Racism in Canada: Hostility to Asian (Tamil) Refugees

Imagine … you risk life and limb to cross the Pacific in a freighter. Eventually you dock at Vancouver Island in British Columbia. You claim refugee status with the hope of starting a new life. You are a Sri Lankan national of Tamil origin.IMG_5509
Creative Commons License photo credit: un_owen

Will a purported illustrious Canadian empathy greet you? Will Canadians’ celebrated sense of compassion with the stranger at their shores define your arrival? Or will the veil on Canadian intolerance and racism be lifted?

While the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) commend the “exemplary” work of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) in coordinating your arrival and reception, some determined politicians and vocal citizens demand you be arbitrarily refused the right to land; a claim paradoxically being made by Canadians, whose ancestors never asked the Algonquin, Six Nations, or Cree for immigration forms when they first arrived on Canadian shores. Some ‘nice folks’ think you should be given food [long pause] and sent back from where you came. Others believe your freighter should have been intercepted on the high seas and diverted to somewhere in South Asia. There is even annoyance that Canada’s Constitution guarantees you the right to ‘life, liberty and security.’ There is resentment towards you because Canada has its own problems, including appalling conditions on native reserves and homeless people on the streets of major cities. We need to deal with them first. Disregard the fact that government policy, racism, poor-bashing, and apathy are root causes of these social problems.

Are such reactions to your arrival due to the fact that you are not white? No, of course not! But look more closely… racism is seamlessly veiled behind rhetoric concerning refugees “jumping the queue” and talk of “freeloaders.” As Stephen Hume points out in a recent Vancouver Sun article, “Raise this uncomfortable theory and a din of sanctimonious denial rises. However, why the fuss over a few Tamils compared with larger numbers of asylum-seekers from Russia or Hungary or the United States? Why aren’t these asylum-seekers subjected to similar vituperation as queue-jumpers?”

Perhaps Matthew Claxton, a Canadian reporter for the Langley Advance explains best the reason for the unenthusiastic reaction to your arrival. He writes: “I’m having a hard time imagining a boat of English-speaking white Irish-Catholics [from Northern Ireland] getting the same vicious reception that the Tamils have received since they arrived….”. Claxton’s contrast of your plight to imaginary boat people from Northern Ireland is not accidental. Your arrival on the freighter, along with the other 491 Sri Lankan nationals of Tamil origin, is met with concerns that some of you might be terrorists. Would similar anxieties arise over determining who among the Irish-Catholic boat people is an IRA bomber, an IRA supporter, or who is a bystander or accomplice out of fear?

Whatever your hypothetical answer to this question, it is essential to concede that it is not a crime to seek asylum. In fact, when a person arrives at a Canadian port of entry, s/he is entitled to make an application for refugee status. Once the person is in Canadian waters, they cannot legally be turned back. Moreover, labelling Tamil asylum seekers as “terrorists” before they have an opportunity to make their case is unacceptable, especially given that Canadian and international law requires that refugees have access to individual and unbiased determination of their claims.

Wanda Yamamoto, Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) President, recently explained that “[o]ver the years Canada has saved the lives of thousands of Tamils fleeing persecution, by providing access to a fair and independent refugee system. Whether they arrive by plane, foot or boat, people seeking refuge from human rights abuses have a right to an individual hearing on the reasons why they fled—a right recently reaffirmed by [Canadian] Parliament”.

“Taking to the seas in a boat like this is very risky,” said David Poopalapillai, National Spokesperson for the Canadian Tamil Congress . “We can only imagine that the people on board must have been very desperate to undertake such a dangerous voyage. We hope that our fellow Canadians will listen sympathetically to their stories and will support the government’s fair application of the law.”

We hope so too!

Tessa M. Blaikie is a sociology honours students at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

Do Subtle Discrimination and Social Justice Belong in Leadership Development Programs?

Mary Rowe, ombudsperson at MIT argues that subtle discrimination is the primary scaffolding for segregation in the U.S., a scaffolding that maintains inequality through micro-inequities–small, ephemeral, covert events that marginalize historically disadvantaged groups. She writes about how micro-inequities come to her attention everyday:

I hear of racist and anti-gay graffiti, of ethnic jokes in a lab, of someone failing to introduce a minority person, or confusing the names of two people of color I hear of someone ascribing the work or idea of a woman to a nearby male, of people who think exclusively of male contacts when a job or coveted assignment is open, of someone’s obvious discomfort at being assigned to travel with a woman or a person of another race. I hear of women who take a different path to class because of a man who seems to hang around on the path. I hear of a minority employee not notified of a vital matter at work. I hear of a woman trainee assigned to a certain office she did not want to be in, ‘because the man in that office was lonely and wanted to be assigned with a woman.’

