Monday, May 14, 2012

Law, Islamophobia and the United States of Exclusion

Geetisha Dasgupta
It is widely known that post 9/11, the world, for more than half of its population has spun on the axis of renewed racial hatred that found expression in xenophobic profiling of the other half. Overnight, as Richard Seymour [1] and Moustafa Bayoumi [2] have pointed out, Islam became a race in the western imagination, adding to the already existing ones like the racial imaginations of Latinos and Asians. The last two have existed, alongside the black identity as age old borders within the US ground zero. Although twelve years have passed, there has been no slackening of the hatred that was spun around the incident. While statelessness and invisibilization of Latinos and Asians are well known facts, a new category of stateless is shaping fast. This is the new race and founded on exclusion based on religious identity.

Despite loud and clear declarations at the administrative levels that the United States government will not support any activity in hatred towards the believers of Islam or of Arab origin; there have been steady repercussions from the agents of the state and the government on these lines, when it came to arresting people for suspicion of terrorist activities. As a result, there have been repeated strikes and counter strikes and all over the last twelve years during which a large group of people became homeless and stateless. Such statelessness was created with legal measures, so as to sanitize the society off all potential terror strikes and keep the trouble makers behind the bars. Results are: fresh batches of illegal migrants who, if successful in keeping themselves out of Immigration agencies, get absorbed as menial workers on wage rates that are far lower than the legal minimum. As a natural corollary, they do not belong to this state, nor are eligible for any benefits. Moreover, such people have to live under a blanket suspicion authorized by the state.

The racial profiling that took off as the Bush administration’s domestic policy counterpart to preemptive strikes as foreign policy measure raised a ghost of its own. The war on terror outside the US soil created ‘aggressive’ population groups inside the borders of the state (where minimally aggressive behaviour became a benchmark for activities qualifying for arrest). In fact, newer borders were laid, inside the territory, where the Muslim and the Arab identity have collapsed together to give birth to a new form of not-belonging. It is therefore not surprising that every terrorist strike inside or outside the US territorial jurisdiction has produced a fresh batch of people that fell out of the safe zone, and entered the list of ‘being watched’. For example, there have been huge repercussions felt after the Norway terror attacks and Congressmen were vilifying all organizations off alternative faiths in the US [3]. A minimal effort to build an Islamic study centre in New York City raised much dirt from the ground in 2010: it was said that Muslims in the US, numbering anywhere between 4-7 million are not ‘sorry’ enough for what ‘mayhem’ they ‘caused’ in 2001 [4]. This is not a standalone incident. Several such attempts as posters in California shouting: ‘Wake up America, the enemy is here’ or ‘No temple for the god of terrorism’—have regularly been put away as classified news.

As Salah Hassan [5] would say, the act of being watched produces its counterpart in ensuring oblivion. The more there was vigilance at the ports of entry and combing through the society, the more number of alternative economies and underground ways of existence came about. With legal protocols as the USA Patriot Act, 2001 which was later redrafted by the Obama administration as the National Defense Authorization Act, the jurisdiction of preventive detention was extended to levels hitherto untouched and a point was reached where people could be arrested on the slightest suspicion of deterring national security and detained for an endless period without due process of law. By virtue of this, intelligence and law enforcing agencies will have unprecedented access to private and personal domain of everybody living under its premises. Therefore, something that was shaped as a mechanism of combing out the bugs has now become an instrument in the hand of the administration (which is also the embodiment of the greatest and most notorious alliance of capitalist interests of accumulating ever increasing amounts of surplus) for pushing all sort of dissidents to peril. This is a classic example of the way law produces its own chosen group of illegals and also maintains them.

