Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: November 2009 (page 1 of 2)

Facebook Censors My Wall

I tried to post an article on my Facebook wall; the piece was a brief Boston Globe column about alternatives to the F-word when the F-word feels repetitive or obscene.  I commented that readers might also enjoy a different piece (from best of Cragslist, no less) about the “c-word” and told them they could find it on my Google shared items, but did not add a link.  In other words, I used no profanity nor did the Globe article.  And yet, Facebook would not allow me to post it:

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 9.47.56 PM

Since I couldn’t post it on Facebook, I just took a screenshot, posted it, then added the link in the comments:

Screen shot 2009-11-24 at 9.48.05 PM

This happened to me in January during Israel’s attacks on Gaza too (incidentally, it also happened to friends with opposing views).  It would seem that any link is up for censoring, and in cases of spam or hate speech, I can understand Facebook’s justification (even if I don’t agree with it).  But given the tame nature of the Boston Globe piece, I can’t possibly understand how enough users could have objected to this article in order to have it banned!  And if enough users, in fact, did object, then I think we have a bigger problem…

stuff white people do: mistake greeks for arabs, arabs for muslims, and muslims for terrorists

This is just a little something the wonderful Macon D of anti-racism blog stuff white people do allowed me to guest post over there…For those of you who may have missed it.

*****

Last week, a few days after the horrific events of Fort Hood, a Marine reservist in Florida mistook a visiting Greek Orthodox priest for a “terrorist” and beat him with a tire iron.  The reservist (who was indeed white) made all sorts of wild claims — that the priest yelled “Allahu Akbar,” that he made a lewd hand gesture. . . claims that have been widely refuted.

What really happened is this: The Greek priest, Father Alexios Marakis, was visiting Florida for the purpose of blessing another priest.  He got lost while driving, and pulled over to ask for help.  He was dressed in a robe and did not speak English very well, so the Marine, Jasen Bruce (who is sticking to his story and refuses to apologize) got freaked out and beat the crap out of him.

Because he looked like a terrorist.
Which really means he looked Muslim.
Which really means he looked “Arab.”
Which really means he looked different, and that scares white people.

I don’t know exactly what it is about white Americans. . . I can say, from anecdotal personal experience, that Europeans and other white people traveling throughout the Middle East and North Africa often make silly orientalist comments, and I’m fully aware of the idiotic British BNP (and other European right-wing parties) that would happily rid Europe of all Muslims. However, there seems to be a special kind of ignorance amongst white Americans when it comes to Muslims and Arabs.  It goes something like this:

1. They don’t know the difference between “Muslim” and “Arab.” Remember last year during one of McCain’s town hall meetings when a middle-aged white woman objected to Obama by saying, “but he’s-he’s-an ARAB!”?  It was obvious to many of us that what she really meant to object to was his religion — after all, it was part of the zany right-wing public debate at the time — but instead she just somehow got confused and cried “Arab.”  You know, because it doesn’t really matter right?  Which brings us to McCain’s response . . . “No, he’s not, ma’am, he’s a DECENT family man.” As if being an “Arab” disqualifies a man from being a decent family man.  Which leads to:

2.  They think “Muslim” and “good person” are mutually exclusive. McCain was quite aware that the woman meant to say “Muslim” and yet chose to defend Obama not just by saying “No, ma’am he’s not,” but also by feeling compelled to add “he’s a decent family man.”  The implication?  That one cannot be both an Arab (or Muslim, since that’s what we all know the woman meant) and a good man. I often hear comments about how obesity is the last acceptable prejudice in this country, but I’d like to argue that Islamophobia is far more widespread and accepted. Can you imagine if white people blatantly still said such horrible things about Black people? It’s completely unheard of in many parts of the United States for someone to say “nigger,” but “sandnigger”?  In many places in this country, that’s totally okay.

3. They don’t realize that most Muslims aren’t Arab. Going back to point #1, the imagery of what it means to be Muslim in the United States is so tied in with our images of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf (not even the Arab world on the whole!) that even on progressive blogs, you will often see people refer in blanket terms to Muslim women’s dress as “the burqa.”  What they don’t seem to realize is that the countries with the largest Muslim population are all in Asia (where, mind you, women don’t even wear the burqa), and not Arab at all!

4. They mistake non-Muslims and non-Arabs for Muslims and Arabs.  In the years since 9/11 (though before as well), many groups have become collateral damage in racist attacks against Arabs and Muslims in the U.S.  Iranians, Greeks, Sikhs, Hindus, and sometimes, anyone with a beard seems to be a target. 6 years ago, a Hindu was mistaken for a Muslim in Boston and beaten. . .and just last week, as noted above, it happened to a Greek priest.