Are these issues that leaders need to know about? Are the dynamics of subtle discrimination a subject for leadership development programs?

A thought-provoking new report on leadership and race entitled “How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice” has just been issued by the Leadership Learning Community. The report suggests the leadership programs that simply focus upon diversity practices, equal opportunity, and individualism, do not recognize how systems such as culture, institutional practices, and policies, impact career and life opportunities for disadvantaged groups. A revealing chart in the report indicates that almost 90 percent of the 122 institutional leadership programs surveyed address diversity, but only half include training on structural racism and white privilege. An even smaller number (a little over 30 percent) include GLBTQ concerns.

Why does this matter? Should structural considerations relating to racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and other forms of exclusion be included in our leadership development programs? Should we not simply continue to talk about the value of diversity without addressing the systems that perpetuate social stratification within our institutions and organizations?

These questions remain controversial. It is easier to focus upon general discussions of diversity and multi-culturalism without delving into the difficult problems that this country has faced and is still facing. As American’s foremost theorist on systemic discrimination, Joe Feagin, reminds us in The White Racial Frame , the United States is a country shaped by extensive slavery and comprehensive legal segregation for a time period of 350 years, between 1619 to 1969, when legal segregation officially ended.

In the field of higher education, we know from recent reports that a high degree of racial and gender stratification persists in the administrative leadership ranks. My colleague, Alvin Evans of Kent State University, and I are exploring the implications of this stratification for university leadership in an upcoming book.
And as Adrianna Kezar and Rosana Carducci point out in Rethinking Leadership in a Complex, Multicultural and Global Environment now is the time for a revolutionary reconceptualization of leadership models from hierarchical, individualist leadership models that focus on power over others, to process-centered, nonhierarchical, collective forms of leadership that emphasize mutual power.

We agree. In Bridging the Diversity Divide: Globalization and Reciprocal Empowerment in Higher Education my co-author and I identify the importance of a framework of demography, diversity, and democracy that infuses the climate and culture and fosters reciprocal empowerment. Reciprocal empowerment corrects the imbalance in asymmetrical power relations through distributive justice, collaboration, and self-determination. In this era of globalization, the need for new approaches in our leadership programs that address critical social justice issues has never been stronger.

How Do We Make A Better Constitution?

Next Friday, September 17th Americans will be celebrating Constitution Day, a holiday established by the late Senator Byrd in 2004 which requires all educational institutions that receive federal money to honor the day in which the Constitution was signed. For some people this day is a time to celebrate, have parades, and to generally feel proud of our system of constitutional government and America itself. While there is a lot to be proud of, for example the Framers of the constitution created a document that set up our governing legal principles, which have remained (with a few important changes) political stable since the Civil War. However, having yearly discussions about the Constitution centered on the day of its signing requires more of us than flag waving or listening to patriotic speeches. As the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall stated in his remarks in 1987, which marked the bicentennial of the constitution:

Patriotic feelings will surely swell, prompting proud proclamations of the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice shared by the Framers and reflected in a written document now yellowed with age. This is unfortunate–not the patriotism itself, but the tendency for the celebration to oversimplify, and overlook the many other events that have been instrumental to our achievements as a nation. The focus of this celebration invites a complacent belief that the vision of those who debated and compromised in Philadelphia yielded the “more perfect Union” it is said we now enjoy. I cannot accept this invitation, for I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite “The Constitution,” they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

Marshall then goes on to list important evolutionary changes to what “We the people” meant in 1787 and at later dates in American history. This includes the fact that blacks, women, and the poor could not participate in the conception of “we the people” not even in civic rights as basic as voting in 1787. For those who argue that the Constitution was simply a construction of its times, Marshall has this to say:

…the effects of the Framers’ compromise have remained for generations….It took a bloody civil war before the l3th Amendment could be adopted to abolish slavery, though not the consequences slavery would have for future Americans.

