Racism in the Arab world
Racism in the Arab world covers an array of forms of intolerance against non-Arab groups, minorities such as Africans, South Asians and Hispanics in Arab countries of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as an inverse veneration of whiteness.
The previously forbidden topics of race and racism in the Arab world have been explored more since the rise of foreign, private and independent media. In one example, Al-Jazeera's critical coverage of the Darfur crisis led to the arrest and conviction of its Khartoum bureau chief.
Racism is a worldwide phenomenon. In some countries it's met with disapproval, in others with denial. The A to Z of ethnic and religious groups in the Middle East embraces Alawites, Armenians, Assyrians, Baha'is, Berbers, Copts, Druzes, Ibadis, Ismailis, Jews, Kurds, Maronites, Sahrawis, Tuareq, Turkmen, Yazidis and Zaidis (by no means an exhaustive list), and yet serious discussion of ethnic/religious diversity and its place in society is a long-standing taboo. If the existence of non-Arab or non-Muslim groups is acknowledged at all, it is usually only to declare how wonderfully everyone gets along.
Mona Eltahawy, a columnist for Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm and Qatar's Al Arab, wrote in the New York Times an article titled, Racism: The Arab world's dirty secret. She was a witness to racist attacks by Arab Egyptians on blacks and hispanics and stated: "We are a racist people in Egypt and we are in deep denial about it. On my Facebook page, I blamed racism for my argument and an Egyptian man wrote to deny that we are racists and used as his proof a program on Egyptian Radio featuring Sudanese and Latin music and poetry! Our silence over racism not only destroys the warmth and hospitality we are proud of as Egyptians, it has deadly consequences." She believed racism was behind a police crackdown on 5,000 Sudanese refugees and the beating to death of some women and children. She added: "The racism I saw on the Cairo Metro has an echo in the Arab world at large, where the suffering in Darfur goes ignored because its victims are black and because those who are creating the misery in Darfur are not Americans or Israelis and we only pay attention when America and Israel behave badly." She criticized the country's attitudes: "We love to cry 'Islamophobia' when we talk about the way Muslim minorities are treated in the West and yet we never stop to consider how we treat minorities and the most vulnerable among us." While noting that racist incidents are condemned in the United States, she said that in Egypt, as well as in the Arab world, there is a culture of silence toward racist incidents which reflects negatively on Arab society.
Accusations against specific Arab governments
In Ba'athist Iraq, especially during the Iran–Iraq War, Iran was presented as the age-old enemy of the Arabs. The Iraqi Ba'athists, according to Fred Halliday, brought the ideas of Sati al-Husri to their full, official and racist, culmination. For the Ba'athists, their pan-Arab ideology was laced with anti-Iranian racism, it rested on the pursuit of anti-Iranian themes, over the decade and a half after coming to power, Baghdad organised the expulsion of Iraqis of Iranian origin, beginning with 40,000 Fayli Kurds, but totaling up to 200,000 or more, by the early years of the war itself. Such racist policies were reinforced by ideology: in 1981, a year after the start of the Iran–Iraq War, Dar al-Hurriya, the government publishing house, issued Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies by the author, Khairallah Talfah, the foster-father and father-in-law of Saddam Hussein. Halliday says that it was the Ba'athists too who, claiming to be the defenders of 'Arabism' on the eastern frontiers, brought to the fore the chauvinist myth of Iranian migrants and communities in the Persian Gulf region.
According to Holly Burkhalter of Human Rights Watch, in a statement made in testimony before the Congress of the United States, "It is fair to say that the Mauritanian government practices undeclared apartheid and severely discriminates on the basis of race."
Beginning in 1991, elders of the Zaghawa people of Sudan complained that they were victims of an intensifying Arab apartheid campaign. Vukoni Lupa Lasaga has accused the Sudanese government of "deftly manipulat(ing) Arab solidarity" to carry out policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing against non-Arabs in Darfur. Alan Dershowitz has pointed to Sudan as an example of a government that deserves the appellation "apartheid," and former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler has also criticized Sudan in similar terms.
Racist incidents involving individual Arabs
Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe released an album containing lyrics calling Nubian black people in Egypt "monkeys". Outraged Egyptian Nubians filed a lawsuit and claimed that it inspired an increase in Arab racism against Nubians in public, including schools.
In Lebanon in June 2010, Lebanese Internal Security Forces crashed a Sudanese cancer fundraiser in Beirut. During the incident, the Lebanese called the Sudanese "animals" and "niggers", while physically hitting them with batons. They used extreme physical force and violence against the Sudanese and also used racial epithets. The Sudanese, who held citizenship of Sudan, were legally residing in Lebanon. While pressing their boots on the bodies of the Sudanese, the Lebanese made the Sudanese lie prostrate with their stomachs touching the ground."
