This article is the work of Lawrence Davidson, Professor of History at West Chester University
Part I — Some Background
The Ku Klux Klan (the name derives from the Greek word Kuklos meaning circle with a modification of the word clan added), an American terrorist organization, was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1865. It was organized by Southerners who refused to reconcile themselves to the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War, and its declared mission was to “maintain the supremacy of the white race in the United States.” To this end it adopted tactics in the southern states that would so terrify emancipated African Americans and their white allies, that they would not dare to vote, run for public office, or intermingle with whites except in “racially appropriate” ways.
Intimidation took many forms. Non-whites and their allies who sought to assert civil rights were threatened, assaulted and frequently murdered. If they were women they were subjected to assault and rape. The property of these people was destroyed, their homes and meeting places attacked with bombs or burned. Finally, a favorite tactic was lynching.
Lynching was/is murder carried out by a mob that collectively thinks it is protecting the community and/or its traditions. Between 1882 and 1930 the Klan and allied organizations lynched some 3,000 people, mostly black men. Often the accusation was that the black male victim had sought sexual relations with white women. It was very rare that those involved in these murders, which were carried out quite openly with little effort to hide identities, were arrested for their actions much less convicted and adequately punished. This, in turn, was possible because of a number of factors:
– First and foremost, the belief that African Americans, and subsequently all non-whites, were dangerous to “white civilization.” This belief was built into the cultural perceptions of the majority. With rare exceptions, a white person could not grow up in this environment without acquiring a knee-jerk prejudice against non-whites.
– As a result, local white populations, as well as local law enforcement, often sympathized with the Klan, sometimes feared it, or just did not care about what happened to the non-white population.
In the years following the Civil War, the activities of the Klan only subsided when the U.S. government allowed the Southern states to impose laws that prevented African Americans from voting and acquiesced in a harsh regime of segregation. When the Civil rights movement finally took place in the 1960s, the Klan reappeared and participated in the violent opposition to desegregation and racial equality. This abated only when the federal government started seriously enforcing its own civil rights laws.
Part II – Old Tactics and New Victims
While today the Ku Klux Klan as an organization is nearly (but not quite) gone, it would be a mistake to think that the Klan mentality is dead in the U.S. Quite the contrary. The nation’s deep seated history of racism has helped preserve an apparent permanent subset of Americans who grow up with prejudicial feelings against anyone they perceive as a threat to their version of the “American way of life.”
This background can help us understand the on-going attacks against American Muslims. Since 2010 there has been an increase in the number of attacks on American Muslims, their mosques and other property, as well as American minorities (such as Sikhs) who are regularly mistaken for Muslims. These attacks are not the work of a refurbished Ku Klux Klan but, nonetheless, have about them the same nature: fear of American Muslims as cultural subversives (for instance, the delusion that they seek to impose Sharia law in the United States); anonymous threats of violence (via telephone, internet, and also in the form of abusive graffiti); bomb, arson, and gun fire attacks on property; and finally assaults and murders. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department has investigated over 800 such incidents in the last eleven years. Eight such attacks occurred in the first half of the present month of August 2012, including the murder of six Sikhs in Milwaukee on August 5.
An important factor in all of this is the role of a number of campaigning politicians who go around proclaiming the threat that American Muslims supposedly represent to the country. For instance, just prior to a spate of arson attacks in the Chicago area, U.S. Representative Joe Walsh held town hall meetings in the area where he proclaimed, “One thing I am sure of is that there are people in this country–there is a radical strain of Islam in this country–it’s not just over there–trying to kill Americans every week.” His talk was filmed and posted on YouTube. Similar rhetoric has been heard from a dozen other politicians including Peter King, the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and Michele Bachmann, who was among those running for GOP candidate for president.
Part III – What It Takes to Break a Bad Habit
This is what you get when you practice a culture that has evolved around racist views. And, you get it more or less in perpetuity. In the case of the United States, the nation spent from 1789 (counting from the establishment of the Constitution which legitimized slavery) to 1954 (the year the Supreme Court declared, in Brown v. Board of Education, mandatory segregation of public schools unconstitutional), or 165 years, building up an “American way of life,” which legitimized discrimination against non-whites. Subsequently, it has spent from 1957 (counting from the year that Brown v. Board of Education actually began to be enforced) to the present, or 55 years trying to undo that legacy. If it takes about as long to undo a nationwide bad habit as it did to establish it, we have a long road ahead of us.
What the years since 1957 have done is to legally enforce non-racist public behavior. This is certainly a necessary step which, if consistently applied, will eventually lead to an internalized change in the outlook and morality of most of the population. In this regard Barack Obama’s election as the first African American president in 2008 was a sure sign of progress. However, the virulent reaction to Obama by more than a few is another sign that, while 55 years is long enough to alter the public behavior of some people, it is not long enough to change the private attitudes of many. Thus, there are still those groups of citizens who are deeply racist. Today, under normal circumstances, they keep their feeling to themselves and their like-minded circle. However, when conditions allow, that racism emerges in a public way, often in hate speech but sometimes more brutally. These extremists are the modern day versions of yesterday’s klansmen and, given a chance, they will happily commit mayhem in the name of their cherished traditions. American Muslims are now their target.
