The nights are real, the days, lies

The nights are real, the days, lies

John Eliya

Scratch out my eyes if you will, I’ll never let go of my dreams

Neither their comforts nor their tortures will drive me to break my promises

New vistas do not dwell in the suburbs of the eyes

Must I also lose the treasures of my imagination?

Yes, my dreams detest the cold and shadowy implications of your mornings

Those mornings were only the shimmering and dizzying cycle of winter’s steam,

Of all of the suns that have ever been sold at evening’s counter

Like my night of dreams, burning, blazing nights

And each day of these icily condensed implications, is good and is true,

By which the blurry orbit of brilliance turns into a 360-degree illness

My darknesses are true, too

And your “albinism” is also a lie

The nights are real, the days, lies

As long as the days are lies, as long

Bear the nights and live in your dreams

They are better than dream-bleaching days

No, I won’t wrap myself in temptation’s fog

Scratch out my eyes if you will, I’ll still never let go of my dreams

I won’t break my promises

This is enough, it is my everything

The predation of months and years is my nemesis

Its reputation has been measured against my life

Let whatever happen, until my last breath let whatever happen

راتیں سچی ہیں، دن جھوٹے ہیں

چاہے تم میری بینائی کھرچ ڈالو پھر بھی میں اپنے خواب نہیں چھوڑوں گا
اِن کی لذت اور اذیت سے میں اپنا عہد نہیں توڑوں گا
تیز نظر نابیناؤں کی آبادی میں ،
کیا میں اپنے دھیان کی یہ پونجی بھی گنوا دوں
ہاں میرے خوابوں کو تمھاری صبحوں کی سرد اور سایہ گوں تعبیر
اِن صبحوں نے شام کے ہاتھوں اب تک جتنے سورج بیچے
وہ سب اک برفانی بھاپ کی چمکیلی اور چکر کھاتی گولائی تھے
سو میرے خوابوں کی راتیں جلتی اور دہکتی راتیں
ایسی یخ بستہ تعبیر کے ہر دن سے اچھی ہیں اور سچی بھی ہیں
جس میں دھندلا چکر کھاتا چمکیلا پن چھ اطراف کا روگ بنا ہے
میرے اندھیرے بھی سچے ہیں
اور تمھارے روگ اُجالے بھی جھوٹے ہیں
راتیں سچی ، دن جھوٹے
جب تک دن جھوٹے ہیں جب تک
راتیں سہنا اور اپنے خوابوں میں رہنا
خوابوں کو بہانے والے دن کے اجالے سے اچھے ہے
ہاں میں بہکاؤں کی دھند سے اڑھوں گا
چاہے تم میری بینائی کھرچ ڈالو میں پھر بھی اپنے خواب نہیں چھوڑوں گا
اپنا عہد نہیں توڑوں گا
یہی تو بس میرا سب کچھ ہے
ماہ و سال کے غارت گر سے میری ٹھنی ہے
میری جان پر آن بنی ہے
چاہے کچھ ہو میرے آخری سانس تلک اب چاہے کچھ ہو

The Spider’s Proverb

An attempt at a translation …

مقولہ عنکبوت

جون ایلیا‎

میں پیا پے جو موجود ہوں

صرف موجود ہوں

صرف موجود ہونے کی حالت میں ہونے کو جو حوصلہ چاہیے

وہ خدایا خدا میں بھی شاید نہ ہو

:عنکبوت رواق کہن کامرے یہ مقولہ ہے

ہے بھی نہیں

اور تھا بھی نہیں

The spider’s proverb

Jon Elia

I am present — on this web

Only present

Perhaps God does not even possess

The courage which existence requires

By virtue of mere presence

Such is the saying of my ancient line of arachnids:

He isn’t even

And He never even was

AuthentiCity and AlieNation — a review of Zadie Smith’s NW

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In a controversial essay penned in 2008, Zadie Smith campaigned for a shift in the way that we understand and read novels.  Her New York Review of Books essay, “Two Paths for the Novel,” took the dominant tradition of lyrical, realist writing to task for its reliance on deeply held pieties: “the transcendent importance of form, the incantatory power of language to reveal truth, the essential fullness and continuity of the self.”  The novels which have been promoted by the critics in the twentieth century belong squarely to this tradition.

