America’s new right: Racist and proud of it

When I read The Washington Post’s report on the opening of the far-right wing’s Tea Party convention in Nashville, I was taken aback by the remarks of former Republican Congressman and white nationalist Tom Tancredo. While racism undeniably persists in driving a good deal of the American political agenda, the degree to which Tancredo and his ilk in the increasingly mainstream right-wing can be overt and blatant in their bigotry is remarkable and worrying. Here’s what I mean:

On Thursday night, giving the opening address, former U.S. representative Tom Tancredo (Colo.), who ran for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination as an anti-immigration candidate, railed against Obama and “the cult of multiculturalism.” Americans could be “boiled to death in a cauldron of the nanny state,” he said. “People who couldn’t even spell the word ‘vote,’ or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House.”

When Tancredo said, “His name is Barack Hussein Obama,” the audience booed loudly.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow recaps:

The Haitian Revolution

Even if you have been watching Democracy Now’s outstanding coverage of the Haitian tragedy, the despicable neglect with which the United States and other rich countries have treated the disaster-struck nation, you still can’t fathom the depth of outrage the Haitians feel unless you put it into the context of its tortured history. Here is an excellent overview from C. S. Soong’s Against the Grain.

It was a cataclysmic event, the first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas. In 1791 brutally exploited slaves on a small Caribbean island rose up and eventually won emancipation. Their story, a legacy that has inspired and instructed people and nations for centuries, is told in Laurent Dubois’s Avengers of the New World.

America’s Quaking Racial Divide

Martin Luther King Jr

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Andrew Oxford reflects on America’s extant racial divide and the lingering threat of white nationalism.

In the preface to his monumental study of the contemporary American white supremacist movement (1), Leonard Zeskind points to the Sarajevo Haggadah for a pertinent lesson on race and society. A Hebrew text of stories, songs, and prayers written by Spanish Jews around 1314, it arrived in the Yugo peninsula with Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition. In the nineteenth century, it was entered into the Sarajevo Museum and saved from invading Germans during World War II by the Croation curator. For the duration of the war, it was guarded by Muslim clerics and it currently resides in the vaults of the Serbian National Bank while it is revered as a cultural icon of all peoples of the region. Reflecting upon the curious history of this relic, Zeskind writes:

It is useful to remember that at one time a hodgepodge of religious and ethnic groups lived together in relative harmony. Places like Sarajevo were cosmopolitan centers of learning and culture for centuries. But in a matter of a few historical seconds, the whole place went up in flames, like a refugee hostel attacked by arsonists…

The United States, unlike the former Yugoslavia, has well cemented the foundations of its federal order in the 150 years since our own Civil War, and the election of a black man, Barack Obama, has broken the white monopoly on the presidency. Nevertheless, collective identities based on race and religion have remained just under the skin of American life. As such, we will continue to be vulnerable to the machinations of … white nationalists … particularly as population demographics shift in the next few decades. For those of us who hope to protect and extend our multiracial democracy, and the cosmopolitanism of the type that preserved the Sarajevo Haggadah, we ignore this white nationalist movement at our own peril.

Continue reading “America’s Quaking Racial Divide”

Inviting David Brooks to My Class

The Zionists are prisoners of a bad dream: they must first free themselves, break free from the prison in which they can only play the part of tormentors, if they and especially their Palestinian victims are to live normal lives.

M. Shahid Alam

On January 12, the New York Times carried an article by David Brooks on Jews and Israel. It so caught my eye, I decided to bring its conservative author to my class on the economic history of the Middle East. I sent my students the link to this article, asked them to read it carefully, and come to the next class prepared to discuss and dissect its contents.

My students recalled various parts of the NYT article but no one could explain its substance. They recalled David Brooks’ focus on the singular intellectual achievements of American Jews, the enviable record of Israeli Jews as innovators and entrepreneurs, the mobility of Israel’s innovators, etc. One student even spoke of what was not in the article or in the history of Jews – centuries of Jewish struggle to create a Jewish state in Palestine.

But they offered no comments about Brooks’ motivation. Why had he decided to brag about Jewish achievements, a temptation normally eschewed by urbane Jews. In my previous class, while discussing Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, I had discussed how knowledge is suborned by power, how it is perverted by tribalism, and how Western writers had crafted their writings about the Middle East to serve the interests of colonial powers. Not surprisingly, this critique had not yet sunk in.

I coaxed my students, asking them directly to explore if David Brooks had an axe (or more than one) to grind. Was there an elephant in the room they had missed? What was the subtext of the op-ed?

Continue reading “Inviting David Brooks to My Class”

Photo Essay of a Settler

A friend of mine started a cyber-satirical Facebook profile for ex Israeli Air Force commander and Israeli army Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz (you’re all very welcome to join). Fortunately for the anthropology dabblers among us, some people don’t recognize satire when they see it, and among Lt. General Halutz’s friends, I stumbled upon “supporters of the settlers of the Simon the Righteous [aka Sheikh Jarrah] neighborhood”. Who are these supporters of criminals and ethnic cleansers? From their Facebook group (limited by my translation):

Lately, a number of houses have been saved in the “ Simon the Righteous” neighborhood in Jerusalem, which is very upsetting to the Anarchists and anti-semites around the world that are harassing the Jewish residents and the worshippers at the Simon the Righteous tomb, thinking that this will prevent Jews from visiting the area and living around it. Here at the group we’ll update about the going ons at the site and about the struggle to return the stolen Jewish houses.