Part IV – Another Example = Our Ally Israel
If you want to see another example of a society that has historically cultivated discriminatory outlooks and practices, one that American Zionists consider quite similar to the U.S., take a look at Israel. By the way, If there is any truth to the belief that Israel is “just like us,” it can only refer to the United States prior to 1957–prior to the introduction of civil rights laws.
Much like the American south of that pre-legal equality era, Israel is shaped by a culture of ethno/religious exclusiveness practiced amidst a larger out-group (in this case the Palestinian Arabs). This has led the Israeli Jews to teach successive generations that it is proper and necessary to discriminate against Palestinians. And, sure enough, over the years Israel has produced its own terrorist organizations that intimidate and attack Palestinian Arabs: the Irgun and Lehi during the years leading to the establishment of the state in 1948, Gush Emunim and Terror Against Terror in the 1970s and 1980s, and today’s “Price-Taggers” and West Bank settler vigilantes. Just like klansmen in the American south, these terrorists are rarely prosecuted and almost never adequately punished for their crimes because much of the Jewish population as well as the organs of the state sympathize with them. And, just like the American south, they operate in an environment conducive to an Israeli version of lynching.
That brings us to the Isreaeli style lynching that occurred on the night of August 17 in Jerusalem. Raised in an environment that purposely cultivates prejudice and hatred against Arabs, a mob of some fifty Israeli Jewish young people attacked four Palestinian male youths, almost killing one of them. The attack was unprovoked and apparently random, though the attackers “claimed they wanted to prevent them [the Arab boys] from speaking to Jewish girls.” “Hundreds” witnessed this event but did not interfere. The entire thing was predictable, and indeed inevitable. It is what you get when you practice a culture that has evolved around racist views.
Part V – Conclusion
There might be a human genetic inclination toward group solidarity, but its worst manifestations are not inevitable. You can feel solidarity with your family, your religious community, your ethnic group, your nation, etc. without hating others. The hating part is a learned attitude. And, as is often the case, fear will underlie the hatred.
Both American and Israeli bigots or terrorists have focused on Arabs and Muslims as a threatening out-group. Both the Americans and the Israelis who do so draw strength from a culture that has deep racist roots. In today’s U.S.A. many know that this is wrong and so there is a moral position from which to combat this behavior. Unfortunately, it is not possible to say the same thing about Israel.
In the United States the core need is consistent educational and legal pressure against racist behavior both in terms of individual and institutional behavior. When I say consistent I mean over multiple generations, for at least as many years as it took to create the nationwide bigotry in the first place. If we do not succeed in this endeavor then American Zionists will be proven correct. We in the U.S. will be just like the Israelis.
Monday, August 27, 2012
By William Fisher
Most Americans are aware of the negative attitudes our country has toward American Muslims and Arab-Americans. But what they may not be so aware of is the depth of the vitriol with which they attack these two groups and the utter ignorance they apply to make their vitriol even more incendiary.
At a press conference earlier this week, Dr. James Zogby – who is president of the Arab American Institute – presented the results of a poll of 2100 Americans who were asked about their views about various aspects of Arab-America and American Muslim life.
The quick takeaway from Zogby’s presentation is that Arab-Americans and American Muslims are not just disliked – they are detested. They are despised.
Substantial majorities of Americans in various demographic niches believe people in these two groups are disloyal to the United States, though hundreds of thousands have been in the US for generations. It is estimated that there are approximately five to eight million Muslims living in the U.S. now.
In 2000, 1.2 million people reported an Arab ancestry in the United States. In December 2003, the U.S. census bureau released data for the first time on the Arab population of the United States. The data is from the 2000 census. The census does not break down the figures by religion, but the Arab-American Institute estimates that about 77% of Arab-Americans are Christians (42% Catholic, 23% Orthodox, 12% Protestant) and 23% Muslim.
The toxic attitudes of American citizens toward their Muslim and Arab countrymen have triggered a rash of attacks and threats. Zogby ran through a litany:
Of the findings, Zogby said, “The numbers from our latest poll highlight that Park 51, the anti-Muslim and anti-Arab tone of the 2010 campaign season, anti-Sharia legislation, calls for Muslim loyalty oaths, and public attacks on American Muslims and Arab American public servants have taken a toll on American public opinion. Park 51 is to be the official name of the controversial community center located near the remains of the World Trade Center.
“Despite the fact that most Americans are unable to make the distinction between Arabs and Muslims, the vitriol that has been aimed at both communities is clearly swaying public opinion along age and party lines,” Zogby said.
Meaning that older people and Republicans have the most deep-seated enmity toward the two groups.
Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims have the lowest favorable/highest unfavorable ratings among the eight major religious groups covered.
Muslims are the only group with a net unfavorable rating.
There is a deep generational divide, which is reflected in a partisan divide. Younger Americans (18-25) rate Arabs and Muslims up to 17 points higher than the older generation. They also rate Arab Americans and American Muslims higher as well.
Younger Americans rate Catholics and the various Protestant denominations covered in the survey almost 20 points lower than do older Americans (65+). The younger group also rates Mormons 15 points lower. This is reflected in a deep partisan divide and even more so in a division between those who describe themselves as Obama or Romney voters.
For example, the ratings given to Arabs and Muslims by Obama and Romney voters are mirror reflections of each other. While Obama voters give Arabs a net 51%/29% favorable rating and Muslims a net 53%/29% rating; Romney voters give Arabs a 30%/50% net unfavorable rating and Muslims a 25%/57% unfavorable rating.
Democrats and Obama voters give no group a net negative rating. Republicans and Romney voters only give strong negative ratings to Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.
There is also a racial divide in attitudes toward Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.
Favorable attitudes toward Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims are significantly higher among African American, Hispanic, and Asian Americans.
Fifty-seven per cent of voters believe their ethnicity or religion would influence their decision-making of Arab Americans and American Muslims if they were appointed to important government posts.
Again there is a deep partisan divide on this question. By a two to one ratio, Democrats and Obama voters are confident that Arab Americans and American Muslims could do the job, but a strong majority of Republicans and Romney voters fear that the ethnicity or religion of members of these communities would influence their work.
Once again, age plays a significant role.
To make matters worse, the U.S. Government continues to perform its schizoid dance that confuses everyone involved. On the one hand, the government is reaching out to those it considers “good” Arab-Americans and “good” Muslims. It is praising these people whenever it can. On the other hand, it is sending agent provocateurs into mosques and Muslim neighborhoods to gather information on future terror plots. Muslim congregations are crying “entrapment.”
“In 2010, in the wake of the Park 51 controversy, AAI conducted a similar poll on views toward Arabs and Muslims. The data extracted from both polls indicates that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim political rhetoric has taken a toll on American public opinion, especially along age and party lines.”How’s that for understatement?
The Arab-American and American Muslim communities suffered through similar attacks in the days and weeks immediately following the September 11, 2001 attacks. The government rounded up thousands of “Middle Eastern people” and jailed hundreds of them. Scores of violent incidents and threats against Arab-Americans and American Muslims were reported. Many took their complaints to court.
And now we are seeing a repeat performance.
For example, The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called for an FBI hate crime investigation of an acid bomb attack on a Muslim school in that state. It was the second such incident targeting an Illinois Muslim institution .
Arab immigrants and their community centers, mosques and businesses have been hit by Molotov cocktails, bullets and bricks. Buildings have been defaced with graffiti. Numerous bomb threats have occurred. In one incident a drunken 75-year-old man, screaming, “You’re destroying my country,” tried to run down a Pakistani woman in a Long Island parking lot.
Two air rifle shots were fired at the Muslim Education Center (MEC) mosque in Morton Grove, Ill.
The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice placed a priority on prosecuting bias crimes and incidents of discrimination against Muslims, Sikhs, and persons of Arab and South-Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups.
On July 4th, Joplin, Missouri's Islamic Center — the city's only mosque — suffered roof damage after an unidentified man set it on fire by tossing a burning object onto the building.
The following Monday, there was a second fire, but this time the damage was far more extensive. Fire officials described it as a "complete loss."
A man armed with a hammer was caught on video apparently destroying a sign at a mosque in Rhode Island.
At least seven people were killed and twenty injured as a gunman took over a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The number includes the gunman, who was killed by police. Officials are treating it as a "domestic terrorist-type incident." The attacker is believed to have confused Sikhs and Muslims.
CAIR called for increased police protection at houses of worship across the country following the Joplin fire and the deadly attack on the Sikh temple.
What this ugly bigotry conjures up are pages out of American history’s Book of Shame. For there is where we find our Pilgrim Fathers destroying the lives of the people they found there. There is where we find the sepsis of the slave-trade economy. There is where we find the Italians, the Irish and the Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. There is where we find 110,000 Japanese-Americans hauled off to camps in the middle of nowhere. And there is where we find the bloody swamp we know as Jim Crow.
Arabs and Muslims in America are going to have to fight hate and discrimination – many are doing so now. To be successful, they are going to need the proactive backing of the heavy hitters in our government – beginning with the President -- and in our business and financial communities over a substantial period of time. And these are not groups that embrace change unless there is absolutely no alternative. The more enlightened attitudes of the younger American generation offer some hope for healing.
While some observers have urged Mr. Obama to provide stronger and more consistent leadership on this issue, others are suggesting that now may be too soon; the wounds of 9/11 may be too fresh.
But time alone would not have given us the Civil Rights Act of 1965 or the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
And – let’s face it -- it wouldn’t have mattered a whit if a posse of American Muslims and Arab Americans had killed Osama bin Laden. Nobody would have believed it!
This article originally appeared in the pages of Prism Magazine