Unwanted Refugees: Racism against Middle Eastern-Americans Requires a Public Response

This article was published on January 14, 2017 in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Though racism against Middle Eastern-Americans has reached ugly levels in our nation, reaching its highest levels since 9/11 and surging nearly 70% in 2015, the response of historically progressive Americans has been meek. Even worse, though racism is unpatriotic when viewed for example in the context of African-American rights, Islamophobia is espoused by alleged patriots.

Mr. Trump wants to monitor Moslem-Americans, bar Middle-Eastern refugees from entering our borders, and carpet-bomb ISIS-held communities despite overwhelming civilian deaths: this won him many votes! Middle Eastern-Americans are removed from US airplanes ostensibly for speaking Arabic onboard. Moslems are attacked outside local US mosques. Whispers and sometimes shouts of “terrorist” follow them in their daily lives. Their Middle Eastern ethnicity is used as a stereotype against them in their jobs, in courtrooms, in relationships, in day-to-day business transactions, such that they are painted as dangerous, hateful, and backwards. When they are called ugly epithets, such as “sand-n****r” or “dune-c**n”, there is no community outrage.

In response, some Middle Eastern-Americans become so Americanized that they lose their own heritage. Others complain amongst friends. A miniscule and deranged fraction become militant.

The “us” versus “them” dialectic distances us and allows us to minimize and forget the pain of Middle Eastern-Americans, much like Americans did for centuries with all minorities until they were forced to do otherwise. Let’s not let it get to that.

Unlike some minorities, Middle Eastern-Americans have no widespread support system. How many Persian or Arab politicians, CEOs, or entertainers can you name? Of the few that do exist, how many are not so Americanized that we’re allowed to overlook their Middle Eastern culture, as if to forgive that about them?

Politics creates racism. The Middle East has been the target of concerted Western aggression for hundreds of years, even well into the 20th Century via CIA operations in Iran that ousted the democratically elected PM Mossadegh in the 50s, and now in the last couple decades with exacerbating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With the intense support given to Israel by US politicians on all sides of the spectrum, despite the virtual concentration camp that is Palestine, the West overlooks the body count much the same way it does with the hundreds of thousands that perish in various Middle Eastern nations. When Iranians boldly marched for democracy in the 2009 Green Revolution protesting the corrupt election of Ahmadinejad, where was Western intrusion and support for democracy then?

Hateful policies and racism are not the answer. Middle Eastern-Americans have learned everything about American culture because it’s a matter of survival in their new home. It must become more than a luxury for Americans to learn about them. More than just putting this onus on schools and the media, individuals must make an effort to understand Middle Eastern culture, history, and religion, and to no longer view such a notion as anathema.

While Middle Eastern-Americans must form an outspoken community against such hatred on both sides, it is the civic and moral duty of all Americans to think of Middle Eastern-Americans beyond the veiled or bearded images, beyond the anger and bloodshed you see in the Middle East, to oppose the role the West plays in creating hellfire in the Middle East, and to stop attacks on Middle Easterners here where they have sought refuge.

  • Ali Shahrestani, Esq.



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