As Marshall points out, after the Civil War, the Constitution was profoundly changed especially with the important addition of the 14th amendment. He adds:

In its place arose a new, more promising basis for justice and equality, the 14th Amendment, ensuring protection of the life, liberty, and property of all persons against deprivations without due process, and guaranteeing equal protection of the laws. And yet almost another century would pass before any significant recognition was obtained of the rights of black Americans to share equally even in such basic opportunities as education, housing, and employment, and to have their votes counted, and counted equally. In the meantime, blacks joined America’s military to fight its wars and invested untold hours working in its factories and on its farms, contributing to the development of this country’s magnificent wealth and waiting to share in its prosperity.

According to Marshall, the importance of examining the Constitution from a critical perspective is the role that it has had in determining the status of blacks in America. He states,

What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America’s history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue.

Rather than looking at our bicentennial as a day to celebrate the Framers, Marshall argues that the credit for the important changes that made the Constitution better do not belong with the Framers. Rather he states, “It belongs to those who refused to acquiesce in outdated notions of “liberty,” “justice,” and “equality,” and who strived to better them.” In his concluding remarks on the bicentennial anniversary of the Constitution he argues:

And so we must be careful, when focusing on the events which took place in Philadelphia two centuries ago, that we not overlook the momentous events which followed, and thereby lose our proper sense of perspective….If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the “Miracle at Philadelphia” will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making….I plan to celebrate the bicentennial of the Constitution as a living document, including the Bill of Rights and the other amendments protecting individual freedoms and human rights.

Similarly to Marshall’s critical reflection of the bicentennial of the Constitution, I believe Constitution Day is a day to reflecting on current notions of liberty, justice, and equality as found in our most significant legal document that has established our governing principles and structure for 223 years now. I believe the purpose of Constitution Day is to spend some time reflecting on the important constitutional questions and issues of the day. So, today I’d like to ask the question: How do we make a better Constitution for all Americans? Stated differently, what do we have left to do to truly create a better democracy in America? If we would like to continue to live up to our dearest beliefs we must continually find ways to improve our society with expanded notions of “we the people” in America. So, during Constitution day I ask us to consider what we still have left to do to improve upon our ideals and principles as a nation? In thinking about how we make a better Constitution, I would like to focus on two points. First, how do we expand liberty and justice through contemporary public policy issues with constitutional implications? Second, how do we make the interpretation of our Constitution more representative of American society?

First, it is important to examine which parts of our society aren’t working very well right now and to consider the extent that the structure and content of our constitution contribute to the dysfunction. Looking at ways to expand our values of liberty and justice for us all by focusing on public policy priorities, it helps to begin with a definition of public policy. Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement and Russell F. Stark University Professor at the University of Washington, Luis Fraga states, “(p)ublic policy is the primary way in which Americans have always demonstrated their commitment to each other.” What should some of these commitments to each other entail?In 1944 Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered this and proposed a Second Bill of Rights which focused on increasing opportunity and security for all Americans. FDR stated:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made. In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all – regardless of station, race, or creed.

For FDR this included: The right to a good job that allows one to earn enough to have the basic necessities to live a good life. It also included the right to a good education, where one’s children could go to school free to learn and not burdened by poverty, hunger, or fear of violence. It also included fair business practices for entrepreneurs large and small, and the right to adequate medical care, and a decent home for all families. These are just a few of the goals FDR proposed in his Second Bill of Rights just months before he died. While it is another conversation to see just how these ideas could be written into the Constitution if FDR had lived to push his policies through, and even harder to determine how these public policy commitments would be implemented and later interpreted, they are still ideals worth discussing. For example, what does it say about our current notions of justice and equality that we still largely have a Constitution based on the beliefs that opportunity and security are about some sort of “survival of the fittest” notion? For example what does our Constitution say about the right of education? Nothing. In other countries with the capacity to do so, there is a greater commitment to economic and social rights than in the US. For example, the European Social Charter, rewritten in 1996 includes the right to housing, health, education, employment, legal and social protection, and non-discrimination to name a few.
These important questions were being asked by our 32 president who believed we must keep improving our commitments and values to one another through our Constitution with a Second Bill of Rights.
Another way to consider how to make our Constitution better is to expand the interpretation of what it means. Stated differently, how can the meaning of the Constitution include perspectives from more than just the 98 percent elite white male input that has gone into it thus far? Marbury vs Madison established judicial review by the Supreme Court. Yet, who has made up the Supreme Court throughout our history? How many ordinary Americans, especially the white working class, women, and people of color have ever had real representation of their experiences and views on the Supreme Court? Shouldn’t we be a little concerned that we are so lacking in representation in our most powerful unelected political body? One way to make our Constitution better is to have the current interpretation of our most important constitutional questions be more representative, at a minimum if we are to be a real democracy. Surely we can find excellent legal minds among ordinary folks who have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and achieved a university and then later a legal education. It shouldn’t take an exclusively ivy league path (which is as much a reflection of parents’ socioeconomic status as it is of talent and ability) to play a part in this important institution. Since our founding we have only had three people of color ever sit on our most powerful and unelected political body. Only one woman of color, no Asians, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, black women, etc….. This is the body that interprets and extends the Constitution for the modern era. Yet it is still 67 percent white men, and white men only make up 35 percent of the US population now. So, the supreme court is a very unrepresentative body, and this is the body interpreting the Constitution for the contemporary era.

