Dressing Like a Terrorist

Like many others, I was dismayed to learn of the two imams wearing traditional Muslim garb who were forcibly removed from an airplane that was to carry them to a conference on Islamophobia.  The passengers who were removed from a Delta/ASA flight in Memphis, Masudur Rahman and Mohamed Zaghloul, apparently frightened other passengers and upset one of the pilots, who refused to fly with them on board.  Not everybody was dismayed, however.  The Delta/ASA pilot and the frightened passengers have received support from numerous voices among the American commentariat.

The situation was a clear-cut case of ethnic profiling.  On this everybody should agree.  Some of those who support the pilot’s action want to disclaim their support of profiling, but such a desire is dishonest.  People need to accept the realities of the positions they express, even if those positions attach to descriptors that have negative connotations.  If you support the pilot, you are supporting an instance of ethnic profiling.  Either accept that fact or develop a different opinion.

I have been reading commentaries about the case with much interest.  One argument in particular keeps arising:  the notion that Rahman and Zaghloul deserve what happened to them because they dressed like terrorists.  The reasoning goes like this:  Muslims commit terrorism; Muslims look a certain way; a certain look thus portends the possibility of terrorism.  In short, those who appear to be Muslim are worthy of extra scrutiny because they are more likely to be terrorists than other people.

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The Unmaking of Israel’s Soul and the Making of Israel’s Dead Soul

I wrote the following piece about my new book Israel’s Dead Soul at the request of Temple University Press for its blog.

I am, of course, often asked about the title. I cannot complain about the inquiries, though. When one chooses to title a book Israel’s Dead Soul, he or she can’t rightly expect polite nodding or painfully feigned interest when that title is uttered.

It is good to give a book a title that provokes reaction, though in this case the reaction has a decent probability of being negative. But I relish the opportunity to discuss Israel’s dead soul, which is why I named my book Israel’s Dead Soul. There needs to be discussion, much more discussion, of the role a mythologized Israel plays in American political and intellectual life.

The best way to understand what I mean by the title is to read the book, but I offer some thoughts on it here. There is no false advertising in the title: I have no affinity for Israel or Zionism, and I wanted to make that clear for anybody picking up the book, no matter his or her politics. The adjective “dead” intimates finality and thus my belief that Zionist settler colonization is unsustainable. The title also illuminates a profound skepticism I have about the propensity of people to imagine nation-states as anthropomorphic entities.

This happens in lots of ways: by referring to nation-states by the pronoun “she,” by conceptualizing their bureaucracies and policing mechanisms as living organisms, and by endowing those nation-states with souls. Nation-states, however, do not exist to do humane things; they are invented replicas of elite societies that steadfastly facilitate their enrichment. I don’t believe that Israel is unique among nation-states in being soulless. All of them share this distinction.

I do believe Israel is unique in the level of anguish its citizens and supporters express about its soul. My book quotes a wide variety of writers and politicians who wring their hands about Israel’s declining soul or the potential Israel has, if its behavior doesn’t improve, to lose its soul altogether. The point is that Israel once stood for something noble and compassionate and that its foolishness or arrogance or shortsightedness has separated it from its better self.

I find this type of reasoning unappealing and unconvincing. It belongs to the same rhetorical tradition we see in the United States, where commentators and politicians lament actions such as torture or extrajudicial killing and implore our leaders to restore the true spirit of America. The founding of the United States, of course, was accompanied by chattel slavery and the dispossession of indigenous peoples. Israel likewise has no noble or compassionate origin: it was founded on the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians and immediately consecrated juridical racism that would exclude Palestinians from the full rights of nationality.

By acknowledging the violence central to the founding of Israel (and other nation-states) we can question the moral commonplaces of jingoism that usually accompany nationalistic celebration. If Israel has a corrupted soul, then it can presumably vanquish corruption and restore its endemic purity. This would be possible, however, only if Israel ceased to exist as an ethnocentric nation-state. Such is the irony of any desire to restore the nation-state to honor. The only way to vanquish the impurities of the nation-state is to vanquish the nation-state.

I reject, in all their manifestations, the ideological vocabularies of exclusionary belonging so fundamental to discourses of Zionism. To mourn Israel’s dilapidated soul is essentially to accommodate the logic of ethnonationalism. In any case, as long as that dilapidated soul belongs to Israel it has no chance of resurrection.

