We are living in precarious and dangerous times. The economy remains unstable, joblessness is continuously skyrocketing, development is stagnant and unpredictable circumstances around the world are exacerbating the fears of many. But what is also quietly bubbling underneath the surface is a far more treacherous and detrimental push for a shift in American psychology that in effect undermines the core principles upon which this great nation was founded. It is the concerted, conscious effort to stoke the qualms of many with a great divide that is once again pitting ‘us’ against ‘them’. Except this time, the ‘them’ could virtually be you, me or any one who slightly looks as if he/she doesn’t belong.
For the past few days, we have been inundated with images of the now infamous failed Times Square car bomb suspect, Faisal Shahzad. What began as a thorough search for the person or persons involved in this foiled attempt has culminated into a drastic transformation in dialogue that is establishing dangerous precedent for many to be presumed guilty on the basis of their national origin, familial ancestry or travel records.
When authorities first released footage of an initial suspect over the weekend, the vast majority of broadcasters and reporters stayed clear of mentioning this man’s race. Save for a few exceptions, the bulk of coverage on all three major networks – conservative Fox News, more liberal MSNBC and ‘fair and balanced’ CNN – weren’t focusing on this man’s Whiteness, but rather leading with copy like ‘officials are seeking a middle-aged man seen here’ or ‘they are searching for a man in his 40’s’. Fast-forward to Mr. Shahzad and all you see blaring across your TV screen is this man’s ethnicity and ties to another land far far away off in the distance somewhere. But it isn’t only Pakistanis or Pakistani Americans that should be deeply concerned about this troubling imaging and change in verbiage.
This past month, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona signed the most controversial immigration bill in our country’s history. Literally institutionalizing and justifying racial profiling, this SB 1070 legislation transferred immense authority into the hands of local police that are often-times notorious for their biased behavior and poor judgment (one needs to only look at NJ were racial profiling was found even at the state police level). But what is even more troubling than the potential backlash against all minorities in Arizona, is the ripple effects this is having across the nation. Several other states are already pursuing their own versions of immigration ‘reform’ which amount to nothing more than criminalizing and dehumanizing certain groups of people. The politicians and pundits that are pushing this anti-immigrant message need to be reminded of the intricate benefits that immigrants from all over the world have bestowed upon the United States and the plethora of ways in which they continue to do so. If the backers of this SB 1070 wanted to be truly honest, they might as well say ‘if you’re not White, show me proof you belong here’ – because that’s literally what this bill means.
Everyone is familiar with the inscription on our symbolic emblem of freedom, the statue of liberty, that reads in part: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. But ask yourselves, how did we go from that optimistic, inclusive message to one filled with fear mongering, division and a sense of entitlement? If you are Brown, Black or tan in Arizona, who’s to say your family members weren’t here before the area even received statehood in 1912? And as some on the right push for all Pakistanis and all Muslims – whether citizens or not – to be monitored and watched, they are in fact turning back the clock on decades of progress.
If they espouse that we ‘end political correctness’ by questioning everyone who ‘doesn’t look like us’, what is to become of our inalienable rights that led the vast majority here in the first place? For those who do not see the ominous bias in our mainstream press when it comes to coverage of others versus coverage of so-called natives, just watch and observe over the coming days, weeks and months as Shahzad’s background is probed and dissected. But unlike when Timothy McVeigh slaughtered scores and injured hundreds, the focus won’t be on his own troubled life (which includes the recent loss of his home and other economic troubles), but it will instead be on any ties to extremist elements.
Now in no way am I condoning his behavior or stating that he didn’t have ties to any groups in Pakistan, but what I am doing is reminding people that when Joseph Stacks flew a plane into an IRS building less than three months ago and killed an African American man, he was not labeled a terrorist. And yet this foiled attempt in Times Square, where nothing thankfully happened, will almost certainly create a backlash for Pakistanis, Muslims or anyone that resembles them.
As the jargon gains momentum with talk of homegrown terrorists and the cells within, we have to wonder, are we at stake here to slowly lose all of our basic fundamental civil liberties? There is now even talk from politicians like Senator Joe Lieberman pushing for legislation that would strip anyone accused of terrorism of his/her citizenship. But if terror and terrorism are terms used at our own discretion, do we now hold the power to determine one’s allegiance, patriotism or love of country? If we can now be stopped in Arizona simply for jay walking and asked to ‘produce our papers’, isn’t that creating and justifying bigotry and racism? Are these consistent regressive maneuvers a reaction to an ever-unstable economic future? Or is it something more nefarious at play? When did the United States of America became a land of ‘us’ verses everyone else?
These are indeed volatile times, and we should all be very, very afraid.
written by Nida Khan
Nida Khan is an independent journalist and producer working in both print and radio. She is currently a news correspondent with WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM NY, and is a member of the production team of Rev. Al Sharpton’s nationally syndicated broadcast, ‘Keeping it Real’. Nida previously served as the Editor-in-Chief of elan: The Guide to Global Muslim Culture, and has contributed pieces for such diverse outlets as the Associated Press, Alternet.org, DUB Magazine, Lifetimetv.com, The Source Magazine, The Women’s Media Center and more. hit her up at