Smith’s rejoinder to this long-standing preference for realism is an inversion of the argument first made by Matthew Arnold in Culture and Anarchy:  now that God is dead, literature and its God, the lyrical self, must become the stuff of our new religion.  Smith’s retort to the Arnoldian penchant for “sweetness and light” is devastating: “But is this really what having a self feels like? Do selves always seek their good, in the end? Are they never perverse? Do they always want meaning? Do they not sometimes want its opposite? And is this how memory works? Do our childhoods often return to us in the form of coherent, lyrical reveries? Is this how time feels? Do the things of the world really come to us like this, embroidered in the verbal fancy of times past? Is this really Realism?”

This is also in part a novelistic rejoinder to Jean-Paul Sartre, himself another kind of advocate for the lyrical realist tradition.  Sartre’s injunction that we eschew the fiction of our own unfreedom (what he called “bad faith”) and embrace the dizzying, nauseating reality that we are always free to choose has given succor to the confident, novelistic self, which finds that when it is being most authentic it is also being its most beautiful.  The problem, as Zadie Smith contends, is that authenticity can also be an alibi, a narrative that we produce about ourselves to reconcile ourselves to our choices, that hides us from the reality that we are rarely as heroic as we appear in the rear-view mirrors of our epics.  It is interesting, isn’t it, that we become the most self-congratulatory, inflated, even eloquent when we feel we are being our most authentic, as if there were any correlation between morality and beauty anymore?

The vision that this leaves us with is perhaps bleak: we are not ultimately or consistently noble creatures, and the stories that we tell ourselves about our choices, even when they are authentic, may not actually help us understand our own place in the world.  Authenticity is another kind of hubris, in Smith’s telling, when most of us are defined by our deep familiarity with its twin: alienation.  But how do you predicate the Bildungsroman, that acme of the lyrical self, on the language of alienation?  Doesn’t this risk turning all literary endeavor into the flat rubble of antihumanism?  And haven’t Pynchon, Delillo, and their coterie of American postmodern novelists done this already?

Smith most recent novel, NW, while retracing steps taken by the postmodernists attempts to steer clear of both the easy course of modernist heroism—the legacy of Woolf and Joyce that hang heavily over this work—and the detritus of postmodernism by shifting the focus of the novel from the self in crisis to the anxieties of place.  The novel follows the lives of four people, all from a council estate called Caldwell in northwest London, as their lives go in directions that none imagined for themselves.  Each of the characters is confronted with the contradiction between a desired because unobtained ideal life, the dissatisfactions of the present, and the nostalgic selves which others remember because they have all shared a geography.  As a result, NW becomes a novel in which the only way to feel better about the sorry selves that we are is to find ways of reconnecting to the places that we inhabit.

The novel begins by taking apart an aphorism of authenticity and hollowing it out: “I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me.”  It quickly turns into incantation and then meaninglessness:

I am the sole

I am the sole author

And later,

I am the

the sole

And even,

I am the sole. The sole. The sole.

The joke is Shakespearean in reverse (“I am a mender of worn soles”), undoing all of the work of literature to shore up the self as the unique confirmation of human heroism.  The anti-lyricism of the line, its emphasis on seriality and repetition, reflects back the emptiness at the center of human alienation rather than seeking out comforts in the fineness of literary revelation.    Later in the novel the same incantation is repeated with more desperation when it comes to mean that the self has no one else to blame for its ruin.  There is no revelatory self which can snatch from this rubble a jewel of good writing: lyricism cannot be a bulwark against radical possibility.

