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From the Blog
Fifteen-year-old Luai from Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood, walked to the Al Mascobiyya Interrogation Centre after his mother told him that the Israeli police had come to their house looking for him. Luai reported arriving at the interrogation centre at around 1 PM and waiting for his mother to arrive. “I had barely waited two minutes when I saw an interrogator named ‘Shadi,’ recalls Luai. “I know him because he interrogated me several times in the past. Once he spotted me, he rushed towards me with another man in civilian clothes…and dragged me to another building across the street.” “‘What’s going on?’ I asked, but they didn’t respond. I was scared and didn’t know where they were taking me.”
Loai reports being taken to another building and placed inside a large room. “Shadi forced me to kneel down and face the wall with hands behind the back of my head. ‘Don’t say a single word or I’ll beat the hell out of you,’ he said to me.” Luai reports being kept in this position for about three hours whilst Shadi and the other man remained in the room smoking and talking to each other. “Whenever I moved my head, they would slap me on the neck,” recalls Luai. About three hours later, the two men started to interrogate Luai, and accused him of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails. The only evidence the interrogators referred to was that of ‘our informers in the neighborhoods.’ Luai denied the accusations against him. “I wasn’t scared,” says Luai, “as I have got used to this, as this is the fifth time they have arrested me.”
Contrary to Israeli law, Luai was interrogated in the absence of a family member, and at the conclusion of the interrogation, was made to place his fingerprints on a blank piece of paper. Luai was then handcuffed and taken to a cell where he was detained with five other detainees, including adults and children. The following day, Luai was taken to court but says he did not understand what the judge was saying as he was speaking in Hebrew.
Following his court appearance, Luai was taken back to Al Mascobiyya for a second night, before being released on 14 January 2011, on NIS 500 (US $140) bail and a bond of 3,000 NIS ( US $840). Luai was also given a five-day home detention order. “My father has decided to leave Silwan,” Luai says, “and take us to Anata refugee camp because he’s tired of soldiers and settlers harassing us. Settlers who live in our neighborhood keep insulting us and soldiers arrest us whenever something happens. My brother, Feras, was released yesterday and is now under home arrest for six months, and my father is summoned from time to time. Our house is also under threat of demolition.” “Therefore, my father had decided to leave Silwan and spare us the suffering. That means we’re going to start a new life in Anata and go to new schools. We will leave our relatives and friends behind because my father doesn’t want us to get arrested and beaten by soldiers.” This report was written and compiled from testimony given by the boy named Luai to an organization called “Defense of Children International—Palestine Section,” received on 12 February 2011. (The same organization reports 13 similar narratives from East Jerusalem.) What is so striking about this is that it isn’t any kind of horror story, but feels utterly normal—this is simply life for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. One is impressed by the sense of being completely helpless from aggression by the oppressor in the eyes of one’s own children. For that reason Luai’s father would rather take his family to a refugee camp rather than live in his own home in East Jerusalem. This tragic process is what can only be called slow ethnic cleansing. At present much of it is being focused on the neighborhood of East Jerusalem, because the Israelis wish to push the Palestinians into small, miserable ghettoes so Israeli Jews can take their houses.
Why is this important? Because it violates international law, the International Declaration of Human Rights, and the most elementary concepts of human decency—and because the moral degradation of this systemic evil corrupts us all. The West does not want to know or care what happens to these people— it is tempted to listen only to the voice of empire, the impact of superior military power, the wealth and the weapons of the Israeli state and its powerful proxies. Most of all, however, slow ethnic cleansing is dangerous because any state that will use these despicable methods will almost surely be tempted someday to use a much more comprehensive form of ethnic cleansing. What happens to peoples’ hearts and souls when the political class and the military establishment of a country find out they can do anything with impunity, no matter how brutal, and get away with it? What do the tragedies of the 20th century teach us about that? It teaches us that moral collapse doesn’t happen all at once, but step by step. Today’s slow ethnic cleansing, unless it is democratically and effectively challenged, is very likely to be tomorrow’s genocide
I hope that someday we will all look back in shame at how routinely the United States once barred traveling American Muslims from returning to their country. But while that day may be far off, Ali Ahmed serves as just the latest example of how the misguided and illegal use of the no-fly list imposes a strange form of extrajudicial exile on a growing number of Americans. Ali, a 20-year-old American citizen studying journalism in San Diego, traveled abroad for his wedding, to visit family, and to make a religious pilgrimage to Mecca. He performed his pilgrimage without incident, but soon after, Ali got his first hint that the U.S. was going to obstruct his movement abroad.
When he attempted to enter Kenya to visit his father and for the wedding, Kenyan authorities did not let him in and instead sent Ali to Bahrain. The next day, distraught that his wedding had to be postponed and that he would not be able to see his father, Ali tried to return to his country of citizenship, the United States. At the airport, he was told that he would not be allowed to return because sometime after he left the United States his government had put him on its no-fly list. There was no explanation, no way to resolve the problem – just that he could not fly now or at any point in the future.
Rep. Michele Bachmann’s recent attacks on Huma Abedin and Rep. Keith Ellison may signal a new strategy by the far-right Islamophobic fringe. Huma Abedin is a Deputy Chief of Staff at the State Department and longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, whereas Rep. Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th District in the House of Representatives. Joining Bachmann in the attacks were Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), and Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.).
