After the thwarted mid-air bombing earlier this month in Britain, suspicions toward Asian (brown-skinned, non-white people) are on the sharp increase. Consider these illustrations:
Immediately after the failed plot to blow airline mid-air, the British police arrested 24 British Asians for their suspected involvement in the failed plot. Two weeks later, only eight out of that 24 initially arrested were formally charged with conspiracy to murder and plotting acts of terrorism, and another three for lesser crime.
Last week, two male passengers in their twenties were offloaded from a Mornarch Airlines flight from Spain to Manchester, the U.K. because they looked like Middle Eastern and ‘may have been speaking Arabic.’ Their ‘suspicious behavior’ was the reason for this action.
The latest incident was the detainment of 12 passengers on board a Northwest Airlines plane from Amsterdam to Mumbai by the Dutch authority for 12 hours simply because they ‘looked’ and ‘behaved’ liked Islamic terrorists. According to Dutch authorities, US marshals on board of the flight got suspicious because the 12 passengers, later known to be Indian nationals, were using mobile phones, talking laudly and changing seats.
Isn’t there any racial issue involved? If not, why all these terrorist-suspicion related incidents involved Asians? Are Asian (non-white) terrorists? If it is so, can’t we consider this attitude as racism by the White, a racial stereotyping?
Many have thought that with globalization – increased migrations and more ethnicities living geographically together – racial hostilities and anxieties would diminish and become the thing of the past. After all, the old colonizing mindset of superiority was based on power and on general ignorance about ‘other’ peoples. Unfortunately, things have changed dramatically in the post-9/11 world.
Ever since the report on 9/11 tragedy in the US was released in which Arab Muslim terrorists under the banner of Al-Qaeda were allegedly conducted this inhuman attack on civilians, suspicion on non-whites, especially Asian, by the majority community (read: the white people) are on the increase. Terrorism became the popular word and non-whites are the targets. Whenever there is security alert on the possibility of terror attack, Muslims and Asians (brown-skinned people) are the first to be suspected and be held responsible. Illustrations above only support this argument.
True that being vigilant is necessary and natural in which we all have to be alert from any eventuality. But being constantly suspicious towards certain groups of community or ethnicity for their ‘distinct behavior’ is an overzealous suspicion at its worst. This vigilant attitude is amount to baseless fear and sheer paranoia. Adding to the worsening of the situation is the reactions from the security officials, whose job is to actually be able to not make dangerous generalizations, who seem to be as ignorant as the regular Joe racist. They would immediately jump to the conclusion of imminent threat of terror for any ‘suspicious behavior’ of non-white, brown-skinned people. Moreover, the ethnic profiling that has been in practice in Europe has so far mostly caused trouble to air travelers, especially to people with brown skin (non-whites) regardless of their faith. It was reported recently that Claude Moraes, a London Labour Member of European Parliament, has claimed that he has been repeatedly treated as a suspected terrorist while traveling because of his ‘distinct appearance.’
It seems the racial jump made to equate all Muslims or brown-skinned, non-white people regardless of their faith with a threat of terror has been too easy and immediate. This is very dangerous and if it is not checked and remedied immediately, we could possibly witness a clash of civilizations as the result of little else but sheer ignorance.
Rooting out this kind of knee-jerk behavior based along racial lines is hard but not impossible. Ignorance is, in my opinion, the root of this mess. Thus to root it out, we have to first eradicate this ignorance through dialogues and discussions between the different groups in the society in order to build up an understanding of their issues and differences. It would educate the members of the majority community about the ‘other’ people. This kind of inter-faith or inter-racial dialogues and cooperation can be used as an important opening to solve the problems.
At the same time, the government should be more pro-active and genuine in improving the situation. Government sponsored programs to integrate the minority communities into the mainstream can also be considered as important step towards rooting out this problem. Once this process is successful, insecurity feelings among minority communities and suspicions that prevalent in the minds of the majority community can be eradicated.
This is the homework that must immediately be cleared up by the authorities, especially the Western authorities. At the same time, in regard with terrorism, they have to re-think the way in identifying the potential of terror threat. There should not be any generalizations in this perspective and they should learn and care more about parts of the world and the peoples outside their vicinity. Ignorance is the very source of enmity and ignorance of ‘other’ people is a stop closer to terrible, civilizational tragedy.