In honor of the new Christian year the Muslims are brown-nosing the Christians. A big christmas tree has been stationed in front of the settlers houses which proves to us that where there is sanctity the devil grows. We’d like to remind the Christians what happened when Bethlehem was given to Palestinian terrorists: Their daughters were raped, their houses robbed, and most of them left the country.

This delightful group is very active, but rather than waste my time on translating more racist, colonialist blather, I’d like to share with you the choice photos and their labels, from the group, which give lingual and graphic insight into their warped perspective. I call it “Photo Essay of a Settler”.

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Iqbal, Is the Sky Yours or Mine?

Allama Iqbal
Muhammad Iqbal, 1877-1938, was a poet of Urdu and Farsi, philosopher, sufi, and revolutionary, who combined in his works the traditions of Al-Ghazzali, Rumi, Ibn-e-Khaldun, Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Walilullah. While he understood the power of the West, had read the Western philosophers, and was familiar with the advances in physics, unlike Syed Ahmad Khan, he remained firmly rooted in Islamic tradition, and refused to re-examine the Islamicate through Orientalist texts. He was criticial of the West’s excessive emphasis on reason, its materialism, and the depredations of capitalism. Many decades before Frantz Fanon and Aime Cezaire, he was the deep thinker and stirring poet of self-discovery, urging peoples of color to regain their dignity, to dig deep into their own traditions in order to overcome, and transcend, the materialism, racism, excessive rationalism, and the West’s abuse of power and its own principles.

This ghazal is a translation from Wings of Gabriel, the best collection of Iqbal’s Urdu poetry. From time to time, I will be presenting translations from this collection.

اگر کج رو ہیں انجم آسمان تیرا ہے یا میرا

translation by M. Shahid Alam

If the stars are topsy-turvy: is the sky yours or mine?
Should this fret me? Is the world yours or mine?

If Heaven lacks the tug, the heat of love’s adventure,
Dear Lord, this cosmic enigma is yours: not mine.

On that first dawn of creation, how dared he to defy
Your decree. Was he your emissary: or was he mine?

Muhammad is yours, Gabriel and the Qur’an too.
But these melodic words: are they yours or mine?

It’s this star, scintillating, that lights your creation.
Whose loss is it – the fall of Man? Is it yours or mine?

— M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University, Boston. He is author of Poverty from the Wealth of Nations (Macmillan: 2000), Challenging the New Orientalism (IPI: 2007), and Israeli Exceptionalism (Palgrave: 2009). You may reach him at

Gaza Never Forget

One year ago, this pro-Israel rally took place in New York City. American independent journalist Max Blumenthal was there to get people’s responses to the attacks on Gaza. Watch for yourself.

As boxing promoter Don King always says: “Only in America!”

The Price of ‘Existing’ as a Muslim Today

In the classic French novel, Adolphe, Benjamin Constant writes: 

There are things that for a long time remain unsaid, but once they are spoken, one never ceases to repeat them.

How true this is of so many of the things we keep inside for a time. Think, for example, of how an argument with a loved one often reveals the things that we have felt, but carefully hidden from them. Once spoken, those words repeat themselves with a frequency that suggests that we are seeking vengeance for the time they spent in silence.

The same is true of our secret prejudices, which often remain unsaid until the moment ‘feels right’ or circumstances seemingly produce the ‘necessity’ for their articulation.

It appears that circumstances today have produced a space in which articulating anti-Islamic sentiment both ‘feels right’ and ‘necessary’. It is an environment marked by series of events invoked as evidence in the ever-growing case against Islam.

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‘Going Deeper’ Not ‘Muslim’: Islamophobia and its Discontents

Photo by Ridwan Adhami

by Huma Dar

I deeply missed June Jordan today. Back in Fall 1995 (or was it 96?) the acclaimed poet read not her own poems, but those of her Arab students, at the first ever Berkeley “Poetry at Lunch” event. I adored her, and adored her even more when she courageously asserted that Arabs/Muslims were one of last groups it was explicitly kosher (read: not un-PC) to be racist or prejudiced towards in any given circle. Way before 9/11…

Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern Business School and a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, recently wrote a piece “Going Muslim: America after Fort Hood.”(1) He coins the phrase “Going Muslim” to “describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American—a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood—discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans.”(2)

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Get Out of My Vagina, You Filthy Zionist!

This image was not taken in Petah Tiqva.
This image was not taken in Petah Tiqva.

In woman’s womb, reposes the people’s future and in her soul the heart of a nation.
~ Frau Siber of the Ministry of the Interior (Germany 1933)

I know, I know, the Nazi comparison has been sooo done to death, but so has my statement that if the swastika fits- choke on it. Books have been devoted to the study of racial purity theories and practices, and what you’ll usually find is not only racism, but chauvinism, restricting women to mere purity producers.

Keeping Petah Tiqva Girls Pure
Many people find it insulting when I say Israel is a chauvinist state and nation. “Compare it to your beloved muslim regimes!” They spit venomously, as they tell me that “if all women were like [me], [they’d] turn gay”. Institutionalized chauvinism and racism has been prevalent in the Israeli government and institutions, since its inception. Municipal racism certainly isn’t new (definitely not to the city of Petah Tiqva); Palestinian citizens of Israel have been discriminated against for 61 years.
Continue reading “Get Out of My Vagina, You Filthy Zionist!”

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