Seema Jilani is a physician who specializes in Pediatrics, and concentrates on International Health Care. She has worked in Israel, Palestine, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt and the Balkans. She has been a freelance journalist for Pacifica Radio for eight years. Her radio documentary, Israel and Palestine: The Human Cost of The Occupation, was nominated for The Peabody Award. Dr. Jilani's work has been published in The Guardian, The Independent, Newsweek, The Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers.Dr. Jilani also blogs on Huffington Post, and yesterday posted the most extraordinary piece, detailing the unmasked bigotry she suffered at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.
Left without keys to her room, she tried to get into the ballroom to find her husband and retrieve her keys. Security staff disdainfully told her "no", saying she had no ticket—something which didn't seem to preclude Caucasian attendees easily passing through the security cordon.
Finally, the truth came out:
When I asked why the security representatives offered to personally escort white women without tickets downstairs while they watched me flounder, why they threatened to call the Secret Service on me, I was told, "We have to be extra careful with you all after the Boston bombings."So there you have it: the putatively Muslim Boston bombers once again damned an entire religion. The first organizations to come out with condolences for the victims were Muslim. I remember more than one Twitter feed feeling relief when the bombers' pictures were released, and shown to be white; "Thank God they weren't Muslim" read one tweet. Unfortunately, that proved not to be the case. They were Muslim, and the community had to once again apologize en masse for the actions of two men.
And yet, I don't recall the larger Christian community rending its garments when Timothy McVeigh was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed for the Oklahoma City bombing. His warped view of Christianity contributed as much to his actions as his warped view of the American commonwealth. When a "Christian" bombs a clinic providing abortion services, I never see prelates and pastors rushing the cameras to apologize for someone who twisted Christian beliefs. Often, I see quite the opposite, with the more reactionary clergy and spokesmen trying to justify the acts.
Being part of the "mainstream" means never having to say you're sorry. Of course Timothy McVeigh and abortion clinic bombers don't represent all of Christianity. But neither do the Tsarnaev brothers or Osama bin Laden represent all of Islam. Why are they taken to be the norm, rather than the Muslim cab driver attacked in Washington D.C., a military veteran, who was told by his assailant—an aviation executive, who should have learned some grace in his life—"I will slice your fucking throat right now"? Why is Ahmedinajad of Iran the face of Islam in this country, rather than this:
The answer is simple: we need an enemy.
With the demise of the Soviet Union, the world became amorphous, with no easily identifiable "bad guys". That's not good for the business of war; as General Smedley Butler famously said, "War is a racket". War spending helped keep the US economy afloat after World War II, right through the cold war, and into today. No one can honestly say that the US needs as huge a defense budget as it has now; the threats just aren't there; and any threats which do exist could be better dealt with multilaterally.
The 2001 attacks finally gave the war party the enemy it had lacked during the 1990s. And the war party seized that opportunity with gusto.
But the idea of the "Other" wasn't born in 2001. It is a current through American history. Various ethnicities have functioned as it throughout the years. Domestically, people of color are still viewed as Other; Muslims serve that role for the war party. And a disturbingly large percentage of the shrinking white population seizes on these visions of Otherness so as to define itself in opposition.
It's no surprise that Mitt Romney won 60% of the white vote. What is quite surprising—and quite hopeful—is that it didn't matter; he still lost the election. The US is going through that long-dreaded demographic shift, the one of which Pat Buchanan sounded the klaxon alarm throughout the 1990s. White America will become just another community in the mix that is our country. Everyone will be an "Other"; only when that happens, will we be able to, perhaps, see beyond labels. When white privilege ebbs away because there just aren't enough angry white people, then all that will be left will be a common humanity. As the US will remain a superpower for the foreseeable future, that can only be a good thing, both for us at home and for the world.
But, really, I want an apology from Pat Robertson for Timothy McVeigh. The 168 dead and the country deserve it.