The inauthentic selves, but very real characters, that haunt NW: Leah Hanwell (an Anglo-Irish philosophy major turned public servant who is desperately unhappy about her marriage); Natalie (nee Keisha) Blake (the descendant of Caribbean immigrants who “wills” herself through law school and a family that she also recklessly endangers); Felix Cooper (the painfully optimistic filmmaker/drug dealer whose death becomes the crisis the rest of the novel seeks to understand); and Nathan Bogle (the high school athlete and heart throb turned into homeless pimp).  All of them take drugs, all of them went to the same school, and all of them find it impossible to bear the contradiction between their desires and their realities.  This line could have been written about anyone of them—“She was on the run from herself”; it happens to describe Leah.

The novel is best when it tears apart the fictions of self.  Keisha and her first boyfriend, savagely: “They thought life was a problem that could be solved by means of professionalization.”  Leah at a dinner party, pathetically: “While she was becoming, everyone grew up and became.”  Nathan Bogle, angrily: “See but that’s how you see it—I don’t see it like that.  To me it’s just truth.  She was trying to tell me something true.  But you don’t want to hear that.  You want to hear some other shit.  Oh Nathan I remember when you were this and that and you were all fucking sweet and shit, you get me?  Nice memory.  Last time I was in your yard I was ten.”  And unable find consolation in the omnipresence of their alienation, they can only see in each other reminders that the stories about the selves to which we all cling ring tinny when anyone else speaks them.

This deep attention to the agony of alienation, to the partial lives and devastated ambitions of her characters, prevents the novel from careening into antihumanism by replacing the obvious nihilistic conclusions with a ruthless anti-literariness.  This is a novel peopled by the failure of literary representations, and so its critiques are ruthless and daring: almost every figure of the canon is here politely acknowledged and then surpassed.  Dickens is too earnest; Donne too transcendent; and William Morris is just plain fodder: “The Cock Tavern. MacDonalds. The old Woolworths. The betting shop. The State Empire. Willesden Lane. The cemetery. Whoever said these were fixed coordinates to which she had to be forever faithful? How could she play them false? Freedom was absolute and everywhere, constantly moving location.”

Perhaps it is more precise to say that NW reveals something that we have all suspected but never been able to articulate so clearly: the novelistic tradition’s dependence on the individual (bourgeois) subject makes it too easy to show the seams and joints of its formal choices.  Having abandoned the subject to its own breakdown, NW, variously, becomes a novel in search of authentic form.  And in some ways, this displacement of authenticity from character to location helps to explain the novel’s seriality, pace, and movement; it wants to unsettle in all the ways it can.  After all, the problem with authenticity in the contemporary world is that we imagine it to be both imminent and immanent, which is why we experience it as an adjective (authentic) and a verb (authenticate), as a fact and as a process.

NW is easily the most significant novel of the last decade because it so frontally challenges and excruciatingly interrogates the fiction of fiction, and finds that selves and literature may both benefit from a more gentle anti-heroism.  It allows Smith to challenge some of the odd pieties we have inherited about multiculturalism and neoliberalism without faltering into reactionary clichés about personal uplift.  And in so doing she not only lays bare the dangerous seductions of literature as aesthetic ideology, as a snake oil for the ailing conscience, she also offers the promise of the “real” as an antipode to the literary: “If candor were a thing in the world that a person could hold and retain, if it were an object, maybe Natalie Blake would have seen that the perfect gift at this moment was an honest account of her own difficulties and ambivalences, clearly stated, without disguise, embellishment or prettification.”

The Ghosts of Dumbledore

Casual Vacancy

JK Rowlings

Little, Brown & Co., 2012

512pp.

The best thing that JK Rowling’s new novel, Casual Vacancy, has going for it is the success of the author’s Harry Potter franchise. Having created a loyal fan-base from a widely successful multivolume series, it is not surprising that her next venture would receive substantial attention and would force the critics to ask the necessary questions about comparison.

