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Anti-Arabic Week in a Southern High School

‘In March, two 16-year-old Muslim girls were imprisoned by the FBI on the assertion (no charges, mind you) that they are “an imminent threat to the security of the United States based on evidence that they plan to be suicide bombers.” The FBI stories unraveled as fast as they were created

“As Muslims decried the treatment of the young girls, many voices from the patriotic front were heard approving and justifying the same. This support was usually mixed with ill-concealed bile toward Muslims and Islam; how violent they are and how hateful their religion. They restate the 9/11 tragedy and cast the present in an “us-or-them” situation where it becomes the Muslims’ fault that the United States is “forced” to take such actions.”

Muslims are Targets of Paranoid US, CommonDreams, 5/6/05

At last the two Muslim teenagers have been freed. (not surprisingly, we now learn that the 16 year olds presented no threat to America or to the world as we know it). But before we rejoice at their release, we should ask how the United States ever became such a paranoid, weird, mean-spirited and increasingly un-super power.

Whatever happened to “looking out for the other guy”, “we’re all in this together”, “the minority must always be protected” and “innocent until proven guilty”? These and other once-familiar sayings, reflective of democracy and fairness, are beginning to fade from our collective memory. Since 9/11, or so we’re told, we can no longer “afford” such indulgences in individual justice and human rights. Now’s the time for fear-and with fear comes its handmaiden, hatred.

Paranoia and hatred of all things Arab (of which Muslim is but a subset) have become staples of adult Bushians. But, as the saying goes, children must be taught to hate. Furthermore, they must be taught whom they can hate openly, without the risk of censure or disapprobation.

Following is a letter I received last month from a 17-year-old high school student from Virginia. What I find especially disturbing about this incident is (1) its “microcosm” reflection of the larger culture’s increasingly bold expressions of bigotry and (2) the large brush with which a language, spoken by millions the world over, was painted as some sort of monolithic threat to America:

“In my college-level honors English class, there are several highly competitive kids who try to show everyone how funny, witty or super-patriotic they are by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as loudly as they can. The rest of us just grimace and cover our ears as they show off at 7:45 am by shouting the lines in a military “sound-off” cadence: “I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE! TO THE FLAG! OF THE UNITED STATES! OF AMERICA!”. But during Foreign Language Week, when the pledge was read over the loudspeaker in various languages, we had even more reason to dread this raucous ritual.

“Things went fine on the first day when Spanish was the featured language. But when the pledge was recited in French, the loudmouths made it clear that they weren’t pleased, with sarcastic remarks and groans of irritation.

“But the biggest protest occurred on Friday, the final day of Foreign Language Week, when a student read the pledge in Arabic. The loud kids complained, “Oh please!” and “How could they do this?” Some students even sat down and refused to participate, including the same students who yell the pledge at the top of their lungs every other day.

“My friends and I looked over at those popular people—the class clowns–in disgust. Isn’t it good that we have some diversity? Isn’t it good when an Arab student recites the Pledge of Allegiance in his own language? Doesn’t this refute the assumption, so pervasive among students in our ROTC-focused school, that all Arabs are “against us”?

“Not everybody acted like the class clowns, but they are loud and plentiful enough to give the message that the Arab student was not worthy of reciting the pledge. His language makes him guilty of something-somehow affiliated with terrorists. I was amazed to see that these kids, preppy high achievers considered by many the crème de la crème of our school system, could be so openly and proudly hostile and bigoted. These are the popular kids, the ones who set the example for all the rest. And that’s what’s really scary.”
Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, What You Say Is What You Are

“‘Symbolic conduct’ is the term coined by David Perkins, PhD of Harvard University to describe how our behaviors communicate our attitudes, assumptions and valueschildren read between the lines of your behavior-your symbolic conduct-to discover your true values and priorities.” Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles that Will Transform Your Family

Time and again I’ve heard Bush-supporting “conservatives” claim that prejudice towards Arab-sounding and Arab-looking people is justified “by 9/11” and/or “terrorism”, and that this bigotry cannot be compared to the anti-Semitism that percolated in pre-Nazi Germany. They don’t see any danger to innocent people in permitting anti-Arabism to run rampant, subtly and otherwise, across America. Disappointed by the new prohibition against executing children convicted of violent crimes, they certainly don’t think that 16-year-old Muslim girls should be excluded from draconian “anti-terror” measures.

Bushians trust in their little god to keep them safe, as long as they adopt his attitudes toward “the Enemy” and hate all the right people. White Bushians are quick to say that racism against blacks is off-limits, but do a “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” when racist remarks are made about Arabs-whether American or foreign, Christian or Muslim. What they forget (or are, like old Klansmen and NeoNazis, pleased to know), the children are listening.

Bushians can’t imagine how a little racial profiling here and there could do any harm, or that traumatizing young girls for the sake of “national security” could possibly set a dangerous precedent.

I hope they’re right, but I doubt it: Fascism rarely goes into remission without serious attention and treatment-especially in its earliest “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” stage.

Dr. TERESA WHITEHURST is a clinical psychologist and writer. Her most recent book describes the nonviolent guidance of children,Jesus on Parenting: 10 Essential Principles that Will Transform Your Family, Baker Books, 9/2004.

You can contact her at DrTeresa@JesusontheFamily.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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