Dark-skinned Egyptian President Anwar Sadat faced insults of not looking "Egyptian enough" and "Nasser's black poodle." An Egyptian Nubian soccer player Mahmoud Abdel Razek stopped playing football due to racist slurs by rival Egyptian fans during a game.
According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Black African immigrants to Egypt often face physical violence and verbal abuse at the hands of the general public and law enforcement officials. Refugees from Sudan are especially targeted, with racial slurs like "oonga boonga" and "samara" (meaning "black") constituting the most typical insults. The EIPR attributes the violence and abuse to both a lack of government efforts at disseminating information, raising awareness and dispelling myths with regard to the economic contributions made by the newcomers, and stereotyping on the part of the Egyptian media. Black women are also targets of sexual harassment. As a remedy, the EIPR recommends that the Egyptian government "should intensify and accelerate efforts to combat racist xenophobic views towards migrant workers, especially those of Black African origin, and to promote awareness of their positive contribution to society. The government should train all personnel working in the field of criminal justice and law enforcement officials in the spirit of respect for human rights and non-discrimination on ethnic or racial grounds."
In March 2011, officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confirmed allegations of discrimination by Tunisia against black Africans. Black Africans were reportedly targeted by rebel forces during the Libyan civil war in 2011.
Author draws parallel between Arab nationalism and Turkish nationalism, both were "likewise evolving into the "racial" stage, the ideal being a great "Pan-Arab" empire, embracing not merely the ethnically Arab peninsula-homeland, but also the Arabized regions of Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Tripoli, North Africa and the Sudan."
Some in the Arab world seeking to justify Arab Supremacy claim that because according to Islam Muhammad was the most perfect person to ever live, and because he was an Arab, then Arabs are the master race
Christians of Iraq site published an extensive historic account on "the Foolishness of imposing Oppressive Arab Nationalism on Non Arabs, Non-Arab Muslim minorities such as the Imazighen or Berbers, Kurds, and Turkmen found themselves officially out of favor. They faced the prospect of becoming 'Arabized' or of being denied political and even civil rights. Groups that identified themselves as neither Arab nor Muslim had it even worse: Southern Sudanese, Copts, Jews, and Assyrians were plunged into a protracted nightmare that saw their communities ground into anonymity, forcing many to emigrate permanently. Even Maronites, whose retention of political power in Lebanon immunized them from utter marginalization, watched with alarm as Arab nationalist propaganda increasingly portrayed them as a foreign and sinister element in the heart of the Arab nation."
A writer on the Durban conference regarding racism suggests: That stressing out that "Arabism is racism" would have been an interesting debating topic. Yet, he adds that "the OIC countries were very clever in how they deflected the slavery issue that could so easily have been turned on them with a vengeance."
Some Muslim activists have also expressed that "Arabism is racism, pure and simple." There was Sheikh Mustafa al-Maraghi, who in a famous 1938 essay dismissed the goal of [pan] Arab unity as racist.
Arab Muslim authors in "Arab-Iranian relations":
Much ink has flowed on the issue of Arab nationalism. Some people believe it to be a racist movement, advocating the superiority of the Arabs.
A Muslim scholar writes that "the Ba'th party, which sowed a Pan-Arabist ideology, was responsible for the genocide of Kurdish people in Iraq as well as the genocide of Shiite Arabs in Iraq, and that "Pan-Arabism does not recognize minorities living in the Arab world. Everybody in this "world" is an Arab."
Ali A. Allawi, the former Iraqi Minister of Defense and Finance, envisioning a peaceful Iraq: "Arabism, racism and sectarianism – would be dethroned. Iraq would be at peace with itself and with its region."
In 1960's, the French Comite d' Action de Defense De- mocratique published a pamphlet titled Racism and Pan-Arabism, its introduction followed by an article by the well known French sociologist, anthropologist & political leader: Jackes Soustelle to fight against all kinds of racism, this was followed by a paper by Shlomo Friedrich on "Pan-Arabism: A New Racist Menace?" who offered a sharp critique of Nasser's book The Philosophy of the Revolution, and it terms it a mere pale imitation of Hitler's Mein Kampf.
The African Liberation Forces of Mauritania speaking on slavery and genocide in the Sahel, said "those two governments [Sudan and Mauritania] went to the same school—the school of Arabization. The professor was Saddam Hussein, and the doctrine was developed in Egypt by Nasser. They follow the pattern of Ba'athism and Nasserism. In the color of their skin they may not be Arabs, they may be Black. But they want to be Arab, and they follow this policy of Arabization in Mauritania and Sudan."
