By Sarah Ismail
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, people were beaten and even killed for being Muslim or even just “looking like a Muslim.”
This article is based on a talk given at a Party for Socialism and
Liberation forum held in San Jose, Calif.
Racism is not a natural, inevitable phenomenon, nor is it something that
“just happens.” It is something that we can fight against.
Throughout history, we see that racism is actively promoted and
organized by the ruling class. Why? Because the ruling class is
numerically only a tiny portion of the population. It cannot possibly
impoverish humanity and hold on to its ridiculous amounts of wealth
without sowing division among the workers. Racism is an effective
tool in the hands of the capitalist class.
Millions of people were abducted from Africa and enslaved in the United
States. The slave-owning class in the South owed its wealth to slave
labor, people who were worked to death on its plantations. The
slave-owning class had to come up with an ideology to justify the
enslavement of millions of people. Slavery did not exist because of
racism. Racism existed to justify slavery. Of course, the African
American community continues to suffer oppression today because
racism continues to serve the purpose of the capitalist class in
dividing the working class.
Similarly today, racism against Muslims and Arabs, Islamophobia, does not exist
because it is somehow natural and normal for people of different
religions to hate each other. The ruling class has actively promoted
and nurtured Islamophobia. It did not start on Sept. 11, 2001, but it
reached new levels because of the purpose it served. The events
around 9/11 give us a case study on how the ruling class uses racism
to promote its own goals—imperialist plunder, and divide and
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On September 11, 2001, I was in 11th grade, and I remember watching
events unfold on news stations in class. As the news anchors still
had no information as to who the attackers were, I remember thinking
to myself, “God … please don’t let it be Muslims.” Even then,
as a high school student, I had a glimpse of what was to come.
Domestically, the U.S. government was quick to launch an assault on civil
liberties. The government decided to increase security by breaching
citizens’ privacy and rights. The PATRIOT Act was used, and
continues to be used, for arbitrarily tapping phones, reading
e-mails, harassing activists and arresting, interrogating and
torturing individuals considered to be terrorism suspects. Sept. 11
gave the ruling class an excuse to increase its powers of repression
against the people here in the United States.
But the main function of the spread of Islamophobia was to justify a new
wave of military conquests by empire. The Afghanistan
war was launched less than a month after 9/11. How were racism and
Islamophobia useful to the ruling class? Well, not a single one of
the perpetrators of 9/11 was from Afghanistan. And, 10 years later,
when the Navy SEALS killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, the
occupation of Afghanistan was not altered the slightest bit, laying
to rest the notion that capturing bin Laden had been the goal of the
It was only in an atmosphere of racist hysteria that the occupation of
Afghanistan could be justified as an appropriate response to 9/11. In
that racist atmosphere, what was the difference between Afghans and
Saudi Arabians, people from countries over a thousand miles apart?
This is not to suggest that bombing Saudi Arabia would have been
justified. Rather, we are saying that, without the anti-Muslim
hysteria, it would have been impossible to justify invading
Afghanistan as a just reaction to 9/11.
Eighteen months later, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq. It did
not matter that neither Saddam Hussein nor any Iraqi citizens had
anything to do with 9/11. In fact, the secular state in Iraq
considered Al Qaeda its mortal enemy. But, somehow, the trumped-up
issue of “weapons of mass destruction” was linked to 9/11, and
the Islamophobic hysteria justified any action against Muslims
anywhere, irrespective of whether they had anything to do with 9/11.
The real purpose of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq was to “redraw
the map of the Middle East” to better serve the interests of the
U.S. oligarchy. In fact, 9/11 itself, though tragically misguided,
was a reaction to decades of U.S. crimes in the Middle East. In Iraq
alone, over a million people had already lost their lives as a result
of the genocidal sanctions imposed on the people, depriving them of
food, medicine and even clean water.
Guantanamo and ‘illegal combatants’
Then there was the matter of prisoners of war—people who had resisted
the occupation of their lands. Well, they were called “illegal
combatants” and denied the protections of international law
accorded POWs. A decade later, people are still being held in
Guantanamo Bay with no evidence and no due process.
How is it that the highest levels of the U.S. government can defend the
existence of torture chambers, not just in Guantanamo, but in Iraq’s
Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan’s Baghram? Again, anti-Muslim
bigotry, Islamophobia, comes to the rescue. Much like the enslavement
of Africans was justified by depicting them as subhuman, the massive
torture and slaughter of Iraqis and Afghans is justified by
portraying Muslims as sub-human beings.
Islamophobia in the United States
Of course, the fact that Islamophobia is promoted by the state and the
corporate media, itself really an arm of the state, does not mean
that more backward elements of the population do not buy into it.
There are countless examples of anti-Muslim bigotry that continue to
this day. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, several people were
attacked and even killed merely for being Muslims or even “looking
like” Muslims or wearing turbans. Mosques have been set on fire,
the Quran has been burned, Muslims have been forced off planes with
no justification, people have been accused of being terrorists, and
the list goes on and on.
