Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Newsweek, the Koran, and Racism

Newsweek "must do more"

"We appreciate the step that Newsweek took yesterday," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "It was a good first step. And what we would like to see now is for Newsweek to work to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region, and Newsweek certainly has the ability to help undo what damage can be undone."
While offering few specifics, McClellan said Newsweek should explain "what happened and why they got it wrong, particularly to people in the region."
"They can also talk about policies and practices of the United States military. Our United States military goes out of its way to treat the holy Koran with great care and respect," he said.


Angry clash over dog, woman's bag and holy book (October, 2003)

The confrontation began when Amal Karim, 28, showed up for work at the Oil Ministry in Baghdad yesterday morning and faced a routine search at the ministry entrance by US soldiers, who have guarded the building tightly since the end of the US-Iraq war last April.

When the Americans told her to submit her bag to a sniff-search by a dog, she refused, saying the bag held a copy of the Koran, Iraqi witnesses later reported.

Devout Iraqis often carry Islam's holy book with them, and Muslims consider dogs to be dirty, disease-spreading animals.

"When she refused, the American soldiers took the Koran out of her bag and threw it to the ground," said one woman, Zaineb Rahim. "Then the American soldiers handcuffed Amal."

(Official Retraction) The Newsweek Backtrack: Did the Right Win a Game of Chicken? cites last years Human Rights Watch report on abuses:

They were never given prayer mats and initially they didn't get a Koran. When the Korans were provided, they were kicked and thrown about by the guards and on occasion thrown in the buckets used for the toilets. This kept happening. When it happened it was always said to be an accident but it was a recurrent theme.

And then, Digby, long before Newsweek triggered the Apocalypse, in The Horrors of Gitmo quotes from Composite Statement: Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay:

[S]exual provocation, molestation....It did not come about at first that people came back and told about it. They didn't. What happened was that one detainee came back from interrogation crying and confided in another what had happened. That detainee in turn thought that it was so shocking he told others and then other detainees revealed that it had happened to them but they had been too ashamed to admit to it. It therefore came to the knowledge of everyone in the camp that this was happening to some people. It was clear to us that this was happening to the people who'd been brought up most strictly as Muslims.

But hey, this isn't about Islam. Remember Army Lt. General William Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense, who never got that particular memo and called Islam a spiritual enemy?

Well, actually, I do think it's not about Islam. My pronoun "it" now having shifted somewhat to being a little more abstract about America's inability to take Islam seriously and show (institutionally) real respect for it and for devout Muslims.

I think it's about racism. About brown people who just happen to practice another religion, which makes them even more "foreign" and therefore scary. But I think it starts with racism.

The New World was settled on the justification that the claim to the land of anyone non-white didn't matter because they didn't matter, they weren't white. Johnson v. M'Intosh. Part of it was that they weren't Christian, too, and I don't know which weighs more, I think by the end, racism did, because a lot of Christian slaveholders stopped freeing slaves after they'd been "saved" by Jesus, even though many originally did so because it would be a sin to hold another Christian in bondage. Holding a heathen in bondage and maybe trying to save their soul, wasn't.

We (European colonists) encouraged racism -- tacitly or deliberately or both, I don't know -- in order to justify taking over all those luscious resources North America represented. And we kept doing it, institutionalizing that racism by buying black slaves and building an agricultural economy off the sweat of their brows. That racism stuck around and kept on sticking, and keeps on sticking today.

I think it lies at the base of many US attitudes to other countries and our lack of respect for just about everyone.

Not the only thing, I'm sure, but a big element.

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