Speaker Says Post-9/11 Prejudices Still Remain
Ahmad Al-Akhras set an informal tone for his lecture by arriving five minutes late, due to unexpected delays involving dinner at the DeCafé.
“Good evening, good night, good morning,” he cried as he walked into the room and took a seat.
An opening speaker introduced the subject of the night’s talk, racial profiling of Arab Americans in post-9/11 America, by saying, “I can’t open up my web browser without seeing the attacks on American symbols rise, and it’s frustrating and devastating.”
Al-Akhras, the director of the Ohio Chapter Council for American Islamic Relations, soon showed the audience that the effects of racial profiling reach far beyond the web browser and personally affect every American, directly or indirectly.
“Bush’s approval rating is 35 percent,” said Al-Akhras. “This is the first time his approval rating is lower than his grades at Yale. It is hilarious, but it also tells a story.”
This story is one of institutionalized and personal discrimination, human rights violations and even torture of Arab Americans simply because they are Arab Americans, according to Al-Akhras. “Muslims in America are at the point of really feeling the brutal feet of oppression.”
The feet of oppression take many forms. “We are seeing methods that the government is using to target Arabs and Muslims, whether it is low immigration quotas, unemployment or education,” he said.
Al-Akhras emphasized that this discrimination is not perpetrated merely by individuals but by the government.
“We will talk about different levels of discrimination. Some are propagated by individuals or employers, but today we are seeing institutionalizing of discrimination,” he explained.
This kind of discrimination denies Muslims and Arabs basic rights and protections that should be the responsibility of the government.
“Hundreds of people are not subject to due process of the law, with no means to defend themselves,” said Al-Akhras. “We are violating the basic tenets of our country. Other countries see that we are projecting double standards. We criticize others for human rights violations, and we are violating the essence of our existence.”
Arab Americans are also victimized in the workplace, he said.
“If you are the recipient of federal funds, you have to match your employees against a federal watch list,” explained Al-Akhras. “If your name matches, you’re out of luck, [your boss has] to fire you. God knows how the list was made.”
According to Al-Akhras, Arab Americans are not safe even from torture.
“Torture is illegal in the United States. But we need information, so let’s send them to other countries to be tortured. These things are happening in our back yard!”
He went on to say that many Arab Americans are jailed, charged and then freed when there is no evidence for a conviction, which is a blatant abuse of the American judicial system.
Al-Akhras stated that the government is saying, “We are going to make an example of you, that you are not going to stand up for your rights, and if you say anything, we will teach you a lesson.”
As bleak as the situation may seem, Al-Akhras points out that there is still hope.
“I gave you the bad picture — the black picture,” he said. “I think with people like yourselves and our colleagues speaking up, America has a self-correcting mechanism.”
When asked by an audience member what could be done to fight discrimination, Al-Akhras responded, “There is no silver bullet. By events like this, by inviting groups to events. We invite community members for meals; and this is how we will break the cycle of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’”
“We are not different except I am Muslim, you are Christian, he is
Jewish,” said Al-Akhras. “It is time for us to say what is right is
right, and what is wrong is wrong.”