At my high school, one of our teachers would not allow us to miss sixth
period on Fridays for prayer, saying, “Why don’t you pray on
Sunday like the rest of us?” On the street, people have yelled at
me, calling me, “Diaper
When I worked for the Census in late 2009, I would have to go to people’s
doors and ask them questions. In a few instances, people refused to
talk to me because I didn’t look “American.” Others thought I
was selling my religion and a few even made more offensive comments,
such as stopping me mid-sentence and asking “Are you Arab?” to
which I replied, “Yes.” Next thing I knew, a door was slammed in
Islamophobia continues to serve the interests of the imperialist establishment. It
serves to justify the continued occupation of Palestine by Israel,
the U.S. watchdog in the Middle East. It continues to help justify
the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The propaganda line is that
the demonized Muslim people do not quite know the value of democracy,
human rights and self-governance, so the U.S. government has to help
these lesser peoples by bombing their cities, towns and villages.
Ongoing outcomes of Islamophobia
The state and the corporate media have to continue stirring things up.
The government and media controlled by those in power have a definite
interest in maintaining fear and hatred toward Muslims. An example is
the anti-Shari’a laws being introduced in over two dozen states.
The idea that the United States needs to be protected against the
imposition of Islamic law is simply ludicrous. When it comes to
separation between church and state, a greater concern should be
protecting us from the legal imposition of extremist Christian values
enshrined in law. In any case, the anti-Shari’a law movement is being
spearheaded by openly racist elements.
According to a 2010 survey of Muslim youths
aged 11 to 18, conducted by the Washington-based advocacy
group Muslim Mothers Against Violence,
every respondent reported being called a name because of their faith,
including 80 percent who said they had been called “terrorist.”
Another outcome of the pervasiveness of Islamophobia occurred in Europe. On
July 22, Anders Behring Breivik detonated a car bomb and massacred 68
people attending a Labor Party youth camp in Norway.
Breivik had written a 1,500-page manifesto explaining his right-wing,
anti-immigrant, Islamophobic ideology. An active blogger, Breivik
faulted Norway’s Labor Party, the left-wing pro-capitalist party,
for “multi-culturalism” and for allowing the “Islamification”
of Europe. He saw a “Marxist-Islamic alliance” as a mortal threat
to “European Christendom.”
It wasn’t just the act itself that was racist but the reaction to it
by officials and the business media. On
July 27, Heiner Bielefeldt, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on religion
and freedom of belief, stated, “The way in which some public
commentators immediately associated the horrifying mass murder in
Norway last Friday with Islamist terrorism is revealing and indeed an
embarrassing example of the powerful impact of prejudices and their
capacity to enshrine stereotypes.”
So, essentially, his Islamophobia, fueled by the world media, is what
drove Breivik to kill these innocent peoples.
Mazda Majidi wrote for Liberation
about the Norway massacre:
“Right-wing, racist movements and their ideology do not grow in a vacuum. They are
one of the ways in which the capitalist ruling class attempts to keep
people divided. While advertising itself as grassroots and
spontaneous, the Tea Party in the United States is an example of a
right-wing movement that has been funded directly and indirectly by
big capitalists, such as the Koch brothers.
Only under certain political circumstances have capitalist ruling classes
been in favor of the direct ascension of the fascists into political
power, and those were periods of extreme crises, when the survival of
the system was in question. But extreme right-wing parties and
movements serve their class functions at other times, as well.
“Right-wing movements are particularly useful to the ruling class during times of
capitalist economic crisis, high unemployment and declining living
standards. Fascistic ideologies provide a false explanation for the
root cause of the crisis. They promote racism and hatred toward
immigrants, people of color and oppressed countries to prevent the
formation of unity among the working class and the oppressed, the
victims of the capitalist system. Individuals like Breivik are
by-products of this right-wing ideology.”
“So long as the capitalist class has political power, racism will thrive,
not spontaneously, but promoted and supported by that class.”
The way to combat racism is to struggle for working-class unity and
solidarity along the lines of actively fighting racism. An organized,
class-conscious working class will bring an end to the capitalist
system, along with its inevitable diseases, including racism.”
When the capitalist system is overthrown, the state will no longer be
stirring up racism to safeguard its interests. Instead, the state of
the working class will be at the forefront of the fight against
Oct. 7 marks the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Did you
know that 92 percent of Afghans don’t
even know about the 9/11 attacks? This so-called War on Terror has
always been a farce and has caused immeasurable amounts of death,
and destruction around the world. That in itself is cause to oppose
this war. But, in addition to that, money funneled into this war
means money withdrawn from health and education in the United States.
This siphoning has caused suffering to many working-class families
I ask you all to come out on Oct. 7 to the Protest and Die-In for the
10th Anniversary of the Afghanistan War. Translate remembrance into
action! Do not be silent! We are all brothers and sisters on this
Earth. Not connected at the heart—that
is just a beating organ—but
by some virtual umbilical cord. Any pain and suffering that happens
to one person on this Earth should be felt by us all. Not only should
we all identify with victims of the U.S. empire in other countries, we do not have to look far to see pain and suffering because we have it
right here in the United States.
Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.