For more information about Israel’s Dead Soul, please click here

What If the Egyptian Protesters Were Democrats?

by Steven Salaita

Their recent upheaval would certainly have been different, perhaps dramatically different.

In the past month, the people of Egypt—inspired by the recent democratic revolution in Tunisia and preceding emergent revolutions in Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, and Syria—have undertaken a revolt of truly stunning proportions, one that includes men and women from all class strata, religious and ethnic origins, and ideological commitments.  They managed to rid themselves of a longstanding and brutal dictator worth over $40 billion and supported by the collective power of the United States, European Union, Israel, and the Arab Gulf States.

Now that two Arab dictators have been vanquished by the collective will of unaffiliated protesters, many American commentators have been forced to rethink their assumptions about the supposedly tribal and authoritarian Arab mind.  Such commentators, sometimes conservative but often liberal, fancy themselves guardians of a civic and political enlightenment that in reality is misinformed in addition to being conceited and imperialistic.

Nevertheless, given the ardor and self-confidence of the notion that American values exemplify democratic modernity, let us imagine a few potential outcomes had the pioneering people of Egypt followed the example of today’s liberal American Democrats.

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Zapping and Groping are Bad Enough Already; Emulating Israel Will Only Make Them Worse

About a month ago, one of my colleagues was describing to me a forthcoming trip, when he paused and reflected, “I’m still not sure whether I want to be groped or zapped.”  It is a question many Americans have contemplated in recent weeks, “groping,” of course, being the instantly-infamous “enhanced pat downs” airport travelers can opt for if they refuse a “zapping,” the new X-ray backscatter or millimeter-wave machines that provide TSA shockingly clear body images.  Both types of machine are known as Advanced Imaging Technology [AIT].

A few days ago I traveled internationally and had some opportunities to experience these notorious new security measures.  Because AIT, according to Congressional testimony by Columbia University biophysicist David Brenner, delivers radiation at a rate of “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry,” I leaned toward being groped rather than zapped.  The TSA has been lying about other things, after all, proclaiming that the AIT machines don’t record or store images when in fact they can and sometimes do.

Exhausted after entering customs in Detroit after a fourteen hour flight, however, I was in no mood to have my privates jostled, so I opted for a zapping.  It seemed innocuous enough.  I cleared my pockets, stood in the transparent cylinder, and raised my arms as the panels rotated and emitted a flash of light.  Not even Aldous Huxley was imaginative enough to have predicted the scene.  While I was in the cylinder awaiting the zap, I rolled my eyes at a skeptical woman who seconds earlier had flatly proclaimed to the agent, “I’m not getting in that thing.”  She grinned at me, a favor I was able to return a minute later after I had gathered my belongings and passed her as she stood in an area designated for miscreants, a TSA agent’s hands down the back of her pants.

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Can A Muslim Truly Be An American?

There are numerous ways to approach this question. From a legal standpoint, many Muslims are American, having been born in the United States. Many Muslim immigrants are in possession of a United States passport, an item that ideally would be the only criterion by which one is judged “American.” National identity is only partly informed by formal citizenship, however. In the United States today, as throughout its history, citizenship is invested with crucial symbolic features. Most of the symbolic features of proper American-ness involve race or religion (wherein, say, Jews or African Americans aren’t seen to be fully American ideologically or, in some cases, legally). Another, often related, feature is political belief: dissent from what politicians and corporate media deem the national interest isn’t traditionally a welcome feature of true American-ness (i.e., the normative American). In turn, the politically-mainstream white Christian is the truest American of all.

Current conceptions of the normative American can best be detected in the recent imbroglio over the “ground-zero mosque,” a histrionic misnomer popularized by right-wing media. The proposed Muslim community center two blocks from the northeastern tip of ground zero, actually called Cordoba House, has created a national frenzy that compels us to reassess the symbolic qualities of citizenship in the United States. By expressing such loud opposition to the community center, a significant portion of Americans has again reinforced a limited definition of American-ness, in this case one that excludes Muslims from the full rights of citizenship.

