August 23, 2006
Do-It-Yourself Profiling and Islamophobia
Following up on Matthew's barbuphobia entry, I would like to draw attention to some relatively minor yet rather disturbing events. Mere blips, but indicative of a growing acceptance of Islamophobia as an appropriate response to the current situation in MENA and the West.
Via Progressive Islam, the media has reported two separate incidents where passenger hysteria led to the ejection of Muslims from a plane. On a Malaga-Manchester flight, passengers overheard two Asian men speaking "Arabic" and refused to fly until they were removed. Similarly, a Canadian doctor returning home from a conference in Denver was escorted off a plane because one of the passengers found his behaviour suspicious and reported it to the flight crew. He was reciting evening prayers.
First, the Manchester mutiny:
Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it...
Mrs Schofield, 38, said: "The plane was not yet full and it became apparent that people were refusing to board. In the gate waiting area, people had been talking about these two, who looked really suspicious with their heavy clothing, scruffy, rough, appearance and long hair...
"While we were waiting, everyone agreed the men looked dodgy. Some passengers were very panicky and in tears. There was a lot of talking about terrorists." [Daily Mail]
Second, the doctor in Denver:
"The whole situation is just really frustrating," Farooq said. "It makes you uneasy, because you realize you have to essentially watch every single thing you say and do, and it's worse for people who are of colour, who are identifiable as a minority."
Farooq said the allegation came from a passenger who appeared drunk and had previously threatened him during the trip. [CBC]
For the record, I note that Farooq is clean-shaven and fairly attractive. Not your average scraggy-bearded stereotype.
Obviously the ill-considered blanket ban on liquids, gel-filled bras and other potentially explosive materials in carry-on luggage has spooked some travellers into believing that any brown person muttering in a foreign language is a security threat. However, there has been persistent messaging to that effect for some time now. I have previously discussed the Bush Administration's tendency to cast every event/conflict as yet another front in the War on Terror, a sweeping generalization that has nonetheless embedded itself in Western consciousness. FT explains why this is problematic in the context of recent events in Lebanon (subscription only):
But this is a huge over-simplification of the strategic situation in the Middle East today, one that risks turning the assumption of a single enemy into a self-fulfilling prophecy. It conflates a complex array of connected but separable challenges - a Shia theocracy in Iran, a secular dictatorship in Syria, the nationalist/Islamist Hamas in Palestine, various Shia militia and Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq, and Lebanon's Hizbollah - into a monolithic threat that cannot be deterred or dealt with except through overwhelming force. Just like the Bush administration's approach to Iraq, it demonstrates utter disregard for the tendency of foreign military intervention to generate nationalist resentment and violent resistance.
Generally speaking, US media does little to dispel this view and rarely presents explanations more complicated than the usual Sunni-Shia divides and the ominous specter of Iranian influence. In fact, Fox News has made a habit of giving crackpots enough airtime to propose brilliant ideas like Muslim-only lines at airport security checkpoints. Leaving aside the small problem of correctly identifying Muslims (recall they are not yet required to wear giant crescents on their clothing), such a statement is amusing in its absurdity. That is until one realizes that Fox routinely puts other news outlets to shame with its staggeringly high ratings.
What is most interesting to me is the self-righteous pride that accompanies Islamophobic rhetoric, particularly in Right Blogistan (I should not, at this point, have to name names). Statements like "there are no moderate Muslims" and "all terrorists are Muslims" are regarded as truisms which, when brought to their logical conclusions, offer only isolation or overwhelming force as policy solutions. Of course, this rhetoric is a useful prelude to the political sabre-rattling that might precede further US military action in the Middle East, perhaps against "Syran".
I am starting to think it is too late for people to get a grip.
[Photo from Gates of Vienna]
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How's this for a grossly generalised history?:
Arab countries fall behind European, become militarily weak. Because of the holocaust, Israel is created on Arab land, and Arabs can do nothing about it. In four wars with Israel, Arabs get clobbered every time. Israel becomes a festering wound of Arab impotence, in particular because of the settlements and treatment of Palestinians. Arabs start to identify more and more with Islam because of the failure of more or less secular Arab dictators. USA backs Israel, making Arabs hate USA.
Meanwhile, many MENA residents migrate to Europe. Many are poor and uneducated, and have a hard time getting along with natives. Severe ghettoization occurs. The immigrant children are greatly embittered by their kafkaesque fates, and many find their hatred for the country they grew up in validated in extremist forms of Islam on the rise in the Middle East and imported to Europe.
Bush is elected, and starts looking for a war. Al-Qaida scores a hit in 9-11, calling it a strike for Palestinians, and triggering fear, hate and hysteria in USA. Warmongering hardliners gain the momentum, and roll over softline Democrats like they aren't there. USA invades Afghanistan, then Iraq on thin pretexts later debunked. Iraq slowly disintegrates.