What made the Harry Potter series a success, in large part, was Rowling’s deep sensitivity to the real conflicts that plague young people. To the long tradition of English public school fiction, Rowling added something new by reversing the trend of depicting children as merely powerless and petty. There was the real possibility that they could accomplish something meaningful and important and define their own identities rather than succumb to the definitions that were imposed on them from above, even when prophesied. The forces that they faced were larger than mean-spirited teachers or unflinchingly severe bullies: they were defying racial eugenics, pervasive attacks on civil liberties, the standardization of education, and they were winning. That was the real magic of those stories.

Casual Vacancy, on the other hand, has none of the possibility, the sense of transformation, or the shining ambition of rebellion that the Potter novels possess. In part, this is because the novel is a reflection of the utter failure of Labourism in England, both as social agenda and as political philosophy. The England of today is not the England of the Potter novels, which was, at a minimum, the England that was turning away from Thatcherism and trying to imagine itself without neoliberalism: If Voldemort was the novel’s Enoch Powell, then Dumbledore was its Robin Cook. The switch from magic to realism in Rowling’s novel is in some sense a reflection of the fact that in every sense, things have gotten much worse. One of the reasons that you can’t go back to Harry Potter is that you can’t go back to the Labour Party—the magic is simply gone, if it was ever there at all.

Read the rest of the review here.

Vijay Prashad’s Uncle Swami, a review

Vijay Prashad, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today

New Press, 2012

That south Asians in the US face Islamophobia and racism was made clear on August 5th of this year when Wade Michael Page, a white supremacist who was being tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, entered a Gurudwara in Oak Creek, WI and killed 7 people, most of them Sikhs.  While the media went into overdrive trying to convince everyone that this was a “mistake,” that the real targets were Muslims and not Sikhs, as if this was supposed to be some consolation to anyone, it was quite clear that the problem was in fact the long and persistent demonization of Islam and the omnipresent xenophobia to which all immigrants are subject.

Sikhs were attacked not because Page mistook them for Muslims, but because Muslims, in general, are seen as a fifth column in the US.  As a result, anyone who happens to look like them becomes necessarily a casualty of the racism that has been mobilized against Muslims in general.  Even though the media attempted to portray this as the consequence of individual ignorance or misrecognition, the events of Oak Creek are better understood as the result of widespread propaganda which cautions fear by arguing that all Muslims are possible terrorists.

But Sikhs in the US are victims of Islamophobia in different ways than are Muslims, and that was at least part of the reason that the massacre at Oak Creek happened.  So desperate are non-Muslim immigrants to prove their American loyalty that they repeat the humiliating refrain over and over again—“But we are not Muslims!”—in the hopes that this will relieve some of the pressures that they face.  South Asians become mascots of Team Docile Immigrant and then are pitted against Arabs and Muslims (even though many South Asians are Muslims) in the never-ending process of racializing “terrorism.”

The production of “good” or “model” minorities in the United States has always been connected to a process of isolating the “bad” or “criminal” races.  If from the 1970s to the 1990s South Asians were seen as the ideal immigrant population (hardworking, law-abiding, upwardly mobile), it was because that depiction of them was convenient as a stick with which to beat African Americans and Latinos in the US.  Today, it is convenient for the Global War on Terror.

One more thing went unnoticed, though.  Unlike Muslims and Arabs who are subject to intense scrutiny by law enforcement and are asked to make themselves available to intelligence agencies all the time, Sikhs have not been subject to state surveillance.  Law enforcement agencies have undergone countless hours of training in learning how to deal with Muslims and the issues that surround Muslim communities (not all of this learning has been salutary, one has to add), but this has not extended to learning about or reaching out to the myriad other communities that are affected by the twin problems of Islamophobia and anti-terrorism.

One of the strange consequences of this is that while most mosques have video and security equipment installed outside and have direct lines to law enforcement agencies, most Gurudwaras do not.  In some ways, then, the attacks on Gurudwaras and Sikhs are not mistakes: they happen because Sikhs are vulnerable and visible in ways that most Muslims have learned not to be.  One needs to add, though, that countless mosques are routinely attacked and vandalized with almost no media attention; the singular and exceptional focus on Oak Creek is one more indication of how much Islamophobia is tolerated in the US.