Again, legal tools like the NDAA does not need to stop at the domestic level only, as foreign policy and geopolitical status of the country affirms its ability to reach anybody that it deems inimical to its own security. Therefore, students could be picked up from rallies of the Occupation Movement in New York City or Boston, and detained in federal prisons for anything up to three months without questions being asked. There has been an increase in hate crimes; counting also those who associate with people of Islamic faith. One of the college students detained in New York was suspected of plotting terrorist activity because he was talking ‘too much’ with a Pakistani girl in an Occupy rally, because he wanted her as a girlfriend. Here is what one blogger [6] says:

Since the death of Osama bin Laden I’ve found more reasons to worry as I leave my home. As footage of (mostly white) Americans in the streets screaming “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” and “WE GOT HIM!” began rolling in, I grew increasingly nervous about what reaction I’d receive walking down the street the next day. I later awoke to (barely reported) news coverage of masjeds spray painted with messages of “GO BACK HOME” and “OSAMA TODAY, ISLAM TOMORROW [sic],” which quickly confirmed my fears. September 11th and the death of bin Laden should serve as reminders to those of us actively working against Islamophobia and other oppressions of the inherent link between nationalism and violence. American nationalism is dependent on the violent exclusion of those who are decidedly not American; just as the narrative of September 11th cannot include the stories of the Arabs, Iranians, Turks and Muslims who were killed in the World Trade Center or the Muslim firefighters who worked in the wreckage of the Twin Towers, the eerily joyous and celebratory national memory of the death of bin Laden will not include the stories of spray painted masjeds or brown folks harassed on the streets or the nationally unacknowledged but paralyzing fear that regulates the life of so many brown folks in the United States. ( access date: 27/04/2012)

A new exclusion act was introduced in 2002. Since September 11, many Arab and Muslim immigrants have faced dire prospects of detention, secret trial, deportation and what is now beginning to look more and more like a new exclusion act aimed at impeding the immigration of people from the Middle East. The Justice Department announced its intention to implement the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) on September 11, 2002. This would be a system involving the fingerprinting of "high-risk" foreign visitors. In addition, the program will require targeted foreign nationals to register their residence with authorities and to confirm their exit. According to a Justice Department statement, foreigners "will be selected according to intelligence criteria reflecting patterns of terrorist organizations' activities." But the system will begin by tracking "all nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria," though no nationals from these countries were involved in the September 11 hijackings. In addition, the system will tag for fingerprinting any "non-immigrant aliens whom the State Department determines to present an elevated national security risk, based on criteria reflecting current intelligence" as well as aliens "identified by inspectors at the port of entry, using similar criteria." The ultimate design of the system is to create an enormous database of foreign visitors that can be used to track and locate "terrorist suspects." Rather than relying on "intelligence criteria," NSEERS will generate intelligence to facilitate the detention and deportation of certain visitors and immigrants.

The oppression of laws such as the NDAA and its attendants like the NSEERS have delivered more blows to these communities which have been forced to take recourse to illegal paths to continue to live and earn livelihood in the country; thus invisibilizing themselves. Accounts of how many muslims or Arabs were turned away at the ports of entry are yet to come; accounts of how many of them are working as industrial labour undercover and under perpetual fear of being caught will never be brought to daylight. But the general mood is corroborated in the following verses:

First they came for the Muslims, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Muslim.
Then they came to detain immigrants indefinitely solely upon the certification of the Attorney General, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an immigrant.
Then they came to eavesdrop on suspects consulting with their attorneys, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a suspect.
Then they came to prosecute non-citizens before secret military commissions, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a non-citizen.
Then they came to enter homes and offices for unannounced "sneak and peek" searches, and I didn't speak up because I had nothing to hide.
Then they came to reinstate Cointelpro and resume the infiltration and surveillance of domestic religious and political groups, and I didn't speak up because I had stopped participating in any groups.
Then they came for anyone who objected to government policy because it aided the terrorists and gave ammunition to America's enemies, and I didn't speak up because...... I didn't speak up.
Then they came for me....... and by that time no one was left to speak up.

For Further Reading, Refer to:

[1] access date: 25/04/2012
[2] access date: 25/04/2012
[3]; 27/04/2012
[4] access date: 28/04/2012
[5] access date: 22/01/2012
[6] access date: 06/03/2012

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