From Macacas to Turban Toppers…

I have been flipping through the thorough new report released on Wednesday by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) titled, From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse. The report catalogs a great many derogatory statements directed at South Asian Americans. The vast majority of the statements cited are examples of anti-Islamic bias by elected officials, but recent examples include statements against South Asian Americans running for Congress (which was also touched upon in this good NPR story from Wednesday morning).

With the midterm elections round the corner, SAALT’s report, From Macacas to Turban Toppers: The Rise in Xenophobic and Racist Rhetoric in American Political Discourse, documents intolerant remarks made by elected officials and those running for office. According to the report, since September 11, there has been an unprecedented rise in xenophobic statements that have specifically targeted South Asians, Arab Americans, Muslims, and Sikhs…

“The details in this report are extremely helpful not only to the South Asian community but to the rest of the country as well”, said Hilary Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), one of the speakers at the briefing. Shelton compared the experiences of Muslims, South Asians, Arab Americans and Sikhs to those of African Americans, who have also been dehumanized and marginalized by a racist political climate.

Reflecting on the current climate of Islamophobia, lawyer, commentator and founder of themuslimguy.com, Arsalan Iftikhar, noted that “‘Muslim’ has become the accepted slur in America… Race, xenophobia, bigotry have now become a permanent political wedge issue in America.” [link]

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p>Many of the examples cited in the report are incidents we have blogged about here on SM. To see them all cataloged in one place though results in an even more disturbing narrative. This is why it is important to vote.

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p>Check out the full report and let us know what you think.

25 thoughts on “From Macacas to Turban Toppers…

  1. i understand that muslims and south asians get confused a lot, and that a lot of the anger and hostility toward south asians, especially sikhs, has to do with the fraught american attitudes toward islam…but the report seemed way too muslim-centric. the second half became a bit more ecumenical, and focused on south asians specifically, but the first 15 pages or so were generic insofar as it expressed the talking points you’d find from any conventional left-liberal or civil libertarian organization in regards to anti-islamic attitudes. i assume most american readers of this weblog would agree with the sentiments, not because they’re south asian and the sentiments have a south asian valence, but cuz they’re liberals or libertarians. for the muslim-specific things there’s CAIR, and for arabs there’s the arab american institute.

    also, the conflation between south asians and islam is a real one, and one no one can pretend away, but i don’t get why so many organizations perpetuate the conflation between arabs and islam. in other contexts people try and consciousness raise that most muslims are not arab, and not all arabs are muslim, and in fact, the majority of arab americans are not muslim (such as the presbyterian arab american republican governor of indiana, mitch daniels). but recently with the rise in anti-islamic sentiment the elision seems to be resurfacing in many forms, but the reality is that most christian arabs in the USA can “pass” as white. a hindu or sikh south asian is more likely to be assumed to be muslim than a lebanese catholic.

    also, who is the report aimed at? using the word “discourse” in the subtitle makes it sound like it’s aimed at professors in american studies departments. the title is catchy and accessible though.

  2. A Pakistanis reaction to Juan Williams comments.

    Why I get nervous when traveling with people in Hindu garb

    Not too many things bother me when I am traveling, but every now and then I see men in yellow (formerly white)dhotis and women clad in barely sufficient saris waiting to board the same airplane.

    Suddenly I am overcome with a paralyzing fear of bald men doing a Hare Krishna in the aisles as they do Pooja right in front of pious passengers.

    Then there is always the possibility of some wacko sadhu doing arti and causing a panic as his dhoti catches fire and not even his sterile holy urine is able to extinguish the flames of his premature funeral.

    The worst fear is the prospect of a horny Hindu female dragging a dead horse through the aisle as she makes her way to the rear (of the aircraft). What if the horse comes alive at 30000 feet as she fulfills her nacro macro?

    Now Chowk will surely ban me for sharing my innermost fears.

    He has several articles published on some south asian websites.

  3. Abhi, thanks for posting this! I am going to send this to as many civil rights and educational organizations that I can find. The report is well-written, clear, and very accessible.