5. They think “Middle Eastern” is a race.  Except on the census. While the region also known as the Middle East and North Africa is often referred to as “the Arab world,” the latter is somewhat of a misnomer and more accurately refers to a shared language (kind of like the way Latino is often used).  From Morocco to Saudi Arabia, there are Arabs, but there are also Amazigh (Berbers), Moors, Bedouins, and plenty of other native groups that prefer not to be referred to as “Arab.”  But when they come to the United States, it doesn’t matter anyway, as they’re expected to check the “White” box. . . imagine arriving from Mauritania, on the continent of Africa, and being told you can’t check the “African-American” box.  True story.

6. They assume that all Arabs are Muslim. I love this one. . . It never ceases to amaze me the blanket statements made about “that part of the world,” and “their practices.”  Nevermind the native Coptic, Maronite, and Orthodox Christian populations, the converts, the Jews, the Druze, the Zoroastrians, the Baha’i.  And if on the off chance you do meet someone who is aware of those other populations, they’re still likely to try to convince you that they’re those populations are all oppressed by the Muslims, anyway.  Which brings me to my last and most important point. . .

7. They pretend it’s not racism.  So, Islam is not a race, and to many, “Arab” isn’t either. . . It doesn’t matter: there is plenty of evidence of racism against all of the aforementioned groups. In fact, there’s significant evidence to suggest that systematic racism is practiced against Muslims and those with Muslim or Arab-sounding names (regardless of actual faith) in a number of places.  This BBC article discusses the racist practice of not hiring Arabs and Muslims based on name alone (in France). Though I’m not aware of any study, I’ve seen the same happen in the U.S. And the exclusion of North Africans from being qualified as “African-American” on the census and on scholarship applications (again, they’re supposed to check the “white” box) means they’re doubly discriminated against: Not really white, but not non-white enough to benefit from certain programs.

And that’s only the beginning — as we saw in a video Macon posted last week, Muslims (especially Muslim women who wear hijab) are often assumed not to be American, even when they were born here.  Arabs are pulled to the side for “random checks” nearly every time they fly.  And more often than not, when an Arab or Muslim does commit a crime, the entire Arab and Muslim communities are expected to speak out against it (ask yourself: would we expect the same every time a Christian or white person committed a crime?).

Here’s a thought: Perhaps if people, and the media, made more of an effort to know the difference between a Muslim, an Arab, a Persian, a Hindu. . . or better yet, a Moroccan, a Syrian, a Saudi, a Kuwaiti. . . Perhaps if everyone made more of an effort to see people as unique peoples from particular countries and cultures, or better yet — as individuals! — they would be less likely to commit atrocious acts against them based on assumptions.  Perhaps they would be less likely to expect Muslims as a group to speak for one individual Muslim, and perhaps they’d be more likely to understand that an entire mass of 325 million people who just happen to share a common language most certainly do not share a common perspective.

UN Security Bans ONI Poster from IGF

AC-banner-smRarely do I cross-post from elsewhere onto my own blog, however, this warrants widespread discussion.  From the ONI blog:

Whilst attending the Internet Governance Forum in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the OpenNet Initiative (along with partners of ONI Asia) gathered to present their upcoming book, Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace. A poster advertising the book was hung for the reception; UN security officials requested removal of the poster, which contained mention of China’s “Great Firewall.” When ONI officials refused to remove the poster, UN security bundled up the poster and took it away.

The sentence in question? “The first generation of Internet controls consisted largely of building firewalls at key Internet gateways; China’s famous ‘Great Firewall of China’ is one of the first national Internet filtering systems.”

OpenNet Initiative officials were told that the banner had to be removed because of its reference to China, a request repeated on several occasions, and in front of a number of witnesses, including the UN Special Rapporteur For Human Rights. Earlier, those same officials had asked ONI to stop circulating an invite to the event because it contained a mention of Tibet.

ONI officials requested to see governing rules pertaining to the act, however, UN security refused to provide them, with mention given to “objections of a member state.”

The incident has been covered in the major news media, most notably by the BBC, which quoted ONI Principal Investigator Ron Deibert as saying “If we are not allowed to discuss topics such as internet censorship, surveillance and privacy at a forum on internet governance, then what is the point of the IGF?” Deibert’s web site contains further information and will be updated to reflect new developments.

Access Controlled is slated for release in early 2010. Our previous volume, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering is available on Amazon.com and other booksellers; each chapter is also available individually online.

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