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Eminent Scholar Ann Stoler Endorses Boycott of Israel

Below is a statement released by Ann Stoler in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement aimed at Israel:

BY COLONIAL DESIGN

As someone who has worked for some thirty years as a teacher and student of colonial studies– on comparative colonial situations, colonial histories, and the violent and subtle forms of governance on which colonial regimes rely, it would be difficult not to describe the Israeli state as a colonial one. It would be difficult not to recognize Israel’s past and ongoing illegal seizure of Palestinian land, the racialization of every aspect of daily life, and the large-scale and piecemeal demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of livelihoods, and efforts to destroy the social and family fabric, as decimation by concerted and concentrated colonial design. These are the well-honed practices of regimes that define colonialisms and have flourished across the imperial globe. As with other colonial regimes, the Israeli state designates and redraws geographic borders, suspends Palestinian civil rights and arbitrarily transgresses what for Israelis are recognized and guarded as private space.

Israel is particular but it is not unique. Its techniques of occupation are based on unfounded uses of the legal apparatus of Israeli law. These are the practices of a colonial state committed to replacing and displacing a Palestinian population, and committed to its own expansion. That expansion is persistent, both surreptitious and blatant everyday: room by room in the old city of Jerusalem, house by house in the spread of settler communities, meter by meter as the placement of the Wall in the name of “security” cuts through homes and fields, and divides neighborhoods while it infringes further into legally recognized Palestinian territories. At issue is both a confiscation of history and a confiscation of the future possibilities of those who today find their bedding thrown on the streets in the middle of the night by Israeli settlers.

If democracy is defined, as Hannah Arendt did, by “the right to have rights” for an entire population within the state’s jurisdiction, the Israeli state cannot be considered a democratic one. Nor can a democracy be founded on the principle of expulsion and the creation of a diasporic population shorn of its land, belongings and citizenship – a principle avidly embraced by Israel since l948. For these reasons, I confirm my support for the BDS international boycott of those Israeli institutions that actively or passively accept a status quo that condones and expands the occupation, violates international law, enforces military control and denies Palestinian rights to self-determination.

Ann Laura Stoler
Willy Brandt Distinguished University Professor
Of Anthropology and Historical Studies
The New School for Social Research
New York, New York 10003

10 September 2010

Four Reasons Why Americans Should Oppose Zionism

by Steven Salaita

Israel has been subject to some bad publicity recently.  In 2008-09, it launched a brutal military campaign in the Gaza Strip that killed over 400 Palestinian children.  In May, 2010, bumbling Israeli commandos murdered nine nonviolence activists on the relief flotilla Mavi Marmara.  It only got worse for Israel when it was revealed that soldiers stole and sold personal items such as laptops from the ship.  Last week, former Israeli soldier Eden Abergil posted photos onto facebook showing her preening in front of blindfolded and despondent Palestinian prisoners, in some instances mocking those prisoners with sexual undertones.  The photos were part of an album entitled “IDF—the best time of my life.”

While Abergil’s pictures may not seem as abhorrent as the Gaza and Mavi Marmara brutality—Abergil, for her part, described her behavior as nonviolent and free of contempt—all three actions are intimately connected.  First of all, we must dispel the notion that Abergil’s photos are nonviolent.  As with the Abu Ghraib debacle, a sexualized and coercive humiliation is being visited on the bodies of powerless, colonized, and incarcerated subjects, which by any reasonable principle is a basal form of violence; there is also the obvious physical violence of Palestinians being bound and blindfolded, presumably in or on their way to prisons nobody will confuse with the Mandarin Oriental.

More important, these recent episodes merely extend an age-old list of Israeli crimes and indignities that illuminate a depravity in the Zionist enterprise itself.  What is noteworthy about Israel’s three recent escapades is that more and more people are starting to pay attention to its crimes and indignities.  In so doing, more and more people are questioning the origin and meaning of Zionism—that is, the very idea of a legally ethnocentric Israel.

I would like to address this piece to those who have undertaken such questioning or to those who are prepared to initiate it.  I would urge you not to limit your critique of Israel only to its errors of judgment or its perceived excesses; it is more productive to challenge the ideology and practice of Zionism itself.  There is no noble origin or beautiful ideal to which the wayward Jewish state must return; such yearnings are often duplicitous mythmaking or romanticized nostalgia.  Zionists always intended to ethnically cleanse Palestinians, a strategy they carried out and continue to pursue with horrifying efficiency.

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