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The Lose-Lose War
Posted on Jun 14, 2007
Scheer: I understand quite well. And in American movies—I remember Schwarzenegger was in a movie, I think it was “True Lies,” or something, where they said it wasn’t a violent movie because only Arabs died by the thousands. ... I was going to ask you. You bring a unique perspective to this because you are a child of two groups that have been viciously stereotyped on your maternal side. You’re Jewish?
Scheer: Born in the United States . . .
Scheer: ... And yet on the other side you’re Arab. And you’ve lived with these two stereotypes. I wonder if you could describe how it plays out in terms of the media in the world, and so forth.
Wasfi: It’s interesting because I actually—because of my coloring you cannot see my Ashkenazi roots. I look more like my dad, and so I’ve tended to feel the struggle of the anti-Arab stereotypes. In addition, while anti-Semitism can refer to either a stereotype against Jews or a stereotype against Arabs, the anti-immigrant sentiment is very high in this country. Since 400 years of slavery the anti-black sentiment in this country is very high. So any minority group is targeted for discrimination. But the reality is, if we look in the media, is there a balance of positive images and negative images? In my lifetime, growing up, the images of Arabs are wealthy oil sheiks, camel jockeys, or terrorists. This is what I’ve grown up with when the reality is that the Arab world has been subjected to imperialism by the Western world since the beginning of the last century. And by repeated denials of respect for their humanity by the Western world in, for example, the British carving up Palestine. Who are you to come in and divide land that does not belong to you? My dad says, “If you see two fish fighting in the sea, look around for the British guy because somewhere he was involved in dividing and conquering and building an empire.” The reality is that until we respect everyone else’s humanity—and with every generation there’s new hope that we won’t pass on the errant teachings of the one before. For thousands of years in that part of the world, people lived side by side together. Jew, Christian, Muslim, what have you. It was when ethnic cleansing became the means to control the land that there was injustice done and there was a battle. Anywhere in the world today. There’s no justice, there is no peace. And there has to be one implementation, one standard for international law around the world. Not one for Americans and one for everyone else. Until we effect that, until we stop our bloodthirsty, imperial crusade, we will not see homeland security. As long as we’re denying it for other peoples in other countries and even within our country in New Orleans, until we provide for people based on their humanity rather than the color of their skin or their religion, then we will continue to see unrest.
Harris: It’s always sad to see the byproduct of media and perhaps media in this case is just the war. When I did a straw poll and you say, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you see someone wearing a head wrap?” or “What the first thought that comes to your mind?” And it’s always negative. When people are honest with me, they never have a positive image of Islam, of Muslims in general. Given that sentiment—and it seems to be at least the American sentiment—do you get a sense, being there, being who you are ... do you sense a loss of hope among Iraqis, among Arabs in general?
Wasfi: It’s been a difficult century. No doubt about it.
Wasfi: But the reality is that there is continued injustice, and in my talks I argue that the occupation of Iraq is an extension of the occupation of Palestine. ... The Arabs have been promised things by the West, imperial Western powers, and then they never came to pass. I pray that my family keeps hope because without that there’s really nothing left. But I know it’s waning for them. They want to have their lives back. My one cousin who has an economics degree can’t get a job in his field. He does oil changes for cars. It’s honest work, but it’s a waste of his intellect and the young, well-trained minds of Iraq who can move their country forward. He’s struggling. His life cannot move forward until he gets a good job so then he’ll have a good reputation, he can get married and move on with his life. Every day could be your last. The entire society is traumatized. But one thing that Americans, British, anybody, will never take away from them is their dignity. And they look at how the Americans treat them and they don’t fall for it. It’s very racist over there the way it’s racist over here.
Harris: How so, racist?
Wasfi: In the same way that the treatment of American blacks historically, and to quote Chris Rock, it’s like black people had no rights from when they were brought over here chained to the bottom of slave ships in the 1500s and 1600s all the way to about 1964, or depending on when your part of the country decided to do things right. This is our recent history. Women got the right to vote in 1920 but we consider ourselves progressive. In Iraq, it’s the skin color. We are trained in this country, in the United States. My experience growing up—I speak from my experience—the darker your skin color, the more you are subjugated with stereotypes of a lack of intelligence, ineptitude, even to the level of being barbaric, like these people are not as human as someone else. This is the mentality. I know this is the mentality that the troops go in with because that’s how they’re trained. Basic training is really basic dehumanization. First the recruits are themselves dehumanized. They take their clothes away from them. They put them in a uniform. They take their hair away from them, give them all the same haircut. Then they start insulting their parents. And they break them down until they acknowledge that they are part of a unit. They are no longer the individual. Once their humanity is taken away from them, it is easier to deny the humanity of the so-called enemy. And that’s the only way you can kill someone, is if you don’t see them as equal to yourself. And that’s why, in Vietnam, they were not the Vietnamese people; they were gooks. And that’s why, as Bob said, today in Iraq they are not the Iraqi people; they are rag heads and [inaudible].
Harris: Or insurgents.
Wasfi: Or insurgents. And this is another mischaracterization. I think, technically, the legal term insurgency means a rising up against a legitimate government. There is no legitimate government in Iraq. The old state is the only established state. But what’s happening in Iraq is an uprising of the people. Sixty percent of Iraqis support attacks against American and British forces, which means that the resistance, the legitimate resistance to an illegal occupation, has the popular support. Only the group with the popular support, either the resistance or the government, is going to survive, and the resistance is surviving and growing every day. And we can keep sending more troops. And they will keep sending them back home in body bags. It’s just a question of when the congresspeople stop feeding into their corporate interests and maybe send their own kids over to Fallujah and let them sit in Fallujah until Congress decides it’s time to bring them home. This is a rich man’s war reaping unbelievable profits for the corporations while poor people are dying in Iraq, poor people are dying here at home, whether it’s because they don’t have access to healthcare or because the levies burst and New Orleans was under water. Another point to make is that Iraqis know about Hurricane Katrina and they know that New Orleans is still a disaster. Iraqis know about September 11th. And they know that the spot where the World Trade Center stood is, six years later, still a hole in the ground. Do you really think Iraqis want us to be in charge of their reconstruction? That’s the reality. We are not taking care of Americans, and if we’re not taking care of Americans, how are we going to take care of Iraqis?
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