Broader skepticism towards some

TW: islamophobia, impact of sanctions, Iraq war, Bush-era impunity, drone strikes in Pakistan

One of the amazing turns of a phrase from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal article published a few weeks ago spoke to the very core of systemic bias. His examination of the continuing anti-Black racism in the US even into the Obama era questions the idea of racism as an easily challenged certainty in certain people’s inferiority, speaks instead of a racism that’s a “broad sympathy toward some and broader skepticism toward others”. A similar dynamic has become painfully obvious since early September with regard not only to race, but also religion, with a groundswelling of anti-Islamic bias.

Just over two weeks ago, it was reported that Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi American, was sentenced to three years in prison for violating the United States sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s former regime in Iraq. During the mid and late 1990s and first two years of the Bush administration, Shakir began sending funds through an intermediary bank account in Jordan to relatives who remained in Iraq, who were unable to buy basic medical supplies and trapped in cyclic poverty. He organized similar transfers for his wife’s family and families of close friends, ultimately funneling close to a quarter million dollars over a decade to at least fourteen Iraqi families, allowing them to access necessary goods from antibiotics to having greater food security. It’s worth noting, as reported, “[n]obody, including the US government, claims that these amounts were intended for anything other than humanitarian assistance”.

But as a person who prominently criticized the looming Iraq War while Muslim, Dr. Hamoodi fell under suspicion and was investigated by the FBI. He plead guilty to having sent funds into Iraq during the years the sanction was in effect, and consequently is now serving multiple years in prison. In contrast, other individuals who participated in economic exchanges with Iraqis during those years, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, have not been charged with the same crime, despite clear documentation of it (under the section labeled “Halliburton”). Purportedly the fact that Cheney’s a Methodist, rather than a Muslim, has no bearing on the issue.

Over the past year, similar stories of major discrepancies have surfaced repeatedly. Most shockingly, the United States has silently (and rightly) stood behind the government of Israel for shooting down a drone in its airspace with unclear but almost undoubtedly unsavory intentions. It was an entirely different story for Pakistan, and when the origin of the drones established to have killed non-combatant civilians was known to be the United States. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta insisted earlier this year that the drone strikes were legitimated by Americans’ need “to defend ourselves” which connects worryingly with the common practice of categorically labeling all casualties as among combatants. The only way to be sure they weren’t terrorists apparently was to kill them. Many of Israel’s neighbors would undoubtedly feel the same concern for their security and consequently justification for drone strikes on Israel (just read the section in this report titled “Threat perceptions”). Does the mere suspicion of intent to kill justify preemptive strikes across borders? Or only if the targets are presumably Muslim? There’s many key differences that could be seen between these situations, but it seems salient that one country is predominantly Muslim and another is predominantly Jewish.

Drone strike wreckage in Janikhel, Pakistan
(Wreckage from a drone strike in Janikhel, Pakistan, from here.)

Why is the right of Pakistani civilians to not have death ran down on them from above up for discussion? Why is circumventing US sanctions only important if the criminal is Muslim? Why do we hold broader skepticism towards Muslims around the world, compared to broader sympathy for others?

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