Today was a great day as the weather was fabulous with the sun shining warming up Oslo after a long cold winter. I had much to do and headed downtown to Royal Grand Hotel for registration for tomorrow. The Oslo Freedom Forum, a huge human rights seminar is being arranged and tomorrow is the first day of the event. Many human rights activists, politicians and writers are coming to speak and I’m looking forward for it. After the registration, I sat down in a coffee shop to read the daily news as I always do when I came across an article that upset me.
Two imams were on their way to a seminar about prejudices against Muslims or Islamaphobia when they were denied boarding by the pilot as several passengers felt uncomfortable having them onboard as they were dressed in traditional Islamic clothing. The incident happened on an Atlantic Southeast Airlines flight from Tennessee to North Carolina. Masudur Rahman, a professor at the University of Memphis and Mohamed Zaghloul holds high religious positions in the Muslim community had already gone through the security check and were sent back a second time, but this was not enough neither for the passengers or for the pilot who refused to have them on the plane.
This incident sadly reminded me of Rosa Parks, an African-American civil rights activist and the mother of the freedom movement when she refused to obey the bus drivers order to give up her seat and make room for a white passenger. Her arrest and action sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. A great women who had the courage to stand against injustice and to demand her rights on a time where African Americans had to accept their fate as being seen as slaves and not worthy of anything. She lifted the veil of discrimination and urged everyone to boycott the busses.
Racism, discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice
America is a country with many ethnicities and people with different faith and beliefs. A country that have shifted from being discriminating and known for targeting different racial groups throughout the history.
First there was the racism against the Native Americans who had lived on the North American continent for 20,000 years found themselves in wars, massacres, and forced displacements and had their land taken.
Then there is the racism against African Americans who suffered much from the institution of slavery. According to the 1860 US census, there were about 385,000 slave-owners out of approximately 1,5 million white families. There was murder, violence, injustice and much more. The slaves had to do hard labor and had no rights in the society.
Anti-Semitism rise from the 1910s and the Southern Jewish communities were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan, who objected to Jewish immigration, and often used ‘The Jewish Banker’ in their propaganda. In 1915, Texas-born, New York Jew Leo Frank was lynched by the newly re-formed Klan.
In the 19th century, anti catholic and anti Irish wave’s swept across the country and the poor Irish Catholics who had immigrated in hope for a better life was being discriminated and stereotyped. The anti Catholic view continued until the 20th century when racism continued against immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (Italian-Americans and Polish- Americans) also mainly Catholics. The anti-Catholic sentiment remained nevertheless in the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy who became the US’s first Catholic president.
During World War 1 and 2, German-Americans and Italian-Americans were pointed on as Germany and Italy was the “enemy” countries.
1979, after the Iranian revolution, the US embassy in Iran experienced a hostage crises where 52 US citizens were held as hostage for 444 days. This sparked anti Iran tensions and protesters were out on the streets yelling that the Iranian’s should go home.
Anti Arabism didn’t only target Arabs, but Assyrians, Iranians, Muslim Americans, Sikhs and Hindus. Iranians, who are different then Arabs together with Hindus and Sikhs has been stereotyped as “Arabs”. An example is the case of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh who was murdered at a Phoenix gas station by a white supremacist for “looking like an Arab terrorist” because of his turban that is required in Sikhism as well as the Hindus who has been attacked for “being Muslims” have also suffered after September 11 attacks.
The tensions between the American government and the Arab world together with the September 11 attacks was the turning point in US history and a new expression was born; “Islamaphobia”.
Similarities and differences
There are 3 reasons for all the problems in the world; Discrimination, poverty and ignorance. As long as the people have prejudices against each other, there will never be development and the discrimination will divide more and more people from each other.
We all have similarities and differences. Everyone has a family, a language, and a culture they cherish and all have hopes, dreams, fears, and feelings that are different.
Humans differ physically, such as skin color, hair texture, or gender. Others differences, such as language, customs, and beliefs.
Now Islam is on everybody’s mind and many Americans feel uncomfortable when they see women with a headscarf or a man with Islamic clothing. This incident with the airplane is just one example of many and it concerns me that there is so much prejudice in the world.
Let’s put this in a sharper picture. America is, outside of Israel, the most receptive and tolerant country in the world to Jews but yet, in every year since 9/11, more Jews have been hate-crime victims than Muslims. In 2001, there were twice as many anti-Jewish incidents as there were anti-Muslim, again according to the FBI.
The hate and discrimination develops with the situation in the world. The Catholics and Jews were targeted at one point and now it is the Muslims. There is no accurate count of the number of Muslims in the United States, as the U.S. Census Bureau does not collect data on religious identification but what is clear is that according to CNN news, there are almost 20,000 Americans converting to Islam every year and most of them are women.
It is rather ironic that a country that would discriminate African Americans only a half decade ago has a President that is African American. A country that is seen as a superpower, modernized and civilized can still reject people from basic activities such as entering an airplane just because the person is wearing religious clothing or items. This shows that there is something wrong in the process and to rebuild this will take a long time.