    For what it’s worth: the report is not Muslim-centric. It is simply representing the weight of racism against South Asians in the current climate. They found that Muslims are targeted at unprecedented levels, hence the narrative’s emphasis. I recognize that to self-identified Islamaphobes, even identifying that Muslims (Asians and Arabs) are targeted disproportionately more appears like typical liberal pandering, but then, to Islamophobes, anything that even remotely humanizes Muslims is bias.

    The reality is that those representations of Muslims translate to a general brown “Other” like Sikhs and other Asians and Arabs. Many Arabs do not pass for white (Semitic characteristics are very clearly identifiable), and certainly hate crimes are not happening based on just looks, but also names, place of worship, affiliations, neighborhoods, etc. This is not an issue of SAALT conflating Arab/Islam/ South Asian. It is all conflated in the current climate. It speaks more to the level of ignorance among the haters than on SAALT’s report.

  4. i don’t get why so many organizations perpetuate the conflation between arabs and islam.

    Because there’s money in xenophobic racism. If you haven’t noticed, POX News, the Tea Party, and numerous other ignominous entities thrive on fear; specifically fear of foreign brown people, whether they be latinos, Arabs (even if they’re christians), Persians (routinely and infuriatingly conflated with Arabs), Turks (see Persians), or South Asians.

  5. Because there’s money in xenophobic racism. If you haven’t noticed, POX News, the Tea Party, and numerous other ignominous entities thrive on fear; specifically fear of foreign brown people, whether they be latinos, Arabs (even if they’re christians), Persians (routinely and infuriatingly conflated with Arabs), Turks (see Persians), or South Asians.

    you could you know reread my comment. no s**t people confuse islam and arabs. in some contexts muslims and arabs will both emphasize that one does not not entail the other; i.e., being muslim does not mean being arab and being arab does not mean being musim. but more recently these anti-defamatory groups just go along with the perception instead of refuting it first before getting the main thrust of their argument. this is important in the USA. only few percent of arabs in the arab world are now christian (the majority now live in egypt, not the levant and iraq), but in the USA there’s a high likelihood that the substantial majority of people of arab descent are christian (though it may be that now a majority of those with four arab grandparents are musim, as the arab christian community has very high outmarriage rates, and the current immigrant stream is mostly muslim).

    by analogy, sikhs are also assumed to be muslim. on the one hand most progressive sikhs are careful not to distance themselves from islam in a way that might be seen to be anti-musim, but, from what i can tell they do try to proactively enlighten people that sikhism is its own religion, while the same time maintaining a broader front with muslims.

    p.s. persians are of course infuriated about being confused with arabs because they perceive themselves to be a more civilized race :-)

  6. p.s. persians are of course infuriated about being confused with arabs because they perceive themselves to be a more civilized race :-)

    On what grounds? Iran ain’t exactly Norway.

    by analogy, sikhs are also assumed to be muslim. on the one hand most progressive sikhs are careful not to distance themselves from islam in a way that might be seen to be anti-musim, but, from what i can tell they do try to proactively enlighten people that sikhism is its own religion, while the same time maintaining a broader front with muslims.

    It doesn’t matter what they say – there’s a certain chunk of the American population that thinks Brown skin = Dirty curry-bathing terrorist hiding bombs under the towel wrapped around his head. No amount of logical reasoning will get through to most of the these people, these are the types Coulter and Limbaugh pander to. The brown guy’s nationality, ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, occupation, etc, are all irrelevant – at the end of the day, he’s still an evil curry-bather hiding bombs under the towel and discriminating against him is just “protecting our freedom!” Fortunately these types are a minority, and although they’ll always be around, I think the chunk is getting smaller.

  7. Razib, I haven’t read the report, but I bet that’s the focus b/c that’s where the most signal is these days. People have a limited attention span, even when they are hating. (Perhaps especially when they are hating? I’ve heard adrenaline is a focusing agent.) Right now I bet any given non-Muslim South Asian (especially a Sikh) probably has a higher probability of being attacked for being perceived as a Muslim than they do for being perceived as “themselves”.

