Sunday, September 19, 2004

"Negroes" in the Middle East

Via Avery Tooley, comes this quote from a South African paper's interview with an Iraqi insurgent:
Black soldiers are a particular target. "To have Negroes occupying us is a particular humiliation," Abu Mujahed said, echoing the profound racism prevalent in much of the Middle East. "Sometimes we aborted a mission because there were no Negroes."
Sounds plausible to me. In law school, I became friends with an LLM student who was about 40 years old, and who was a Sudanese Christian. He had lived for several years in Saudi Arabia before emigrating to America. He said that out of 7 years in America, he could think of 2 or 3 incidents where he thought that someone he met had a racist attitude, but that he had experienced that many incidents every day in Saudi Arabia. The way he described it was this (a close paraphrase from memory): "In Saudi Arabia, they didn't like me because I am African, but they just barely tolerated me as long as they thought that I was Muslim. But when anyone found out that I was a Christian, I was lower than dirt."


Blogger avery said...

Wowwww. There are some dynamics at play that we just don't know about. Thanks for the heads-up.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Bijan C. Bayne said...

I could turn that comment around and make the country the U.S., and the person a Sudanese, Libyan, or American Muslim: "People in the U.S. don't like me because I'm Black, but they just barely tolerate me because they think I'm a Christian. But when anyone finds out I am Muslim, I am lower than dirt.

And this was before Sept. 11. From 1966-1971, Muhammad Ali was the most hated person in this country. T.V. and film have derided genies, flying carpers, Aladdin and his lamp, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, "camel jockeys", and "I Dream of Jeanie" since Hollywood began. Rudolph Valentino as "The Sheik". Harems. Profiling that occurs now.


4:42 PM  
Blogger Juliette said...


The only problem with that analogy is that it wasn't like that before 9/11. Arab Muslims have thought that blacks were lower than dirt--and treating them as such--for a good thousand years.

Now one could accurately say the same thing about Europeans and white Americans for a great segment of history. But members of their own race stopped it from happening. (It's up to each of us if we want to forgive them or not.)

In contrast, Arab Muslims are rounding up, raping, maiming, castrating and murdering black Muslims/Christians/Animists in Sudan even as I type this. When are their more human and humane members going to put an end to that?

5:53 PM  
Blogger Stuart Buck said...

Did you read what my Sudanese friend said in comparing his treatment in Saudi Arabia to his treatment in America? It's not really possible to turn that kind of statement around.

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bijan, I don't think you have the American attitude to Arabian folklore (genii, flying carpets, Ali Baba, Aladdin) quite right. Don't you understand that the West uses these things (yes, even humorously) to amuse and enchant itself because they are magical tales out of a distant place? The place itself doesn't matter; but the Arabian Nights (or, more properly, the Book of a Thousand Nights and One Night) fixed Arabia in the Western imagination as a place full of magic and marvel, and so it remains.

Jorge Luis Borges wrote a marvelous little essay on the Western translations of the Nights, the first of which appeared in the eighteenth century and had a very substantial impact on Western art and literature from then on. ("Ali Baba" and "Aladdin" don't belong to the original, but I gather they got thrown in with Burton's amazing edition and have been popular ever since.)

Michelle Dulak Thomson

1:37 AM  
Blogger Bijan C. Bayne said...

Juliette, I'm familiar w/ "Arab" and Sudanese treatment of certain groups, and slavery in North Africa in anitiquity. I was referring more to the U.S., and more recent stereotypes and slurs of Muslims and those mistaken for Muslims (i.e Coptic and Orthodox Christians in flowing garb). It was commonplace before 2001. It just worsened since. In the Wash. Post style section yesterday, a woman who is "half" Brit half-Lebanese said women cut in front of her in line, truckers give her the finger, and people mutter "Damned foreigners" to her (she wears a burka and devotional attire). I have a friend whose wife was American, and she was teased about such dress in the early 1970's while working for a major insurane co., and he had to confront her supervisors.


9:41 AM  
Blogger Bijan C. Bayne said...

Let's not forget that many American sports columnists and boxing officials, as well as millions of fans and at least three American opponents, refused to address Muhammad Ali by his name. We have to recall our history, or we are doomed to repeat it.

Ali is just a famous case, others were discriminated against on jobs or campuses, in housing, or harassed on the street by strangers. I've heard first-hand accounts.


9:57 AM  

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