In attempting to articulate the elements of how to make a better Constitution, I’m really talking about how to make a more just, equitable, and inclusive society. Looking to our original principles that have characterize our nations can provide the building blocks on which we can continue to improve America. My ideas for a better Constitution are based on the belief that we can continue to make society better through sound policy commitments such as detailed by FDR and through making the supreme court justices charged with determining not only how to interpret the Constitution but what issues to focus on be more representative of America.

We have come a long way from what was established by the Framers 223 years ago in our Constitution. “We the people” now includes more of us than ever before. Yet we still have a long way to go for full social and political incorporation—especially among the poor, immigrants, and among people of color. The principles of “establishing justice,” or “the blessings of liberty” that are found in the preamble of the Constitution are really good ones. However, we must have the wisdom and courage to continue to seek ways to improve our government, our legal structure, our commitments to one another by extending the promise of them to more people in our society. It is my hope that my students, my children, and new immigrants to our community will live in a country that continues to strive for improvement. As long as we do this critically and lovingly we have a good reason to be proud to call America our home.

9/11 — and Anti-Muslim Attacks and Sentiment

Rinku Senator and Fekkak Mamdouh, longtime (59 years altogether) residents of the U.S. have a good piece I recommend over at Colorlines titled “Long time residents This 9/11, Let’s All Take Responsibility for Ending a Summer of Hate.”

It is sad that many Americans, including numerous leaders and media analysts, use this time to make intensive verbal and/or other attacks on Muslim Americans and Islam. We should remember the victims of this atrocious attack by overseas extremists in New York City without using it as an excuse for the (often white-generated) racial framing of Muslim and/or Middle Eastern Americans. We do not go crazy with racial framing, hostility, and profiling on April 19 in the 1990s, do we? That is when the white Christian Tim McVeigh and his white Christian group conducted the most damaging terrorist attack in recent decades before the 9/11 attack. Yet, fortunately, the contemporary hatemongers do not call for a ban on Christian church centers near the bombing site in Oklahoma City.

Rinku Senator and Fekkak Mamdouh make this point:

… this summer marks the worst anti-Muslim backlash we’ve ever seen here. As the nine years since 9/11 have passed, Americans have forgotten an essential fact: Extremists can use any religion to justify murder, and the stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists sacrifices both American values and community safety. .. .Attacks on Muslim people have escalated. Opponents of the Cordoba House keep saying that 9/11 was the worst attack ever on American soil, therefore Ground Zero is “sacred” and nothing as profane as a mosque should be built there. …It presumes that it is impossible that Austrian Muslims, like Mamdouh himself, who worked at Windows on the World, could have been in the World Trade Center, could have lost friends, colleagues or relatives there….

Too many Americans think uncritically about these matters and require scapegoats to explain too many contemporary social issues. The sharp increase in anti-Muslim attacks is not just about the 9/11 attacks as the numerous attacks on mosques and Muslim Americans over decades, across the country, clearly show. Recent surveys are very disturbing:

A recent TIME/CNN poll found that 55 percent thought Muslims could not be patriots. …. Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey popularized the notion that Muslims don’t deserve the same religious freedom as everyone else….