Racism – overview
Jon Lewis (a Mid-East expert whose works on the Arab world's persecution of minorities have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Jewish Daily Forward, In the National Interest, Middle East Quarterly and other prestigious publications) laments the media coverage of Darfur, its lack of historic context, clarifying that Darfur is but one example of Arab racism toward non-Arabs within the broader "Arab world." he believes that the Darfur genocide, "must be viewed not solely as a case of an Islamic jihad, but also as a case of Arab racism", he also draws parallels to Saddam Hussein's genocide against Kurds and the Algerian government's repression of the Kaybles." He adds that without downplaying the Islamic Jihad aspect in both the Kurds and Kabyles who are primarily Sunni Muslims, yet, "we cannot understand the violence in Darfur (and Iraq, for that matter) without examining the persistence of intra-Muslim ethnic conflict in the region and Arab racism."
In an interview 'White Skin, Black Mask' the Tunisian-born, Algerian author Kamel Riahi explained: "It might come as a surprise to you to learn that Negro was the term people called my black grandfather. I consider myself as someone of a Negro descent, although I am not black. Perhaps my wide nose proves this theory. Therefore, I am sympathetic towards the blacks ideologically, by heritage and by history. We, the whites, will not be liberated until we liberate ourselves from the racist views we have of other races and religions." He goes on in denouncing the massive common racism in the Arab world:
We still curse each other using "you’re Jewish" or "you’re Kurdish", this is also racial and religious discrimination. Watch any Egyptian sitcom and tell me about the image of the Sudanese character. Listen to the Tunisian jokes about the Libyans or jokes about people from Hums in Greater Syria. Listen to the debates regarding noble families and family lineage… even horses now are divided between what is considered "noble" and what is not. We are racists to the bones. Attempting to hide or silence this fact will not help with the matter because we are a sick society which still suffers from the complexes of color and race.
Some charge that "ultra-Arabism and Jihadism have been responsible for widespread persecution and genocide." such Saddam's using chemical weapons and gas against the Kurds during the bombings of Halabja in northern Iraq. "The Kurds, a non-Arab people whose language belongs to the Iranian group, have suffered from persecution under the Baath of Iraq and Syria, especially since the departure of British and French forces in the late 1940s." (Kurds are also claiming rights in Iran and Turkey.) The Berbers, the pre-Arab native peoples of have been victomized by the Arabs in North Africa.
Author Bat Yeor charges bigotry in the Arab Muslim middle east, including "the oppression of the Kurds in both Turkey and Iraq, the discrimination against non-Muslims and women enforced by shari'a rules in Arab countries, as well as anti-Israel and anti-Western Arab racism."
In Sudan, including the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions, from 1955 to 2005, it is estimated that nearly 20 million black people were killed or ethnically cleansed. During the Second Sudanese Civil War, about 2.5 million people were killed in attacks widely regarded as racially motivated against black indigenous Africans.
Racism has been documented in Libya, including the 2000 anti-African racist violence. About 2 million people out of Libya's 6.3 million were black African migrants as of 2009. They have reported facing racism in the country, with one witness reporting being called a "slave" and "animal." From the start of Libyan Civil War in 2011, blacks were massacred for their skin color according to an Amnesty International report. Of the estimated 30,000 people who died, most were black Tuareg; violence on such a scale in Libya never took place before the civil war.
Some of the persecuted victims of racism and discrimination in the Arab world include: Africans in Egypt, including on Eritreans, and oppressing Darfurian refugees, Algeria, Mauritania – fighting off racist policies in these countries, in Iraq where blacks face racism, Kurds in Syria and in Iraq, Copts,  it worsened under pan-Arabism by Nasser and with the empowerment of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Akhdam in Yemen, as well as slaves who fight the stigma of their status as 'slaves' in impoverished Yemen, Persians' historic struggle against the 'Arab supremacy,' Berbers in North Africa (Moroccos, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya ), South and Southeast Asians (maids in the Gulf Arab nations), Jews (see: Antisemitism in the Arab world, in a 2009 PEW poll, 90% of the Middle East were found to view Jews unfavorably). Although slavery was officially abolished in 1981, a 2012 CNN report suggested that 10% to 20% of the Mauritanian population was enslaved with a correlation with skin color – darker-skinned Mauritanians were often enslaved by lighter-skinned.
- Antisemitism in the Arab world
- Three Whom God Should Not Have Created: Persians, Jews, and Flies
- Racism by country
- Racism in the Middle East
- Racism in Asia
- Racism in Mauritania
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