Although many unfortunate happenings are taking place in the world at this very moment, and I cannot possibly manage to talk about them all, I want to focus on a more bewildering one in this post tonight.

It has come to a lot of people’s attention that a group of armed militants took over a so-called US government facility with no-one in it, somewhere in the middle of nowhere in Oregon as I am told. Who cares, right? I think it was probably a publicity stunt, an attempt to make headlines (they succeeded even at my blog!) and disappear while claiming that the US government is too scared to face them, when in fact the US government was just too slow to get to their location or did not care, before they voluntarily left whatever place it is that they have taken over.

As well as finding the event bewildering and getting the view from others that the militants were just “nut cases” and nothing to take seriously, I hear also this view being put forward that the militants can get away with their antics without being hunted down as terrorist vermin, just because they are “white”. If the militants were “Muslim” those Tweeters claim, they would have been branded as terrorists and maybe have been captured or killed. This is basically going to confuse people. Being white and being Muslim are not mutually exclusive, unless converting to Islam makes people “non-white” (some sociologists like Wallerstein argue that it actually does, although the rest of the media has not caught up with their theories yet).

Certainly, in the mind of most Americans, it doesn’t help to look somehow “foreign” if you are an armed militant patrolling around the place, and being “white” helps a lot in not looking “foreign” to the majority of Americans, who think of Americans as people who look like themselves. However, being “non-white” isn’t the only thing that makes many Americans think you must be a criminal or terrorist who can be shot with impunity. They will also think it is okay if you are dressed differently or speak a different language, and in most cases those things are more important justifications than actual skin colour.

“White” is not so important anymore, and it is written about in media and academia much more than it is thought about in daily life nowadays. Most Americans don’t think that you have to be white to be a “good guy”. American movies and television shows are filled with Black protagonists. Americans willingly voted a Black man to be their President. I doubt the claim that, if these militants in Oregon were Black armed men, they would have been shot dead or called terrorists by the government. There are plenty of Black armed men and women serving in various departments of the US government right now, and America has had plenty of Black militants who were not shot dead or designated as terrorists. It has had plenty of white militants who were indeed shot dead and a whole Civil War to that effect. So I think the race issue is irrelevant to this incident and other incidents with US “white male” militias being accepted groups by the government and the public whereas other groups are considered terrorists.

The idea that converting to Islam makes people “non-white” needs an example. I would call your attention to this report in which a “white Muslim couple” were harassed and called terrorists by members of the public over social media. I myself can swear that people have looked at me as if I was a terrorist just for wearing certain types of scarf like the keffiyeh, which some people associate with violent activism similar to balaclavas. Because of this, I think the issue of the “terrorist threat” mentality in the US, and in the West in general, is now more related to clothing than skin colour, and more related to any sign or suggestion of “otherness” or things apparently foreign. Westerners are very attuned to the way their heroes and villains behave on television, and when someone dresses like villains they have seen in movies or news reports, they make up their mind very quickly and would even be ready to shoot you.

While race-based stereotypes have actually been reduced or rendered harmless in the vast majority of Westerners’ minds, attention to aspects of fashion and symbolism or even architecture as indicators of a foreign threat have increased. People are hostile to minarets in Europe, more so than they are hostile to people with a darker skin tone. Nevertheless, people will often simplistically say that prejudice against minarets, or the hijab and other attire, is racism. While it is not correct to say that wanting to ban the burqa or halt the construction of mosques is a racist sentiment, it is always true that the people saying these things also happen to be racists or hold closeted racist views. They are still proponents of genetic-cultural superiority, although they focus more on culture now to hide their continued irrationality.

I think the conversation needs to shift away from terms like “white” when we are talking about why some people are allowed to be violent and others are considered terrorists for it. There is no white supremacy anymore in the classic sense, but there is a regime of Western supremacy, in which anything considered foreign or different is automatically deemed inferior or perverse, or oppressive in some way. In that sense, Islamophobia is no different than Russophobia, all being attempts to demonise other peoples for their geographic origins and equate them with ancient barbarian hordes. The Greeks and the Romans excelled at this.

Much of the new new model of prejudice supported by the media is not really “racism” in the Twentieth Century fashion of demonising people for their skin tone or some other pseudoscience, but it is still just as deadly and just as destructive to society.

More from Beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad