This abuse of Arab-Americans and Muslim-American follows the ritualized sacrifice of the pharmakos, which involved the projection of a specific set of characteristics onto the scapegoated victim, who was then sacrificed in order to restore the health and unity of the community” (p. 165). As Taslitz (2002) emphasizes, such hate crimes and stereotypical portrayals of Arab-Americans represent a firmly entrenched set of beliefs held by many Americans that contribute to the government’s ability to increase its power at the expense of the civil rights afforded the ordinary citizenry. “The most serious threats to our freedom often advance in small steps,” Taslitz notes, and, “The risks we assume are, in large part, reflections of laws that encourage certain customs and values” (p. 125).
This step-by-step erosion of civil liberties can be best understood as a response to the demonizing of Arabs in America as far back as the late 1800s (Akram, 2002). In fact, the hypocritical aspects of a nation that countenanced slavery and the notion of separate but equal education for millions of Americans are not lost on many observers today. For example, Craig-Henderson and Brown-Sims (2004) emphasize, “As a nation, the U.S. has touted the fact of its diversity as an aspect of its strength and relative superiority in the global community. Although somewhat paradoxically, at the same time that the U.S. symbolically embraces the notion of diversity, there have always been Americans who vociferously denounce those they perceive to be different” (p. 511).
The terrorist attacks of September 11, though, have added an enormous amount of fuel to this already smoldering racist fire when it comes to Arab-Americans. For instance, Craig-Henderson and Brown-Sims emphasize that, “Since September 11th 2001 and the ensuing American attack on Iraq, Americans who appear to be either Arab or Muslim or in some way Middle Eastern are not only regarded as different, but they are sometimes singled out for misplaced retaliatory aggression. Many Americans currently view a person’s association with a Muslim or Middle Eastern identity as in some way causally related to the events of September 11th” (p. 512). Despite efforts by many in the Arab community to counter these misplaced perceptions, emotions run high when it comes to national and personal security and the problem remains firmly in place. As Abu-Laban (2007) emphasizes, “Even in 2007 the representations of Arabs and the Middle East the American media remain stereotyped and often racist” (p. 47). While the mainstream media in the United States continues to provide plenty of ammunition for those who would make these racist assumptions, the fact remains that American civil liberties are in jeopardy and Arab-Americans have been used to justify these increased oversight powers by the government (Sachs, 2002).
The research showed that racism is a tough nut to crack in the first place, but when it is continually reinforced by stereotypical imagery it can be impossible to overcome. Throughout American history, immigrants, blacks, gays and others who were deemed sufficiently different have been subjected to such racist views by mainstream America. The research also showed that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have compounded the problem of racism against Arab-Americans in particular, and the U.S. government has responded by legislation that erodes the constitutional protections afforded by the Bill of Rights in ways that would startle the Founding Fathers. As Benjamin Franklin pointed out early on, “Those who are willing to trade civil liberties for temporary security, deserve neither.” Unfortunately, the United States appears to be on a highly slippery slope in its efforts to prosecute the war on terrorism, and it is reasonable to conclude that racism against Arab-Americans is not going away anytime soon.
Abu-Laban, B. (2007). Reflections on the rise and decline of an Arab-American organization. Arab Studies Quarterly, 29(3-4), 47.
Akram, S.M. (2002). The aftermath of September 11, 2001: The targeting of Arabs and Muslims in America. Arab Studies Quarterly, 61.
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