Today, the so-called US “justice” system found all ten of the “Irvine 11” Muslim students “guilty” on misdemeanor charges of conspiring to disrupt and then disrupting a speech delivered by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine in February 2010. Two days ago, Troy Davis, a black man accused of killing a white police officer, was murdered by the State of Georgia, despite the overwhelming doubt surrounding his guilt. A day later, activists highlighted on a 2008 case where a white man and confessed murderer named Samuel David Crowe was pardoned by the same Georgia Parole Board only hours before his scheduled execution. I am utterly disgusted by the racism evident in these cases.
Some are saying these are sad days for the American “justice” system, but the disturbing reality is that racialized and economically disadvantaged people are constantly targeted and victimized by the system. According to a 2009 report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), black men had an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 US residents, a rate more than six times higher than white men (1,822 inmates per 100,000 US residents). Black women, with an incarceration rate of 333 per 100,000, were over 3.6 times more likely to have been in prison than white women. Amnesty International research, as reported by Colorlines, shows that death sentences are more likely to be handed out when victims are white. This repulsive racist double-standard can be seen in the 2009 murder of Oscar Grant, where a white cop, Johaness Mehserle, shot an unarmed black man and only served less than one year in prison.
In the Irvine 11 case, the horrible criminalization of these students only occurred because they were Muslim. The Islamophobia engrained in mainstream American politics, media, and society only creates a larger obstacle for the students who were non-violently protesting and speaking out against something the US President never dares to do: Israel’s war crimes, genocide, and sexual violence against Palestinians. Sami Kishawi of “Sixteen Minutes to Palestine” contends that another verdict was reached in the Irvine 11 case:
The court’s decision complements traditional American policy towards Israel and its supporters. The excuse that Israel is forever under existential threat has embedded itself within the framework of the Constitution of the United States. First Amendment rights are no longer guaranteed if an individual is tried for being on the wrong side: for not supporting Israel’s policies in the Middle East, its occupation, its abandonment of the most fundamental form of justice, or its perception of public nonviolent dissent as institutionalized death-wishing festivities. So in a very obvious sense, the verdict is that Israel’s interests stand above the right to express, to speak, to engage, and to openly challenge the injustices confirmed by Oren’s words.
It would be a terrible mistake to overlook the connection between US-Israel complicity in the violence committed against Palestinians and the way Muslims, Arabs, South Asians, and others are demonized and discriminated against in the United States. Defending the rights of Muslims in the United States is intertwined with the struggle against the war machine that needs propaganda, racism, and sexism to fuel and justify its imperialist projects. White supremacy makes it awfully challenging for the white non-Muslim mainstream to identify with the Muslim students who protested Michael Oren’s speech, regardless of how courageous and admirable they are. Israel, Michael Oren, and the Zionist supporters are the white heroes in this masculinist narrative, where they are depicted as “victims” of the “dark” and “barbaric” invaders. They’ve asserted themselves as upholders of “democracy,” freedom, and equal rights for all, especially for women, whereas the “dark” male villain is the over-sexed, savage, and destructive one. Through racialization, the Muslim, no matter how outnumbered or oppressed, is cast as the “dark Other” who is the mortal enemy of the white hero. As bell hooks describes:
The notion, originally from myth and fable, is that the summit of masculinity – the ‘white hero’ – achieves his manhood, first and foremost, by winning victory over the ‘dark beast’ over the barbarian beasts of other – in some sense ‘darker’ – races, nations and social castes… In our actual lives the imperialist white-supremacist policies of our government lead to enactments of rituals of white-male violent domination of a darker universe, as in both the Gulf War and the most recent war against Iraq. By making it appear that the threatening masculinity – the rapist, the terrorist, the murderer – is really a dark other, white male patriarchs are able to deflect attention away from their own misogyny, from their violence against women and children.
When the entire Muslim community is demonized, the Irvine 11 students are not seen as human beings. Their “foreign” cultures and religion are “backwards” and “oppressive,” and the only hope they have is for western imperial masculinity to “liberate” them and force them to “assimilate.” They are “foreign” bodies from societies that behead, torture, veil, molest, and rape men and women, whereas western society is “civilized,” “liberating,” and “free.” Concealed from this racist socialization is the way Israel and the United States constantly carries out bombing, murder, sexual violence, and economic exploitation against racialized bodies outside and within their borders. Consider Anushay Hossain’s point about the way Afghan women are used as “emotional tools” in US propaganda to justify its military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The US claim is to “liberate,” but there is nothing liberating about bombing, shooting, and raping Afghan women.
The point here is that US and Israeli war crimes are tied to their domestic State violence and corrupt “justice” systems. If nations are willing to mercilessly and shamelessly kill, torture, and rape other human beings around the world, then what’s to stop them from targeting their “own” citizens? What’s sad and quite unsettling about Troy Davis’ case is that he was not a victim of an “unfortunate mistake” nor was his unjust execution an “isolated incident.” The problem is with the so-called criminal “justice” system itself. Racialized communities, particularly Native and African American communities, have been long victimized by police brutality and other forms of State violence that is ignored, dismissed, and/or sanctioned by the criminal “justice” system. Troy Davis himself pointed this out in his message to supporters:
There are so many more Troy Davis’. This fight to end the death penalty is not won or lost through me but through our strength to move forward and save every innocent person in captivity around the globe. We need to dismantle this unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country.
Indigenous women in particular have long fought and still fight the “justice” system’s complicity in the injustice they face. As pointed out by Andrea Smith, Native anti-violence advocates have reported that rape cases rarely reach the federal courts. Smith elaborates further:
Complicating matters, cases involving rapes on tribal land were generally handed to the local US attorney, who then declined to prosecute the vast majority of cases. By the time tribal law enforcement programs even see rape cases, a year may have passed since the assault, making it difficult for these programs to prosecute.
Smith also talks about the negative reputation police officers have in Native communities due to countless cases of police brutality. When law enforcement and “justice” systems are not only suspect of communities of color, but also violent, discriminatory, racist, and sexist against them, how does it expect to build trust? I already mentioned the NYPD and CIA infiltrating and spying on Muslim communities in my previous post. The injustices we have seen in this week, as well as the oppression we are being informed about by brothers and sisters in other communities, should prompt us to challenge the criminal “justice” system. When cases for Troy Davis, Irvine 11, and others are fought, it is not only a fight against their injustices, but also against the racism, sexism, classism, ableism, etc. that infects the system and society at large. Andrea Smith proposes restorative justice efforts which “involve parties (perpetrators, victims, and community members) in determining the appropriate response to a crime in an effort to restore the community to wholeness.”
While I am saddened, disturbed, and angry by the injustice this week, I took a moment to think about all of the people who went out to demonstrate, to protest, to support, to Love, to cry, and to pray. As I checked the updates on my phone from work, I saw that other people were doing the same. I noticed all of the people on my Facebook posting status updates and messages of support for Troy Davis and Irvine 11. When I saw pictures or read reports of people crying after the unjust verdicts, I cried too. It is that longing and drive for justice that connects us. The solidarity is heartening and to know that other people feel the same way is important. To know that these people and your friends will always fight is important.
May Allah, the Most High and Compassionate, help us unite our struggles and grant us all justice.