As the Middle East heats up, the conflict is imported to Europe. Some radicalised immigrant children see these invasions as gross injustices to which the due response is violence, and since they hate these Western countries anyway, no problem. As bombs start blowing in Europe, and many 'plots' are uncovered, the natives become fearful and hate-filled against people who look middle-eastern, since Islam is constantly envoked by the terrorists. Natives and Muslim immigrants go down together on a hate-propelled downward spiral of vengeance. Europe is washed in blood once again.
Posted by: Klaus at August 23, 2006 06:19 PM
E: i knew of the first incident but the second is a bit sureal. and people ask me why i refuse to speak arabic in public these days!
Klaus: good riddance. who needs europe anyway? also, i believe you left the bit out about Israel making a huge PR blunder with war #5 (or was this #6?)
Posted by: outis at August 23, 2006 07:42 PM
left out a lot of things. Pogroms, Communism and the Cold War, Pan-Arabism, Saudi/Salafi oil money, Evangelism, Hollywood stereotyping, Pakistan/India. Hey, you try summing up world history in four paragraphs. :)
Posted by: Klaus at August 23, 2006 08:09 PM
You are definately right about the American media presenting only simplistic explainations for this area, but that should not be surprising, since they rarely present anything else even for stories that only deal with America.
And, speaking of "rarely present[ing] explanations more complicated than the usual", you may not have seen this story from the BBC at least suggests that maybe the passengers had some reason other than simple Islamophobia for complaining about the two men on the flight to Manchester.
Posted by: Brn at August 24, 2006 01:23 AM
Eerie: "recall they are not yet required to wear giant crescents on their clothing"
No, but there is strong support for similar:
Posted by: mas at August 24, 2006 04:08 AM
Brn: True, American news is mostly feel-good human interest garbage anyway. Actually, what's even more amusing is comparing CNN-US and CNN-International. The latter has far more substance (which begs the question, why are Americans only interested in watching fluff?)
As for the BBC article, looks rather like hearsay (afterwards, my wife talked to a woman who said she sat next to them and she heard them say X). Does not explain why some passengers refused to board in the first place.
As well, I would note the following from the Mirror article:
The pair, studying for degrees at Manchester's Umist institution, believe the scare was sparked by an elderly lady sitting nearby.
Khurram said: "We were chatting away in Urdu and she kept looking at us.
"At first I didn't really take any notice. I just thought perhaps she'd never seen an Asian person before."
Sohail added: "She had to move to let us sit down and I knew straight away that something was bothering her.
"I tried my best to ignore her but she started asking me questions like where we lived and how long we had been in Malaga.
"When I told her we had only gone for the day she became even more suspicious. She kept saying that was a strange thing to do.
"Suddenly she got up and walked toward the cockpit."
Posted by: eerie at August 24, 2006 10:39 AM
mas: Hmm, lots of interesting info in that article, esp the conclusion that people who know actual Muslims (e.g. beyond TV) have more positive attitudes towards them (except when it comes to treatment of women, hmm).
Could be an entry all by itself.
Posted by: eerie at August 24, 2006 10:59 AM
E -- You noticed the same thing (re: women).
General -- Incidentally, the comment that may have frightened the woman, from that story, was something to the effect of this was the last 30 minutes of their lives, as they were at gate awaiting departure take-off on an airplane.
I know I say that very think -- and certainly think it -- before just about every airplane flight while it's at the gate. And that has nothing to do with terrorism, bombs, the middle east, hijacking, sabotage or anything else, and certainly not of any desire to see that happen, nor would I think of it that way. And it is not entirely a joke.
It is probably a not *very* rare thing to hear from flightphobes talking to a seat companion.
OK CAT CAT CAT already. Jeez.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 24, 2006 11:23 AM
Also this week-- Iraqi-American architect and blogger Raed Jarrar was refused permission to board a JetBlue flight until he removed a T-shirt saying "We will not be silent" in Arabic and English. One of the airline/security staff told him "you can't wear a t-shirt with Arabic script and come to an airport. It is like wearing a t-shirt that reads "I am a robber" and going to a bank."
The rest of his account is available here.
Posted by: elizabeth at August 24, 2006 12:24 PM
Friom Raed's account of his visit to Syria:
They said: "you better get the hell out of here unless you want us to make a scene". I tried to explain that we are the "good" Americans who are against the war, so they said go back home and change your government. "you can't come here visit us in a shelter that we were sent to because of your tax money and your bombs, and expect us to be nice to you".
Sounds like profiling cuts all ways.
Posted by: matthew hogan at August 24, 2006 03:09 PM
2nd thoughts on the students, £150 on a day trip? though maybe roce wasn't so bad...
Posted by: outis at August 24, 2006 07:09 PM