Creating Racism and Intolerance Print E-mail
World Tribunal of Iraq Istanbul, Turkey 25 June 2005
Sixth Session / Global Security Environment and Future Alternatives (Moderator: AyÅŸe Gül Altınay)

Creating Racism and Intolerance

by Liz Fekete

'The Istanbul session bears the responsibility of culminating a process already initiated, and initiating a process yet to be imagined'. These are the words of the International Coordination Committee of the World Tribunal on Iraq which also advises us, the Panel of Advocates, of our duty to provide a 'point of departure for further initiatives … and elaborate on issues that may not have received the attention they deserve'.

It is in response to the International Coordination Committee's call that I come here today. I ask the Jury of Conscience to consider an issue which has not been considered in the earlier sessions of the WTI. I speak of a global architecture of repressive laws -a world-wide system of repression instigated by the UN Security Council post-September 11- a global security regime that aligns anti-terrorist legislation in major regions of the world to the security needs of the US.

In fact, the global security regime which I will describe was instrumental in facilitating the invasion of Iraq. It brought together a motley crew of authoritarian regimes and 'democratic' governments around a dangerously simplistic definition of 'international terrorism'. As such, the global security regime provides the justification for future illegal wars. It isolates democracy movements in the South and erodes civil liberties in the North. It intensifies all forms of racism and discrimination, and generates new ones.

Naturally, it was the US which was to fashion this new global security state into a design capable of meeting its economic and security interests. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, and under pressure from the US, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1373. This imposed an obligation on all states to a) take broad measures to counter terrorism and b) work with the international community to strengthen the 'global response' to threats to international security. A Counter-Terrorism Committee was set up to enforce global compliance with Resolution 1373. The result was an interlocking system of national, sub-regional, regional and international anti-terrorist structures – all, seemingly, under the jurisdiction of the UNSC. Those states that complied with the UN Security Council's demands were now part of the International Coalition Against Terrorism; they were part of a privileged Club which had responded to Bush's call to arms - that 'those who are not with us are against us'.

It was not long before authoritarian states throughout the world were pointing to the convergence between emergency rule in their own countries and the stance now being taken by the US and the UN. The (then) Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahathir, offered its notorious 1960 Internal Security Act as a model for every other Asian country to follow. And the Egyptian prime minister cited the 'war on terrorism' and new security laws passed in the United States and elsewhere to justify Egypt's own emergency laws.1 Authoritarian states had long since pressed the international community to outlaw as terrorist the political, cultural or religious oppositional movements that their human rights abuses had engendered. Thanks to the formation of the International Coalition Against Terrorism, the criminalisation of oppositional movements as terrorist could now come to pass. After all, international terrorism, now considered an amorphous and all-pervasive threat, takes in any 'foreign terrorist organisation' that threatens the security or economic interests of the US.2

In this way, then, a number of very different local insurgencies came to find themselves added to UN and US lists of proscribed organisations – seen as linked to al Qaida, spun into a spider's web of international terrorism. And into this web, Iraq was also woven. (Remember that the first justification for the invasion was that Saddam Hussein had been financing al Qaida and international terrorism).

As the global security state took shape, small wonder that campaigners in the South, working for an end to emergency rule and for the peaceful resolution of protracted internal conflicts, spoke of their isolation and a sense of betrayal. Meanwhile, in the 'democratic' North, the global security state was also laying down roots, albeit in a different form. The myth that the security of rich industrialised nations was under perpetual threat from foreign terrorists was used to justify the passage of new, more embracing anti-terror laws. These removed foreign nationals from the protection of the rule of law and corralled them into a parallel, shadow criminal justice system based on lesser rights for 'suspect communities'.

The US Patriot Act authorised the government to detain foreign nationals indefinitely without charge (even if they have committed no crime), deny entry to foreigners because of their views rather than their actions (see the case of the Swiss professor Tariq Ramadam who was not allowed to take up his position as chair at Notre Dame) and to deport even permanent residents who innocently supported disfavoured political groups.3 Subsequently, immigration provisions in the Iraq War Appropriations Bill make it possible to deport any foreign national who ever joined or made a donation to any organisation, of two or more people that ever used or threatened to use a weapon. (It is no defence to prove that one's support or membership was not intended to further terrorism or violence.)4

Similar processes were underway across the European Union (as evidenced by broad definitions of terrorism, which could be either 'active' or 'passive', in the EU Common Positions and Framework Decision on combating terrorism). The UK Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act (2001) introduced internment without trial for foreign nationals only. And foreign nationals (including asylum seekers) suspected of posing a security risk were deported from countries such as France, Germany, Sweden and Italy, in defiance of the principle of non-refoulement whereby foreign nationals cannot be extradited to a state where they risk persecution, the death penalty, or torture.

In this way, then, was a new and more virulent anti-foreigner racism – xeno-racism – woven into the state apparatus.5 It is xeno in form in that it is directed against foreigners irrespective of colour; it is racism in substance in that it bears all the hallmarks of demonisation and exclusion of the old racism – and the mechanisms that entrench it are legal and structural and institutional.

