Racism, Bigotry and Abuse

Americans hate to be told that their culture is often based by the hatred of other people, particularly foreigners. But racism and bigotry are a fact of American life, which is built on the decades of civil rights abuses of African Americans and other minorities.

The only thing different today, is that the targets of most American hatred are Arabs and Muslims.

That’s why I am not surprised by the Iraqi prison abuse scandal, where Americans who supposedly went to “liberate” Iraq, filled the very same prisons used by the toppled Saddam Hussein to torture Iraqis to do the exact same thing.

There seems to be no limit to the disclosures about American misconduct and war crimes in Iraq at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Incidents range from depraved humiliation and torture to sexual assault, rape and worse, murder.

Worse, the fact the pictures were taken of these criminal acts suggest that the perpetrators were doing something they never suspected they would be punished for, and that maybe even they might be celebrated for when they returned to this country.

Grotesque souvenirs of their pride that when you see the gleeful laughter and smiles on the faces of the war criminal soldiers involved, they clearly planned to share and enjoy with others when they returned home from the “liberation.”

Americans have a tradition of putting an ethnic face to terrorism and violence, but only when the perpetrators don’t fit the majority mold and are non-White.

Tim McVeigh was a terrorist with a religious and political agenda, but no one said he represented a certain ethnic group. David Koresh was another fanatic, as was Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

The white male profile leads the list of serial killers, rapists and pedophiles, but no one puts a White ethnic face to those crimes. It’s only when you are Black, Hispanic or “foreign” that your ethnicity suddenly becomes a key criteria.

So when the horror and terrorism of September 11th brought the Middle East conflict to American shores, patriotism took on a new meaning, one driven by the certainty that the only real violent threat to America is the threat from Arabs and Muslims.

That message was drilled home every day. Arabs and Muslims were demonized, vilified and denounced by hosts on radio, cable news television and by politicians.

Islam is denounced by “respected” religious leaders as “evil.” Cries for Arabs and Muslims to be arrested, deported or worse were repeated by everyone from local to national political and government leaders.

Protesters savaged Arab neighborhoods and vandalized anything that even distantly smacked of being “Middle Eastern,” and thousands of Americans who looked or were Middle Eastern were harassed, assaulted and in the cases of at least 14 people, murdered.

If prosecutions are to be sought, the defendants shouldn’t just be prison guards, but TV and radio talkshow hosts, the American news media and some of our most respected members of the U.S. Congress.

They made this possible. The prisoners were the guns but the media and many American leaders pulled the triggers.

Why should we be surprised that soldiers who endured this hateful environment — a real-life version of the classic Hollywood movie, Lord of the Flies.

But the perpetrators in the Iraq prison abuse scandal are not little children abandoned on a remote island far away from civilization and too young to understand concepts of civility, humanity, human dignity and morality.

They are adults nurtured in a growing American environment where your patriotism is defined by how loudly you scream for revenge or curse Arabs, Muslims and anyone else who has olive colored skin and a differing political viewpoint.

The demonization continues despite the findings, with defenders of the atrocities asserting that “they did worse things to us,” and “remember September 11th!” Despite all our claims about America built on honor, respect and “a higher standard,” the fact is Americans are no different than the enemies they chase.

In a way, Americans may even be worse.

RAY HANANIA is former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, an award-winning nationally syndicated columnist. He can be reached at www.hanania.com.