But understanding the complex and contradictory ways that many south Asians have both suffered from and been cheerleaders for Islamophobia requires having a historical understanding of the divide-and-rule racial politics of American society.  This is the task that Vijay Prashad sets out in his new book, Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today, a survey of many of the important trends and issues facing South Asians in the US since 9/11.  In it, Prashad elegantly captures the contradictory pressures on South Asian Americans as they navigate the crucible of domestic racial politics, India-US political and economic relations, and internal divisions with the South Asian American communities in the US.

This book picks up where Prashad’s previous book, The Karma of Brown Folks, left off.  In that book, Prashad demonstrated, in part, how many South Asians were recruited in the United States to participate in the discourses of anti-black racism in exchange for ethnic inclusion into larger public spaces.  At the same time, Prashad showed, smaller groups of South Asians became involved in important community organizing campaigns in the US and developed as important leaders in anti-racist and international solidarity work.  A deep sensitivity to the push-pull forces that affect South Asian immigrants as well as an understanding of transnational movements of peoples into and out of the Indian subcontinent marked some of the best features of the earlier book.

But the new project is best understood as one of comparative racial formations in the US.  He argues, “In my own earlier work I argued that the fear factor of ‘blacks’ created the conditions for the construction of the Indian American as the model minority, whereas I will now argue that this is insufficient.  It is the terror factor of the ‘Muslim’ alongside antiblack racism that provides the political space for Jewish Americans and Hindu Americans to mitigate their cultural differences from the mainstream, but crucially to put themselves forwards as those who, because of their experience with terrorism, become the vanguard of the new, antiterrorist Battleship America.”

That integration of Indian (Hindu) American identity with antiterrorist politics has taken a number of different but parallel tracks in the US.  The first is the creation of the “India Lobby,” which explicitly argues for the interests of Indian capitalism within the halls of American power.  Two simultaneous processes helped to grow the India lobby and the India caucus within the American Congress.  The new opportunities opened by India’s economic liberalization beginning in 1991 meant that India was seeking new partnerships with the US and American capitalists were looking for ways to penetrate Indian markets.  The resulting convergence of interests paved the way for the lifting of sanctions on India and for closer military collaboration.

The second is the construction of a South Asian (more precisely, Hindu and Indian) identity as victims of terrorism, and so like the Israelis and the Sri Lankans, natural allies in the Global War on Terror.  Military connections and arms trades between India and Israel were already extensive when Indian Americans also launched the US-India Political Action Committee (explicitly modeled on AIPAC).  But the myth of “American-Israeli-Indian” victimhood was predicated on another myth of a singular “Islamic” enemy launching terrorist attacks on all three nations.  Despite the fact that the groups and organizations that each nation is organizing against are all different, this mythology has been convenient at creating the impression of a global jihad launched by a monolithic Islam.  It has also meant that India has not had to answer in the US for its ongoing occupation and brutalization of the people of Kashmir.

The third has been the transformation into celebrities of certain right-wing Indians who have risen to important political posts.  The likes of Bobby Jindal, Nikki Haley, Sonal Shah, and Dinesh D’Souza have all been lionized in the Indian American press as signs of Indian American accomplishment without ever interrogating the political content of their vision.  At the same time, the fact that the majority of South Asian Americans are a part of the Democratic Party and usually left-of-center gets overlooked in the ways that certain Indians have been used to advance a neoliberal agenda in the US.

The most nefarious aspect of all of these processes has been the mainstreaming of a right-wing Hindu chauvinist ideology (called Hindutva), which has both been used against Muslims in the subcontinent as well as against linguistic, ethnic, and caste-based minorities.  In the US, the Sangh Parivar, the coalition of the Hindu right in India, uses American multiculturalism to its advantage to advance a particularly narrow understanding of Hinduism, one which whitewashes its long legacy of sexism and caste chauvinism, in particular.  This process, what Prashad calls “Yankee Hindutva,” has allowed for the growth of right-wing organizations in the US in exchange for Indian cover for American aggression abroad.