    That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’m sure one of these days some idiot is going to manufacture a reason why his people should dislike Sikhs as Sikhs, and that in some places, such “accurately” targeted hate has already happened. But it’s probably not currently common enough to generate as much as signal as the Muslim-targeted hate. As I’ve told you, and the bizarre comment above exemplifies, I no longer feel like this is a “safe space” to discuss in detail my experience as a religious, and sometimes obviously marked, Hindu in America. When I think about the kinds of people who have bothered and harassed me and mine over the years, and try to (very gingerly and ickily) put myself in their shoes, just for the purposes of strategic thinking, I think right now they’d be too caught up in this particular fervor to be concerned enough about their motives for specifically giving us a hard time. That doesn’t mean the motives have gone away, they’re just deprioritized. I have no doubt that when the rightwing xenophobic zeitgeist has exhausted itself hating on Muslims and perceived Muslims, they’ll eventually find more energy to hate on singing and dancing idol worshippers again, and not just because they’re confusing them with Muslims. And when they do I’ll be a lot more ready for them than in my anxious youth. I just hope Abhi is right and this particular xenophobic wave does exhaust itself out. It feels scarily durable.

  8. There are very interesting historical precedents that can somewhat explain this stuff as well. Heather Richardson of UMass Amherst has been working on the Wounded Knee massacre of the Lakota, and tying it to extreme apocalyptic rhetoric in Washington DC. She’s arguing that there’s something about the political rhetoric in DC that builds this kind of racism/xenophobia. Back in the late 19th century, Republicans were arguing that if the Democrats came to Congress the ‘Indians’ would kill all settlers. Today, in the early 21st century, political candidates are arguing on similar lines, if the other party candidate comes to power, Muslims/brown people, will blow us all up. Hopefully, this stuff will ease up after the elections.

  9. “It feels scarily durable”

    Sadly I have to agree with you.

    The reason for all this is fear. The west is crumbling. China and India are growing while the rest of the world has stalled. The middle and even upper middle classes are fearing for their jobs like never before. The blue collar jobs left long ago. From this fear comes hate. ‘why should these indians have jobs while I don’t!’

    All the logic in the world does jackshit when a person is looking for blood.

  10. “The reason for all this is fear. The west is crumbling. China and India are growing while the rest of the world has stalled. The middle and even upper middle classes are fearing for their jobs like never before. The blue collar jobs left long ago. From this fear comes hate. ‘why should these indians have jobs while I don’t!’”

    I would argue that it’s politics; Democrats and Republicans have begun to see ‘fear’ of brown/Muslim as a useful way to win votes. So, they’re playing a very important role manufacturing the fears outlined above, and arguing that if the ‘other’ candidate wins – it’s all over for America as the brown/Muslim terrorists will take over and destroy our way of life.

    • Well it’s only half fear of Muslims. The other half is a generalized resentment of Brown people because “THEY TOOK OUR JOOOOOOORBS!”

  11. “manufacturing the fears outlined above”

    Fears cannot be manufactured only reinforced…the difference is crucial.

  12. “Fears cannot be manufactured only reinforced…the difference is crucial.”

    I think that I have a slightly better opinion of Americans than you do. I don’t think average Joe and average Jane would confuse brown folks like us for terrorists unless their politicians were telling them that all day long.

  13. “I think that I have a slightly better opinion of Americans than you do. I don’t think average Joe and average Jane would confuse brown folks like us for terrorists unless their politicians were telling them that all day long.”

    Ummmmmm I think you just contradicted yourself Aniruddha :)

  14. On what grounds? Iran ain’t exactly Norway.

    The same grounds any Indian or Pak would have with being presumed Arab, you donkey.

  15. ^ No, he specifically said Iranians consider themselves to be more “civilized” than Arabs; I’ve never heard a desi say that. Especially when Pakistan is hardly more civilized than most of the Arab world. And I don’t think Iran is either.

