Discrimination involves classifying people into different groups and giving the members of each group distinct and typically unequal treatments and rights (Wikipedia, 2003). The criteria defining the groups determine the type of discrimination. Use of the term implies that the factors on which the discrimination is based are intrinsically irrelevant to the decision being made. Typically, the discriminator views himself as superior to the injured group. The effects of discrimination are broad. Slow or unhelpful retail service, racial slurs, denial of employment and housing, hate crimes and genocide are all examples of discrimination. This paper will discuss a very specific example of discrimination -- discrimination against Arabs in the United States as a result of the tragic terrorist events on September 11, 2001.
Many governments have tried to suppress discrimination through civil rights legislation, equal opportunity laws and institutionalized policies of affirmative action. On the other hand, there are some governments that have supported discrimination, examples being apartheid, segregation and anti-Semitism. The United States government prides itself in being anti-discriminatory. Still, this does not mean that the U.S. is free of discrimination.
Religion is often the cause of discrimination (Wikipedia, 2003). During the Middle Ages, religious and governmental leaders relied on Christian unity to defend their lands from followers of Islam during the crusades. Christians and Jews have historically received unequal treatment in comparison to Muslim citizens in all Muslim nations. The kingdom of Jordan, for instance, will not grant citizenry to a Jew, while peoples of any other group may obtain citizenship. In addition, the State of Israel is often accused of discrimination against Arabs of Palestinian origin.
Similarly, one of the most common forms of discrimination in the United States is that directed toward racial and ethnic groups (MSN Encarta, 2003). The legality of slavery was actually recognized in the Constitution. The Supreme Court challenged the Emancipation Proclamation and several amendments that changed the legal status of African-Americans following the Civil War. For many years, the Court also upheld state-enforced segregation and the absence of adequate federal laws allowed discrimination against African-Americans in employment and housing, public accommodations, the judicial system, and voting. It wasn't until 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt issued an executive order prohibiting discrimination in employment by a company working under a government contract, that discriminatory practices were challenged.
What is the evidence?
Today many Arabs in America feel that must maintain a low profile, due to anti-Arab attititudes in the U.S. following September 11. Many other have actually gone into hiding, fearful they will soon be facing a nightmare similar to the one endured by Japanese-Americans at the outbreak of World War II.
Statistics gathered from various sources by the U.S. Department of Justice demonstrate that hate-crimes toward Arab or Muslim peoples have increased since the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil (Willoughby, 2003):
There has been a 1700% increase in reported hate and bias crimes against Arabs, Muslims and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim since September 11.
As a result of Anti-Arab backlash, at least three individuals were murdered after September 11.
Approximately 600 violent incidents directed against Arab-Americans in the United States including acts of physical violence, vandalism, arson, beatings, assaults with weapons and direct threats of specific acts of violence were reported to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee within six months of September 11.
Forty-five cases of beatings, harassment, threats and vandalism were reported in the six months following September 11 against Arab-American students in elementary, high schools and universities throughout the U.S.
It is important to note that, as is true of all crime statistics, many incidents go unreported due to fears of retaliation.
Racial profiling is now considered a legal policy and a valid strategy to fight terror (Lydersen, 2003). People can be questioned, searched, spied on, and even detained without a lawyer on the basis of their race or religion alone. A Gallup poll published within months of the September 11 attacks showed that 60% of Americans supported racial profiling of Arabs at airports. Additionally, the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, which inspects trucks carrying hazardous materials, announced that drivers appearing to be of Arab origin would be searched.
Selective enforcement is also evident in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (Lydersen, 2003). Only citizens may now work as security screeners at airports. As a result, thousands of hardworking and low-wage immigrants in the United States lost their jobs. Even citizens with minor criminal convictions are affected by this act, although pilots, mechanics and other positions with more sensitive access to planes, while subjected to background checks, are not required to be citizens.
David Steigman, a spokesman for the new Transportation Security Administration has acknowledged that the government has a list of about 1,000 people who are deemed "threats to aviation" and not allowed on airplanes under any circumstances (Lindorff, 2002). "We have a list of about 1,000 people," Steigman said.
Congress created the agency a year ago to handle transportation safety during the war on terror (Lindoroff, 2001). "This list is composed of names that are provided to us by various government organizations like the FBI, CIA and INS ... we don't ask how they decide who to list. Each agency decides on its own who is a 'threat to aviation'." The agency has no guidelines to determine who gets on the list, Steigman says, and because they compile it from names provided by other agencies, there is no procedure for removing someone from the list if they were wrongfully placed on it.
The Causes of Discrimination
Heightened fears result in heightened stereotypes. Arab-Americans have experienced an unparalleled moment in the media spotlight since the events of September 11 and the war on terror. Even as reporters seek information on Arab-Americans, advertisers are withdrawing support from Arab communities across the U.S. Political pressure has forced many Arab publications to fold.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll on September 13, 2001 found that 43% of the respondents were more likely to be suspicious of people who they "think are of Arab descent" (Davis, 2001). Scholars and average citizens alike are saying that even though they are slightly embarrassed to admit it, they feel that racial profiling is acceptable under certain circumstances. In various polls during the week after the attacks on the World Trade Center, 58% favored more intensive security checks for Arabs, and 49% favored special identification cards. Thirty-two percent supported 'special surveillance.' Those numbers have decreased after initial shock and fear subsided, but it goes to show how fear influences decisions.
On the other hand, prior to the horrific events of September 11, President George Bush made some serious changes in policy when he took office. On July 24, 2003, Congress' joint intelligence panel finally released a declassified version of its inquiry into the September 11 attacks (Ackerman, 2003). Described in the next day's press reports as an "indictment" of White House secrecy, the report detailed an alarming series of failures by both the CIA and FBI that led to the attacks. The committee was established in defiance of the White House, both Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Dick Cheney each personally asked the security team to limit any investigation to the regular intelligence committees, and its work got off to an slow and unproductive start. Its first staff director, Britt Snider, resigned in April 2002 as committee members squabbled over the scope of the investigation. Expectations for the probe were low.
However, in May 2002, a string of explosive leaks ignited a public debate over the government's handling of the 9/11 attacks and made the performance of the intelligence agencies a political issue (Ackerman, 2003). It was revealed that weeks before the attacks, the CIA had warned Bush of Osama Bin Laden's intent to use hijacked planes as missiles. Then a pre-9/11 FBI memo turned up. It was from an officer in Phoenix warning of suspicious Middle Eastern men training at flight schools.
Two weeks after the attacks Bush had described the attackers as "well organized" and "well planned" (Ackerman, 2003). To contradict this, a top CIA official is quoted as saying that the plotters "violated a fundamental rule of clandestine operations." Instead of "working independently and maintaining rigid communications security, the terrorists, as late as last summer, apparently mingled openly and had not yet decided which flights to target. The planning for September 11th appears to have been far more ad hoc than was at first assumed."
The agencies were monitoring several of the September 11 hijackers before they carried out their attacks, in some cases long before.
Discrimination is a terrible crime against humanity. U.S. citizens, as we are greatly influenced by the government, are entitled to an honest administration, if only to keep our liberties secure. Currently, we need more evidence and a full on investigation into the tragic event by Congress. Whether or not September 11 could have been predicted or not, the U.S. needs to set its priorities straight.
During the last thirty years efforts to combat racial discrimination…