The following analyses summarize some more detailed points I make in the ninth edition of this book (the references can be found there):

The array of discrimination against Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans in recent years is broad–racist jokes, cartoons, e-mails from fellow employees, not being hired or promoted because of Islamic religious observance, taunted with slurs. Many cases of employer discrimination involve workplace prohibitions against religious practices, such as not allowing Muslim men to wear beards or not permitting daily prayers.

The 9/11 attacks by a few Middle Eastern terrorists have stimulated many hate crimes by non-Middle-Eastern Americans, crimes principally about a hostile racial-religious framing. Yet no Middle Eastern American was implicated in the attacks. Seventeen of the nineteen men involved were from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, close allies of the U.S. government. In just nine weeks after September 11, there were at least 520 violent attacks in the U.S. on people thought to be of Middle Eastern ancestry.

The hastily passed 2001 USA Patriot Act and related acts gave the government broad authority to detain noncitizens with little due process. Muslim and Middle Eastern Americans have been targeted by federal agents and private personnel. In one case Muslim religious officials were taken off a plane just because they were praying. This surveillance problem has become so general that Arab Americans have a term for it—“FWA,” for “flying while Arab.” In addition, one CAIR report indicates there were 116 hate crime incidents targeting Middle Eastern Americans in 2008–more than a thousand since 2001. One national poll found since 2001 nearly three-quarters of Muslim respondents had experienced anti-Muslim harassment or physical attack, or knew someone who had.

Senator and Mamdouh also point out who should take action:

….a few have become nostalgic for George W. Bush—who spoke no less than 11 times in the fall of 2001 about Islam being a religion of peace and love and having nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Others have called for President Obama to speak up more often to protect Muslims. But the real problem is that everyday Americans keep silent about too much of this.

And over at Dailykos, Michael Moore argues that the mosque and Islamic Center should be built at “ground zero” if America is to be the America it claims to be!

Latino Population Growth and the Arizona Nativism

Texas A&M University social demographer and sociologist Rogelio Saenz has some revealing statistical data in his recent Population Reference Bureau piece titled “Latinos, Whites, and the Shifting Demography of Arizona”: He first notes the dramatic growth in the population of Arizona, bringing the state up to near seven million people today as now the 14th-largest U.S. state. Among these

Latinos accounted for two-fifths of the nearly 3.8 million people added to the state’s population between 1980 and 2008…. The share of Arizona’s growth due to Latinos has grown significantly across the last three decades while the growth due to whites has declined…. The percentage of Arizonans who are Latino increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2008. In contrast, the share of the state’s population that is white declined from 75 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2008.

He also provides this striking chart, which has major political-economic implications:

As he points out about this chart,

Whites account for over half of the state’s population ages 35 and older and make up at least 80 percent of those in elderly age categories. . . . In contrast, Latinos outnumber whites in the two youngest age groups (0 to 4 and 5 to 9). While the median age of the white population is 43, it is only 26 among Latinos.

This racial-age polarization has significant implications. A majority of active voters and political activists now are still white, while the population that will eventually be that majority of voters and activists is not white, indeed is very substantially Latino. Many Arizona whites have also been the ones so aggressively seeking SB1070-type legislation to reduce the (already significantly declining because of the Bush depression) number of Latinos in the state, with some of them supporting violence against these immigrants in the form of armed groups patrolling the border.

One of the sad ironies in all this is that most of the Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, in Arizona actually do much work for whites, to make their middle class lives (houses, restaurants, etc) more affordable and thus to buttress white middle-class affluence. One has to wonder who will do much of this hard and dirty work in Arizona if the immigrants are driven out.

Saenz also notes certain critical larger national and international “boxes” within which the Mexican immigration has taken place:

The families of many Latinos in the state have been there for generations. Furthermore, globalization, the expansion of economies across international borders, and the aging of the populations of developed countries all stimulate the movement of people into places such as Arizona.

Attacks and Expulsions: French Governments against the Roma, Again

The BBC has a news reports on organized French human rights protests against French government expulsions and other negative treatment of French Roma people (so-called “gypsies’):

Thousands of people have been attending rallies in Paris and 130 other French towns to protest at the government’s policy of deporting Roma people.

A majority of French respondents in polls support the government expulsions and other apparent “cleansing” of these mostly working class residents of France:

About 1,000 Roma (Gypsies) returned to Romania and Bulgaria from France last month, while official figures record that 11,000 Roma were expelled from France last year. The League of Human Rights, which called for the demonstrations, said it wanted to counteract government “xenophobia” and what it described as the systematic abuse of Roma in France.