Prashad’s book is an important contribution to the understanding of how race and ethnicity are always tied up in a larger understanding of the historical flows of capital across national boundaries and the devastating effects of imperialism on people all over the world.  If there is one place that the book falls a little short it is in its call for an ethics of compassion, modeled around Gandhi in the concluding chapter, rather than fleshing out a politics of solidarity modeled around internationalism in the working class.  Indians have, as Prashad shows, participated in spectacular movements of international solidarity, and the growth of these tendencies inside the working class in the subcontinent and in the US will play no small part in challenging the American imperium.  By drawing our attention to the politics of race and ethnicity in the US, though, Prashad’s book serves an important function by highlighting just how deeply connected the fights against racism and imperialism are.

New Red Indian in Deutsche Welle on Zardari’s speech to the UN

Asif Ali Zardari has denounced an anti-Islam film in his address to the UN General Assembly and called for an international ban on it. Analysts say that the Pakistani president’s demand is hypocritical.

On Tuesday, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari began his General Assembly speech by denouncing the US-made anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” and asked world leaders to ban the controversial movie and other “hate material” against the Prophet of Islam.

The low-budget movie sparked violent protests in many Muslim countries. Apart from protests in the Middle East, Islamic parties in many South Asian countries held rallies to speak out against the video and the US government.

In Pakistan, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party’s government – led by President Zardari – announced an official holiday on Friday, September 21, to show solidarity with the Prophet of Islam and to protest against the film. At least 19 people were killed during these protests as violent mobs set public property on fire, also torching a church in the northern city of Mardan, and various US establishments.

Read more here

University of Insecurity

The bomb threats that were delivered to five American universities (UT Austin, North Dakota State, Valparaiso, Lousiana State, and UT Brownsville) in the last five days should be an occasion to consider the world that we live in and how it affects us.  College campuses have never really been immune from broader historical forces nor have they been protected from violence.  But what is striking about the conversation that has emerged in the tense atmosphere following what were largely hoaxes or impossible bomb plots is how remarkably flat it is.  Once the terms “Arab” or “Islam” or their synonyms are thrown around, there seems to be little need to think about what is going on here or why.

This last part bears underlining because it is the one claim that few are willing to concede in liberal America.  “Islam” and “Arabs” seem only to appear in the media or in conversation when the subject is about violence or terrorism with the effect that the terms have all become interchangeable.  Intelligent conversation then stops, the participants nod in agreement: of course, those Muslims are always up to something.  It was perhaps convenient that angry Arabs were on the streets protesting as fake bomb threats were being made.

But even when it came to the protests in the middle East, we encountered the same flat narrative.  Angry Muslims responding irrationally to the liberal values of the West, with the repetition of the vague “anti-American” label.  Few were talking about the film and the provocative circumstances of its production (the connections of the producer to far-right, Islamophobic organizations, for instance).  Even fewer were talking about the cynical way that certain marginalized Muslim organizations were using the controversy around the film to reignite their celebrity.  These protests, like the bomb threats, were supposed to be proof of the truism that passes for scrutiny: Muslims are illiberal and dangerous.

That such intellectual laziness happens is not surprising.  We live in a country where one Presidential candidate will not be photographed next to a Muslim and the other cannot be bothered to learn how to pronounce a single Arab or Muslim name correctly.  Both are in favor of bombing almost any country that dares to have a Muslim majority.  That mosques are routinely vandalized and torched without any mention only serves to highlight the quiet acceptance of this convenient political equation.  Muslims are merely tolerated here: they suffer American multiculturalism at their own peril.

That such intellectual laziness happens at a college campus is simply maddening.