The smear quickly drew fire from Sen. John McCain, who charged on the floor of the Senate that Bachmann’s attacks on Abedin “have no logic, no basis and no merit.” John Boehner, House Speaker, denounced Bachmann’s latest experiment in religious McCarthyism as “pretty dangerous.” Bachmann’s unsubstantiated charges echo the lunatic claims of Frank Gaffney, president of the American Center for Security Policy, who believes that virtually all high-profile Muslims are connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The charges have been widely denounced by civil rights groups and social justice advocates. Since Bachmann heads the Tea Party caucus in the House, observers fear she is trying to influence the Tea Party to define itself as an Islamophobic movement. Tea Party supporters have demonstrated a tendency to adopt conspiracy theories, and some have supported anti-Sharia Law legislation. This may also be part of a pre-convention effort to spur the Republican Party to adopt anti-Islam rhetoric in its program.
Repudiation of Bachmann’s Islamophobia by top Republicans is something we’ve long waited for, and was profoundly appreciated. Somewhat predictably, however, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has so far remained silent on the issue. There is likewise a realization that the problem with the Republican base runs much deeper than most people realize. As I have pointed out in this column, the problem began in the period right after the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. At that time, Republican leaders made a disastrous decision to deliberately recruit ultra-conservative southern white voters opposed to the success of the Civil Rights movement.
This constituency was joined by the Religious Right, which was also becoming ultra-conservative politically. The two constituencies have in common deep resentments but few new ideas. The Religious Right is animated by evangelical Christians’ gradual loss of cultural influence, especially as Americans become more secular or turn to other religions. The Religious Right seeks to compensate for loss of cultural influence by gaining and exercising political power with which it could impose its beliefs. We see a frightening example of this within the U.S. military where ultra-conservative evangelicals often try to use the command structure to force their religion on others. If not for the work of Mikey Weinstein’s Military Religious Freedom Foundation, it is this writer’s considered opinion that the ultra-right evangelicals would today dominate the Pentagon leadership.
This combination of alienated, ultra-conservative white males and the Religious Right has led to a coalition in the Republican Party base that is extremely volatile in terms of its attraction to over-the-top conspiracy theories. It is to this coalition of groups in the Republican base that Fox News is attuned, and to whom conservatives running in Republican primaries appeal. It is this writer’s belief that eventually, due to the original mistaken strategy of the 1960s, the Republican Party will eventually split. One also sees signs of this already in the campaign of Ron Paul, which—despite Paul’s bizarre currency theories and opposition to the social safety net—is often an explicit repudiation of the base’s support for war against Iran.
The real question is how crazy the most extreme elements of the Republican base—such as those who support Michele Bachmann to be specific—will become before the dust settles. We live in a time of enormous corruption of political life, in which the corporate upper class buys elections and foreign governments such as Israel’s actually pay elected American officials to vote as Prime Minister Netanyahu tells them to. Posturing themselves squarely in the midst of this inside-the-beltway madness are the ubiquitous neo-cons, still trying to sell their apocalyptic idea of endless religious war as the answer to all of America’s problems. But a religious war against Iran is one the U.S. can neither afford nor win.
There are at present two important constituencies that may be motivated to use Islamophobia. One is the Religious Right, representing southern-based evangelical believers. To gauge how rightwing this constituency has become, simply consider the poll taken by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life on the issue of torture. According to their poll, six out of ten white Christian evangelicals believe in using torture sometimes or often—an outcome that is far higher than a random selection of Americans. Sadly, far too many conservative Christian evangelicals have adopted the ethos of religious war, advocating war with Iran and uncritical support for Israel’s rightwing government.
In addition to the Christian evangelicals, some Jewish leaders and neo-cons have also been sold on the mistaken idea that they can help Israel by disseminating hatred against Muslims. Of course, by trafficking in religious hatred, such individuals can do nothing but harm the cause of peace in Israel/Palestine. At a time when conservative evangelicals are adopting the idea of uncritical support for Israel (as well as religious war), neo-cons may work with evangelicals to institutionalize Islamophobia in the U.S.
Finally, there are the shady promoters of plutocracy in the corporate and investment classes. With American productive manufacturing based off-shore and the collapse of the credit and housing markets, the average American family has lost almost half of its equity since 2008, and job-seekers must often accept work at half their previous salaries. There are discomforting signs that plutocrats like the Koch brothers are likely to promote Islamophobia to distract people from America’s economic problems. The investment class might likewise create religious scapegoats to distract from the misdeeds of financial “experts” who gamble recklessly with our money with no direct benefit to the people.
Do Michele Bachmann and others like her now think the time is right for the use of political Islamophobia? There has been less Islamophobia in this election cycle than this writer feared, partly because the Republican candidate was himself from a minority faith community. But what if Mitt Romney picks a conservative evangelical for Vice-President? Romney’s recent comments about Palestinian culture signal a continuing willingness to use Islamophobia as a stand-in for racism. As the intensely likable President Obama continues to successfully portray Romney as a slippery, flip-flopping nihilist, the Republican’s advisors may get desperate. Romney’s instincts are probably to play it safe with a VP pick like Tim Pawlenty — and certainly he must be aware that choosing Bachmann would remind most people of the 2008 Sarah Palin debacle. But it’s anybody’s guess what Romney’s advisors think and what new strategies they’ll advise. If it’s Islamophobia, we must be prepared to fight back.