gray box listing all our writers, photographer, etc.—you’ll see a line at the bottom where the editors claim responsibility for the content of Communiqué. Around the world, the issue of editorial responsibility has been the subject of intense debate over the past several weeks, as riots erupted in Muslim communities from Syria to Indonesia in response to the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The death toll of these riots—at least 34 as we go to press—underlines that the debate is more than theoretical.

Every editor in history has faced decisions about what information to include and how to present it. Fortunately, our decisions at Communiqué are generally not matters of life and death. However, we still face difficult decisions in every section of the paper: Is a sex toy demonstration for undergrads worth covering in SIPA News? How much factual information do Policy Pages writers need to back up their opinions? Who should get column space on the Back Page?

There are no answers to these questions in the AP Style Guide or Webster’s. So we either have editorial policies or make it up as we go along. Even at a small student paper, it’s not easy. The media are supposed to be the fourth estate; they are expected to give a voice to those who have none, be the standard-bearers for truth and provide a forum for debate—all challenging tasks. Tasks that get more complicated when you throw in issues like editorial authority. How much is too much? How much is not enough?

The mainstream debate surrounding the cartoon controversy has centered on freedom of the press and the sanctity of religious symbols. What it should focus on, instead, is the issue of editorial responsibility. The Muhammad caricatures were designed to provoke. According to Flemming Rose, Jylland-Posten‘s culture editor, “In a secular society, Muslims have to live with the fact of being ridiculed, scoffed at and made to look ridiculous.”

Other editors across Europe apparently felt Muslims should tolerate more than that. Even as the initial peaceful protests over the cartoons were turning to violent riots, editors at publications in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain and elsewhere went to press with the images.

Arguments that newspapers should take a stand on “free speech” confuse the issue of growing intolerance with freedom of the press. We believe in press freedom—it’s part of the reason we are journalists—but we also believe that editors (and writers and cartoonists) are responsible for what they print.

We agree with Voltaire, who said: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

When it is other people’s deaths that are at stake, however, an editor should intervene.

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