If we look after the attack of 9-11 immediately in Canada like in the United States people were attacked on the streets. If we look at who it was that was attacked it becomes very, very clear that Muslims today, don’t just refer to a religious identity– Muslims have become a racialized category of exclusion. If we look at who was attacked in Canada and in the United States, Hindu temples were desecrated, Sikh temples were attacked. In the United States, two Sikh men were shot to death, Hindus were attacked, Pakistanis were attacked, an aboriginal woman –a Cherokee --was attacked. So when we look at who is being constructed in the popular imagination of this potential Muslim terrorist, it becomes very clear that it is black and brown people who are being targeted regardless of what their religion is like.
Excerpt from Dr. Sunera Thobani's speech (delivered on October 23rd, 2004) about the impact of September 11 on the Arab and Muslim communities in North America.
Dr. Thobani is an assistant professor at the Centre for Women and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia. In 1993 she became the first woman from a racialized community, to serve as President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC). Almost immediately the organization came under attack. On April 23, 1993, John MacDougall, a Tory MP stood in the House of Commons and declared: Earlier today I learned that [Thobani] first is not a Canadian, and second does not have a work permit for this country. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that the taxpayers of Canada should be funding such an organization with an illegal immigrant as its head? Thobani again came under attack when on October 1st, 2001 she criticized the US foreign policy and the US “war on terror.” The white media was practically foaming at the mouth as they attacked her speech. The reports were rife with misinformation and innuendo with much of what Thobani said taken out of context. The Canadian government got in on the action when the RCMP launched a hate crime investigation against Thobani claiming that she had publicly incited hatred against Americans. The investigation was apparently dropped since she was never charged (everything she said was factual) but I have never read that she received an apology from the politicians or the newspapers that maligned her.
As Dr. Thobani said in her speech on October 23rd, 2004 “it becomes very clear that it is black and brown people who are being targeted regardless of what their religion is like.” The war on terror is an attack on Muslims or those who look like they could be Muslims. On April 19, 1995 after white Christian terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma he was stopped by State Trooper Charlie Hanger because he was driving without a license plate. Even after Hanger found that McVeigh was “unlawfully” carrying a gun he did not suspect that McVeigh could be the terrorist whose bomb just minutes before had ripped through the office complex killing 168 and injuring more than 800 people. This is not surprising because America believed that the bombing of the Federal building was the work of Muslim terrorists. A few hours after the bombing, Jim Stewart of CBS News declared: “The betting here is on Middle East terrorists." John McWethy from ABC News announced: "The fact that it was such a powerful bomb in Oklahoma City immediately drew investigators to consider deadly parallels that all have roots in the Middle East.” The next day an editorial from the New York Post trumpeted: "Knowing that the car bomb indicates Middle Eastern terrorists at work, it's safe to assume that their goal is to promote free-floating fear and a measure of anarchy, thereby disrupting American life. In due course, we'll learn which particular faction the terrorists identified with—Hamas? Hezbollah? the Islamic Jihad?—and whether or not the perpetrators leveled specific demands." Some writers became downright bloodthirsty. Jeff Kamen writing for the New York Newsday the day after the bombing thought that officials were wrong to ignore "a sizable community of Islamic fundamentalist militants in Oklahoma City," and urged that military special forces be used against "potential terrorists": "Shoot them now, before they get us," he demanded. On April 21st, two days after the bombing Mike Royko wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect and bombed some oil fields, refineries, bridges, highways, industrial complexes. If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it's likely it did something to deserve it anyway." During his first public address on the bombing, President Bill Clinton stated that the terrorist act was an "attack on the United States, our way of life and everything we believe in." There were “alerts” at airports for young men travelling alone to Middle Eastern countries. Even after warrants were issued for white male suspects Weldon Kennedy, the FBI agent in charge at the bombing site, did not rule out possible connections to Muslim fundamentalists. After their trials it was obvious that neither McVeigh nor his accomplice Terry Nichols, in their murderous venture, had any connection with Muslims or anyone from the Middle East.
On July 27, 1996 during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, a terrorist struck, detonating a bomb which killed two people and injured 111 others. The authorities knew that they were looking for a white man because a “white American male with ‘an indistinguishable accent’” had called 911 to report that the bomb would explode in half an hour. The language used to describe the suspect was very different from the language used when Muslims were suspected during the Oklahoma City bombing. White men in Atlanta were not subjected to attacks by their fellow citizens neither were they over policed in their communities. The terrorist, Eric Rudolph who was responsible for the bombing at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia, was eventually arrested on May 31, 2003. On July 18th, 2005 Rudolph was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole for a January 1998 bombing which killed a police officer in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Timothy McVeigh, Eric Rudolph was a white Christian terrorist born and bred in the USA.
In his 2006 “Address to the Nation” to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush said in part: “Nineteen men attacked us with a barbarity unequaled in our history. Since the horror of 9/11, we've learned a great deal about the enemy. We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy -- but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam -- a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent. And we have learned that their goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations. The war against this enemy is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation.” As Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan, they have to cope with a world in which a new word is now part of our vocabulary, “Islamophobia.”
Written in September 2008