At two different University of Texas campuses, the specter of Islam was raised as the source of two very different plots.  In Austin, a caller identified by one UT staff person as having a “light Middle-Eastern accent” and connections to al-Qa’ida made a bomb threat.  Despite recognizing early on that the call was likely a hoax and taking emergency measures only as a precaution, the university still released details about the caller’s supposed identity.  The possibility that the hoax could have encompassed the accent and the al-Qa’ida affiliation did not stop the administration from defending their racial profile of the caller.

At the University of Texas, Brownsville, another bomb threat, also a hoax, was made by Henry Dewitt McFarland, a veteran of the US Marines who served time in Afghanistan, when he called into the National Veteran’s Crisis Hotline.  McFarland, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was considering conversion to Islam.  He threatened to blow up a classmate, who made derogatory comments about his new religion, with a plate bomb that he claimed to have in his apartment.  The authorities found nothing in his apartment to suggest that the threat was serious.

In both instances, the story required the sensationalism that only Islam and Muslims could provide.  Neither the story about exam-related hoaxes (incidentally, earlier in the week fire alarms were pulled in eight buildings at UT Austin) nor the story about soldiers returning with PTSD from their time abroad are the way that we talk about our state of permanent insecurity on college campuses, even though those stories better help to unpack the new realities of college life.  Sans Islam, we would be forced to ask much harder questions about the skyrocketing costs of higher education or about the conditions under which American soldiers labor.  We might be forced to ask why American drones violate national sovereignty and kill with impunity.  Much easier that we talk about Muslims.

These stories stopped asking questions at a certain point because the mistaken belief that Islam and terrorism are synonymous means that there is no more story to tell.  And when critics raise the problems with this interpretation—that it eliminates the deadliness American foreign policy, that it lumps all Arabs and Muslims into one impossibly large category, that violent protests are almost always the work of fringe groups—we are accused of naively pandering to the protocols of political correctness.

Most  bomb threats at college campuses are usually connected to two things: exams and major (usually sporting) events.  Most colleges and universities have well developed protocols to deal with bomb threats because they have been a regular part of their operations.  One University of Texas official explained that UT gets 4 or 5 of these every year.  Most go unannounced.  In the four years that I have worked at UT, I have only been evacuated once.  This is not to say that we ought not take bomb threats seriously.  But we ought to ask how we determine which ones we do and why.

The majority of the insecurity that we face on college campuses has very little to do with Islam.  The events of Virginia Tech a few years ago serve as a constant reminder that colleges and universities are not ivory towers disconnected from real issues.  We might add that the incessant cuts to university budgets and the rising costs of tuition have also produced new, difficult conditions for everyone on campus.  That there are fewer health and psychological services to deal with the problems that these create is at least part of the problem, too.

There is another story that we are not telling, as well.  Since 9/11, every Muslim organization on a college campus has been audited by the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security at least once; at UCLA, Muslims are the subject of constant law enforcement surveillance.  Most Muslim students keep to themselves and associate only with other Muslims as a way to defend themselves from the racism that comes from unexpected areas.  Few speak out about it because law enforcement has been woefully inadequate about doing anything.

Later this week, the ACLU is testifying at Congressional hearings about the failure of law enforcement agencies to do anything when credible threats were made against Muslims and mosques.  In one incident in Antioch, CA, authorities were notified of threats against the mosque but failed to do anything about it.  It was then set on fire in 2007.  The authorities have even refused to call it a hate crime.  In the interests of full disclosure, I am named in the ACLU’s documents.  In 2007, death threats were made against me.  The ACLU discovered that my political activism was ostensibly the reason that law enforcement did not investigate the death threats or take them seriously.  There is a reason that we don’t have good numbers on the real harassment, discrimination, violence, and fear that Muslims and Arabs in the US feel.

There are real stories to tell here and real questions to ask, questions, which when answered, might lead to real solutions to the insecurities we all face on college campuses.  But the story about Islam and terror is too convenient.  It lets everyone off the hook.  And it keeps everyone permanently insecure.