And foreign-ness, now is not merely associated with the 'enemy alien' but also with the 'enemy within'. The parameters of institutionalised xeno-racism have been expanded to include settled minority communities – simply because they are Muslim. Racial and religious profiling of Muslim communities by the intelligence services and law enforcement agencies is growing. In the US, executive orders have encouraged racial profiling by law enforcement officers, leading to the surveillance of mosques, the targeting and 'special registration' of male visitors from twenty-five Muslim or Middle Eastern countries as well as North Korea, and the targeted monitoring of persons of Arab or Muslim origin.6 In Europe, punitive policing – drawing force from the creation of mass databases on foreign nationals and Muslims – manifests itself in raids on Muslim meeting places and religious places of worship and in the increase in identity checks on people judged of Muslim appearance. And it is at this point, on the streets, that the political decision to target the Muslim community as a national security threat spills over into racial profiling, as it is most often 'racial characteristics' that signify religious identity to the police . In the UK, for instance, the number of people from Asian backgrounds, stopped and searched by police under anti-terrorist legislation, has increased by 300 per cent.

But what has really set a seal on institutionalised xeno-racism is the way in which European states are steering 'race relations' policy away from multiculturalism towards monoculturalism and cultural homogenisation. Assimilation is being forced through by the adoption of a number of measures. One of these is the cultural code of conduct for Muslim girls and women who, in some areas of Europe, are forbidden to wear the hijab in state schools and other state institutions.

Another such measure is the recasting of citizenship laws and immigration laws according to security concerns. Immigration laws are being changed in order to deport naturalised citizens and long-term residents deemed guilty of 'speech crimes'. Speech crimes represent 'the latest infringement on individual liberty – except that what is a crime applies only ' to some citizens (the naturalised) and not to others (the natives).' The Enlightenment value of freedom of speech is meant to be universal; but now freedom of speech 'belongs in its pristine glory to “natives” only'.7 For in a clear double-standard, the intelligentsia can freely bait the Muslim community, mock them as the 'messengers of the utmost backward darkness' or 'a fifth column of goat-fuckers' (the words are those of Theo van Gogh) or 'vile creatures who urinate in baptistries' and 'multiply like rats' (Oriani Fallaci). As 'cultural commentators' promote the idea of superior western (Christian) civilisational values, some Muslims are drawn to the preaching of fundamentalist Islamic clerics whose hate speech mirrors that of the western intelligentsia, only this time Salafists claim Islam as a superior civilisational force. This message appeals to some sections of the marginalised, particularly the youth whose sense of injustice has been compounded by the anger at witnessing what is happening in Iraq. For in the way it has been pursued, the war in Iraq has substantiated the notion of a fundamental conflict between Christianity and Islam. In such a climate, intolerance can grow, with incidents like the assassination of Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands in November 2004 acting as a conductor setting ablaze increasing anti-Muslim violence and counter attacks.

If we are, in the words of the International Coordination Committee, to 'stop the establishment of a new imperial order as a permanent “state of exception” with constant wars as one of its main tools' then it is vitally important that we dismantle the global security state - in all its manifestations. In the South, the global security state has been superimposed on existing national security regimes and manifests itself in a fortified authoritarianism. In the North, the global security state mutates and forms a destabilising underlayer of draconian and racist laws that serve to unsettle multicultural societies. The political, ethnic and cultural diversity of the world is under threat – and the people are rebelling. Authoritarian regimes aligned so brazenly with a deeply unpopular imperial power provoke political and cultural resistance. The anti-war movement strengthens the multicultural fabric of civil society, bringing into closer dialogue people of all faiths, and none. But as, one by one, the countries aligned with the US in the International Coalition Against Terrorism bow to public pressure and withdraw their troops from Iraq, a major body blow can be dealt to the architects of the global security state.

1 Further examples can be found in Human Rights Watch, 'In the name of counter-terrorism: human rights abuses worldwide' (New York, 2003).
2 The US Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) appears to be the model for deciding what groups constitute 'foreign terrorist organisations'. This empowered the US Secretary of State to create a list of designated foreign terrorist organisations, defined as those engaged in any activity which threatens 'the national defence, foreign relations or economic interests of the United States'. The names of organisations and individuals in the EU deemed terrorist have already been proscribed by the US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. See Liz Fekete, 'Anti-terrorism and human rights', European Race Bulletin (No. 47, 2004).
3 Nancy Murray, 'Profiled: Arabs, Muslims, and the post-9/11 hunt for the “Enemy Within” in Elaine C. Hagopian (ed), Civil Rights in Peril: the targeting of Arabs and Muslims (Pluto Press, 2004).
4 David Cole, 'The missing patriot debate', Nation (30 May 2005).
5 See A. Sivanandan and Liz Fekete, 'The three faces of British racism: a special report', Race & Class (Vol.43, no. 2, October-December 2001).
6 Nancy Murray, op.cit
7 A. Sivanandan as quoted in 'Speech crimes and deportations', European Race Bulletin (forthcoming).
About the author:
Vice President of the London Race Relations Institute. Conducted research on the effects of the politics of "war on terror" on civil rights and liberties and racism in Europe. She is also the co-editor of Race&Class, a journal on racism, empire and globalisation.