French President Sarkozy has apparently expanded these high-profile campaigns for political reasons, even against opposition in his presidential cabinet:

Prime Minister Francois Fillon hinted that he disliked the crude links being made between foreigners and crime, while Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he considered resigning over the issue.

There have been violent encounters between the Roma and non-Roma police in some cities:

In mid-July, riots erupted in Grenoble after police shot an alleged armed robber during a shootout. The next day, dozens of French Roma attacked a police station in the small Loire Valley town of Saint Aignan, after police shot dead a French Roma man who had allegedly not stopped at a police checkpoint.

French politicians’ expulsion and other policing actions have seen dissent and criticism from international sources like the Vatican and the United Nations, even the European Commission.

The article largely ignores the large scale racialized discrimination that targets the Roma, something Jessie detailed here. I am not very familiar with these recent French events, or the background. Perhaps some of our viewers can add some savvy comments on the situation in France.

Black Muslim Voices Missing in Discussion of New York City Muslim Center

Blackvoicenews has an excellent take on the anti-Muslim furor that our mostly white “leaders” in the political and media spheres have created–and mostly out of their white racial framing of Middle Eastern Muslim Americans. It is significant that a group that was generally ignored outside of a few urban areas before 9/11 is now the new target or scapegoat for certain U.S. ills.

As one African American Muslim leader noted this is not only about religious intolerance, but also about (white) racism:

“We have to be able to decode what’s happening and realize that this is religious intolerance on one hand, and it’s [also] good ol’ red-blooded American racial and ethnic bias on the other hand,” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, sitting in his office at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. in Harlem.

National polls indicate only a quarter of Americans support of the right of some Americans to construct a Muslim center near the 9/11 site–and presumably, by implication, the first amendment’s promise (extended by the 14th amendment) of (government) noninterference in the “free exercise” of religion in the U.S. There is much ignorance in the general population about the Middle East, Muslims, and the issues around the Muslim center in New York City, for example:

Many in the mainstream media have failed to acknowledge that the proposed building will not simply serve as a mosque but as a fully equipped community center with a swimming pool, culinary school, art studios and other features. Furthermore, another mosque, the Manhattan Mosque, stands only five blocks northeast from the site of Ground Zero; Muslims have been worshiping at this location since a year prior to the World Trade Center’s construction.

So, Muslims have been worshiping there, already, for four decades. I suppose they will have to move with this new wave of US anti-Muslim hysteria? There is yet another ignorance and slighting, as Abdur-Rashid points out, in the local and national discussion—the absence of Black Muslims:

“The first thing we need to do is decode some of the language,” said Abdur-Rashid. “The first language that has to be decoded is “Americans.” That really means “white Americans.” That’s who’s uptight about this. It’s opposition that’s occurring in different parts of the country in reaction to the construction of mosques. It’s not just Park 51 in Lower Manhattan. … It’s in different parts of the country.”

African Americans were for decades the largest Muslim group (think about Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar) in the United States, and they are now the second largest group. Why aren’t they brought in as experts and commentators in the mainstream media dealing with these Muslim issues? It seems just white racist thinking and framing that results in the white-controlled media not bringing themselves to have experienced African American Muslims discussing these current anti-Muslim issues, most especially in New York City, long the home of large Black Muslim groups. (For solid and readable research on Muslim Americans, see here and here.)

Russell Simmons, a hip-hop entrepreneur who chairs the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding is quoted in the article:

“I’m disappointed in everyone, Harry Reid and the rest of the Democrats,” said Simmons. “I’m shocked at the media. There’s ignorance on all sides. Twenty-three percent of this world’s population is Muslim. They’re a peace-loving people. What we’re doing is creating more tension.”

As he points out, “The Muslims” did not attack the US, and this often vicious, highly politicized anti-Mosque “crusade” (indeed, it is like a “crusade”) will only alienate yet again much of the world’s population. Not to mention, it violates the letter or spirit of our own Bill of Rights traditions. Can we afford that as a nation?

