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Race War 
By George Monbiot

Those of us who opposed the bombing of Afghanistan warned that the war
between nations would not stop there. Now, as Tony Blair prepares the
British people for an attack on Iraq, the conflict seems to be
proliferating faster than most of us predicted. But there is another
danger, which we have tended to neglect: that of escalating hostilities
WITHIN the nations waging this war. The racial profiling which has
become the unacknowledged focus of America's new security policy is in
danger of provoking the very clash of cultures its authors appear to

Yesterday's Guardian told the story of Adeel Akhtar, a British Asian man
who flew to the United States for an acting audition. When his plane
arrived at JFK airport in New York, he and his female friend were
handcuffed. He was taken to a room and questioned for several hours. The
officials asked him whether he had friends in the Middle East, or knew
anyone who approved of the attacks on September 11. His story will be
familiar to hundreds of people of Asian or Middle Eastern origin. 

I have just obtained a copy of a letter sent last week by a 50 year-old
British Asian woman (who doesn't want to be named) to the US Immigration
Service. At the end of January, she flew to JFK to visit her sister, who
is suffering from cancer. At the airport, immigration officials found
that on a previous visit she had overstayed her visa. She explained that
she had been helping her sister, who was very ill, and had applied for
an extension. When the officers told her she would have to return to
Britain, she accepted their decision but asked to speak to the British

They refused her request, but told her she could ring the Pakistani
consulate if she wished. She explained that she was British, not
Pakistani, as her passport showed. The guards then started to
interrogate her. How many languages did she speak? How long had she
lived in Britain? They smashed the locks on her suitcases and took her
fingerprints. Then she was handcuffed and chained and marched through
the departure lounge. "I felt like the guards were parading me in front
of the passengers like their prize-catch. Why was I put in handcuffs? I
am a fifty-year old housewife from the suburbs of London. What threat
did I pose to the safety of the other passengers?" 

Last week, a correspondent for the Times found 30 men and one woman
camped in a squalid hotel in Mogadishu, in Somalia. They were all
African Americans of Somali origin, who had arrived in the United States
as babies or children. Most were professionals with secure jobs and
stable lives. In January, just after the release of Black Hawk Down (the
film about the failed US military mission in Somalia), they were rounded
up. They were beaten, threatened with injections and refused phone calls
and access to lawyers. Then, a fortnight ago, with no charges made or
reasons given, they were summarily deported to Somalia. Now, without
passports, papers or money, in an alien and frightening country, they
are wondering whether they will ever see their homes again. 

All these people are victims of a new kind of racial profiling which the
United States government applies but denies. The US attorney-general has
called for some 5000 men of Arab origin to be questioned by federal
investigators. Since September 11, over 1000 people who were born in the
Middle East have been detained indefinitely for "immigration
infractions". The Council on American-Islamic Relations has recorded
hundreds of recent instances of alleged official discrimination in the
US. Muslim women have been strip-searched at airports, men have been
dragged out of bed at gunpoint in the middle of the night. It reports
that evidence which remains shielded from the suspect, of the kind
permitted by the recent US Patriot Act, "has been used almost
exclusively against Muslims and Arabs in America". Brown-skinned people
in the US are now terrorist suspects. Some officials appear to regard
them as guilty until proven otherwise. 

Similar policies appear to govern the judicial treatment of detainees.
During his press conference on 28 December, President Bush initially
misunderestimated a question, and provided a revealing answer. "Have you
decided," he was asked, "that anybody should be subjected to a military
tribunal?" Bush replied, "I excluded any Americans." The questioner
pointed out that he meant to ask whether Bush had made any decisions
about the captives in Guantanamo Bay. But what the president had
revealed was that the differential treatment of those foreign fighters
and John Walker Lindh, the "American Talib" currently being tried in a
federal court in Virginia, is not an accident of process, but policy. He
couldn't treat a white American like the captives in Camp X-ray and
expect to get away with it.

These attitudes pre-date the attack on New York. "Patterns of Global
Terrorism", a document published by the US counterterrorism coordinator
in April, appears to define international terror as violence directed at
US citizens, US commercial interests or white citizens of other nations.
Black and brown-skinned people are the perpetrators of terror, but not
its victims. In Angola, for example, the "most significant incident" in
the year 2000 was the kidnapping of three Portuguese construction
workers by rebels. The murder of hundreds of Angolan civilians is
unrecorded. In Sierra Leone terrorism, the report suggests, has
afflicted only foreign journalists, aid workers and peacekeepers. In
Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army's appears to have done nothing but
kidnap and murder Italian missionaires. The Democratic Republic of
Congo, where terror sponsored by six African states has led to the
deaths of some three million people, isn't mentioned. Yet domestic
terrorism in the United Kingdom and Spain is covered at length. 

There is, of course, vicious racism on other sides as well. Bin Laden
threatened a holy war against Jews. The men who kidnapped the journalist
Daniel Pearl forced him to announce that he was a Jew before cutting his
throat. I have lost count of the number of emails I've received from
opponents of the Afghan war in Pakistan and the Middle East, claiming
that 4000 Jews were evacuated from the World Trade Centre before the

This makes security policies based on racial discrimination even more
dangerous. By treating brown-skinned people as if they are the natural
enemies of the United States, the government could generate conflict
where there was none before. At the same time this policy establishes
splendid opportunities for terrorists with white skins, as they become,
to the eyes of officials, all but invisible. 

This is the morass into which Tony Blair is now stepping. "These are not
people like us," he said of the Iraqi leadership on Sunday. "They are
not people who abide by the normal rules of human behaviour." Some would
argue that this quality establishes their kinship with British
ministers. But to persuade us that we should go to war with Iraq, Blair
must first make its leaders appear as remote from ourselves as possible.

The attack on Iraq, when it comes, could, in effect, be the beginning of
a third world war. It may, as hints dropped by the US defence secretary
Donald Rumsfeld suggest, turn out to be the first phase of a war
involving many nations. It may also become a war against the third
world, and its diaspora in the nations of the first. 


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