  16. On what grounds? Iran ain’t exactly Norway.

    the iranian nation conceives that its identity goes back to the achaemenians of the 6th century BC. its glory stretches to the parthians who defeated the romans at carrhae, and later the sassanians who nearly conquered constantinople. many iranians are also proud of the contributions that zoroastrianism made to the abrahamic religions, primarily, but not exclusively, through exilic judaism. after the arab conquest the iranians were also a people at the forefront of islamic cultural production, and many of the great muslim scientists and scholars (e.g., al beruni) were ethnic persians, not arabs. in some ways the iranians conquered the arabs during the abbassid period just as the greeks conquered the romans. iranian self-confidence and superiority, combined with shock at being conquered by arab barbarians, is evident in the shahnameh. when the turks ruled persia, as they did for almost the whole period between 1000 and 1900, except the mongol interruption, they stil patronized persian culture. persian was a court language in both the turkic dynasties of the ottomans and the mughals.

    some of it is plain racism though. iranians perceive themselves as whiter than arabs. aryans.

    anyway, it’s a pretty juvenile stance in my opinion. the norwegians have a much less grand history over the long term, but iranians emigrate to norway, not the other way around. but there is the fact of iranian length of history and cultural eminence. the arabs reply with the fact that they brought the last message of god to the world.

    btw, i’ll see you liberals after the election. hope too many of you haven’t committed seppuku to preempt the pogrom getting to you :-)

  17. To echo Razib – Beware Persian Wives!

    The Persians had their own proud cultural and political heritage and they looked upon Arabs with sheer contempt as uncouth and uncultured Bedouins. As soon as Abbasids captured power and Umayyads dethroned, many Persian wives slaughtered their Arab husbands.

    http://indianmuslims.in/why-ummah-wahidah-remains-only-an-emotional-slogan/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+IndianMuslimsBlog+(Indian+Muslims)

  18. Just an fyi dad is Pakistani and mom is Persian. Haven’t recently personally encountered much anti-Arabism among Persians (all Iranians study Arabic at school but refused to speak it) and I’m revive, with other Persians, obscure Zoroastrian-Iranian festivals. Its only the ultra-nationalists who succumb to the Zoroastrian-Sassanian delusion and skip out the following period.

    Its pretty much accepted the 1400 years of Islamic history is a definitive and integral aspect of Iranian identity; the debate was so ’90s. Even the “liberals” now cautiously tout about the “Green Revolution”, which is “a reformation” rather than a counter-revolution.

    Apparently as well Iranian economy is booming despite sanction so regime still has some life to it left. Going back to the original point of the thread and as someone who is non-Muslim but very involved in Muslim issues here in London the communities are mobilizing to make themselves known as assimilated members of the West and not part of some obscure fanatical tribe, which they are so often portrayed. The Ummah is under pressure but this is what perhaps sparks a Renaissance (my constant theme for the past decade)?

    Also Alina alot of Arab friends praise Pakistan for having such a “liberal” culture vis. a vis the Arab world; its not as fierce or oppressive as the other states and freedom of speech, particularly the media is light years ahead. This is because no matter how Islamic Pakistan will ever be in appearance its base will always be our liberal Hindu desi culture (we had a debate on Razibs blog on that a couple of wks ago on that).

    Lastly on Arab; the Ummah is theoretically a community of equals with no distinction for race or colour but the Arabs are first among equals. Its stupid to pretend otherwise; they learn the language of the Holy Book (or its modern variant) from birth and are more naturally attuned to it than Turks, Persians or Desis. This is a natural state of fact.

  19. Abhi,

    Where did you find that quote from Don Sherill? Orange City is our city and this is making me a little nervous. I didn’t realize there was this type of sentiment brewing under the surface.

  20. It is taken from Page 21 of Part II of the “thorough full report” that Abhi has linked in the very first sentence of this blog.

  21. I don’t wish to be Islamophobic, but would it be possible for someone to delete the post (second from top) from that Muslim troll about Hindu women fucking dead horses?