New Hate Crimes against Latinos

The Southern Poverty Law Center just published a comment on the increase in racially motivated crimes by non-Latinos against Latinos

Here is a sampling of these racist attacks:

Early last Saturday in Baltimore, Martin Rayez, 51, was beaten to death with a piece of wood. The man arrested for the crime, Jermaine Holley, 19, allegedly confessed and told police that he “hated Hispanics.” He has been treated in the past for schizophrenia. The killing occurred in East Baltimore, the scene of other recent attacks on Latinos. . . . In June, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office in Phoenix said that the murder of a Mexican-American man a month earlier was a hate crime. Gary Thomas Kelley is charged with second-degree murder in the killing of Juan Varela. He also is charged with menacing Varela’s brother with a gun. “Hurry up and go back to Mexico or you’re gonna die,” Kelley shouted at Varela before shooting him in the neck, police said. The dead man was a third-generation, native-born American.

There have also been 11 attacks on Latinos on Staten Island just since April.

The SPLC attributes some of these violent attacks to the hostile climate created by U.S. political officials:

Two of the most outrageous recent examples: Texas Republican Congressmen Louie Gohmert and Debbie Riddle both claimed that pregnant terrorists plan to sneak into America to give birth to future terrorists who will automatically become U.S. citizens and eventually “help destroy our way of life,” as Gohmert put it. Both representatives claimed that former FBI officials divulged the terrorist baby threat to them.

Given that undocumented immigration has declined in recent months, this upsurge in the hostile racial climate, fed by actions such as those of leading Republican officials in Arizona, seems to be intentional. Anti-brown-immigrants seem part of an old right-wing framing of U.S. racial matters.

The human rights report to the United Nations that I mentioned yesterday does not even discuss the thousands of these racially and ethnically motivated crimes that the U.S. has seen in the last decade, including these against Latinos–although it does mention the new hate crimes law and has a brief sentence on anti-gay crimes. The human rights report also has rather general and skewed language on official attacks such as racial profiling:

The United States recognizes that racial or ethnic profiling is not effective law enforcement and is not consistent with our commitment to fairness in our justice system. For many years, concerns about racial profiling arose mainly in the context of motor vehicle or street stops related to enforcement of drug or immigration laws. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the debate has also included an examination of law enforcement conduct in the context of the country’s effort to combat terrorism. Citizens and civil society have advocated forcefully that efforts by law enforcement to prevent future terrorist attacks must be consistent with the government’s goal to end racial and ethnic profiling.

Even racial profiling is not discussed in its problematic details, with data, but is tied to outside terrorist attacks. There is also no mention in the report of the internal terrorism against thousands of Americans of color.

US Government Reports on US Human Rights to United Nations

Another difference that the Obama administration makes can be seen in this press release from yesterday. The U.S. has decided to submit this human rights report under the United Nation Human Rights review process:

On August 20, the United States submitted to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a report on the U.S. human rights record, in accordance with the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

The report’s submission is one step in the UPR process. The next step will be a formal presentation by the U.S. government to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in November. The report stands as just one element of the U.S. effort to engage broadly and constructively with the UN and other international organizations.

The review, which has featured an unprecedented level of consultation and engagement with civil society across the country, provides an opportunity to reflect on our human rights record and we hope will serve as an example for other countries on how to conduct a thorough, transparent, and credible UPR presentation. It involved support and assistance from the Department of Justice as well as over ten other federal departments and other offices, and the White House.

The United States is proud of its record on human rights and the role our country has played in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.

I will analyze the report as soon as I finish reading it.

“Illegals” are Helping to Save Social Security — for Other Americans

Another good story on The Root (from the NY Times) points out that the U.S. government actually depends on and counts the contributions of Social Security by undocumented immigrants! Actually counts on their contributions to keep Social Security solvent! (The Times story here has personal examples of people paying $2400 a year on modest jobs, with no hope of Social Security or Medicare.) You do not hear about that in the nativistic mainstream media these days:

According to an article in The New York Times, the estimated 7 million illegal immigrants in the United States are adding $7 billion to the Social Security system each year. . . . working and paying into Social Security and Medicare, but since they are not citizens, they cannot benefit from the programs once retired.

And the amount is very substantial:

The money contributed by “illegal immigrants” added up to about 10 percent of last year’s surplus — the difference between what the system currently receives in payroll taxes and what it gives out in pension benefits. What’s even more interesting is that the money paid by illegal workers and their employers is factored into all of the Social Security Administration’s projections.

Hmm. So if we keep them out of the United States, the white nativists will quickly volunteer to pay much more in Social Security taxes to make up for these huge government losses. Right.