Monday, May 23, 2011


In America, where brown is now the new black, and Arab/Muslim the new Jew, Iranian-born American academic and author Hamid Dabashi guides us through the brave new world of Obamanation:

"For 8 long and murderous years (2000-08), the world was at the mercy of George W Bush. He ruled the United States - and, with it, the world - with utter disregard for the most basic principles of human decency. He ended his term leaving a desperate and desolate world covered with human corpses and spotted with the bodies of tortured men, murdered mothers, raped women, orphaned children, ruined buildings, burned farms and burning factories, firms, and oilfields, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Palestine to Lebanon to the streets of New Orleans. There has been much talk in the United States about prosecuting Bush and his subordinates for war crimes. But no tribunal could ever issue a verdict harsh enough to equal the pain and suffering that this man caused among the poor and disenfranchised. Aided by his European and Israeli allies, and actively or passively endorsed by corrupt and incompetent Arab and Muslim heads of state, George W Bush looks like a nightmare from which the world has finally woken up; after a clean, cold shower it may once again remember humanity, decency and morality. Bush's last act before getting lost in historical ignominy was endorsing the Israelis' massacre of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza.

"After 8 catastrophic years, Americans from all walks of life, disgusted with what this man had done to the world in their name, came together on November 4, 2008, in a momentous occasion of collective redemption and catharsis, and chose Barack Hussein Obama as the first African-American to hold the highest office in the land. More profoundly, this was the expression of their highest aspirations and their hope to return to the fold of humanity and to stop embodying the principle source of menace and mayhem around the globe. But it did not take more than a mere couple of days for the euphoria of Obama's victory to begin giving way to an icy cold fear and wonder. From the windy winter cold of Chicago he announced his selection of Illinois Congressman Rahm Israel Emanuel as his chief of staff - effectively the gatekeeper of his White House. Congressman Emanuel comes from a strongly pro-Israeli family. He served in the Israeli army for a short time; his father Benjamin Emanuel, served for a much longer period with the notorious Irgun, the Zionist terrorist organization chiefly responsible for scores of murderous acts, among them the ethnic cleansing of Palestine when Israel was being superimposed on the world map in the 1940s. Throughout his presidential campaign, Obama had remained a suspicious figure to pro-Israeli voters, and no matter how hard he tried to convince them that he held the American relationship with Israel 'sacrosanct', as he put it on a number of occasions, he was not completely successful. In his infamously obsequious speech in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) soon after he declared victory in June 2008 in his pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination, he spent a great deal of time refuting the allegations with which he had been charged - chief among them that he was a Muslim. The appointment of a pro-Israeli chief of staff went a long way toward reassuring pro-Israeli lobbies and voters, and the ground opened up like an abyss under the feet of those who had hoped for something different.

"The disappointment that a wide spectrum of Obama supporters now faced was neither limited to this single appointment nor confined to what their candidate would do toward reconciling the idealism of his youthful community activism (over which the memory of Malcolm X shone brightly) with the pragmatism of his adult presidency vis-a-vis the predicament of Palestinians and the warmongering of the Jewish apartheid state. Every appointment that he made in public in November and December 2008 called for a reassessment of his campaign promises. When he finally announced New York's junior senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton (who stands to the right of the Likud Party when it comes to Israel), as his choice for Secretary of State, and the news spread that Dennis Ross (a key AIPAC operative) would be his choice to head Middle East Affairs, the disappointment deepened. When Israel commenced the massacre of Palestinians in Gaza late in December 2008, President-elect Obama seemed thoroughly preoccupied with the mounting economic problems that his administration was inheriting; he remained silent on the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians, calling on the mantra 'We have only one president at a time'. While many were dismayed, I for one was relieved that at least he did not repeat the nauseating Bush administration line that Hamas was responsible for the carnage the Israeli army was visiting upon Gaza. As we say in Persian: Ma ra beh kheyr-e to ommid nist, shar marasan. We have no hope in your doing any good; prithee do us no evil.

"It did not help matters when Rahm Emanuel's father, Benjamin Emanuel, gave an interview to the Israeli newspaper Ma'riv in which he predicted that 'obviously' his son 'will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he be? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House'. The crudely racist remark delighted Zionists from Tel Aviv to New York and created havoc among the Arab and Muslim communities in the US, forcing the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) - hardly known for its daring imagination or principled postion on anything - to write a letter to Rahm Emanuel demanding that he repudiate his father's comment and send a copy to the president-elect. According to reports, the younger Emanuel called Mary Rose Oakar, the ADC president, to dissociate himself from his father's remark and apologize.

"Under ordinary circumstances this apology would have been the end of the matter. But these are not ordinary times. The unabated and in fact growing racism toward Muslims in general and Arabs in particular in North America (and Western Europe) requires far more serious attention - for it is the newest gestation of classical Christian anti-Semitism and white supremacist racism, now coming together in their fullest unfolding. For what seems to have happened since the events of 9/11, but particularly during the presidential election of 2008, is the semiotic transmutation of 'blacks' and 'Jews' into 'Arabs' and 'Muslims', respectively, in the evolving lexicon of American racism - and for this reason Benjamin Emanuel's remark deserves closer attention, as does the entire presidential election in 2008, during which, on countless occasions, this recodification of American racism was fully on display, particularly when it came to the figure and phenomenon of Barack Hussein Obama himself.

"What does it mean, exactly, to say: 'He's not going to clean the floors of the White House' - of all things? What does it signify? Who has stereotypically, and in a racist cliche, cleaned the floors of the White House? Certainly not Arabs - though perhaps in Israel, where cheap Palestinian labor is systematically abused, Israelis are used to seeing Arabs clean their floors. In Washington DC and the rest of the United States, and certainly in the White House, a whole history of African slavery has determined who, as a matter of racist cliche, cleans the floors. In the racist mind of the aging Benjamin Emanuel - who does not know the language of concealing one's bigotry and speaks like the Irgun terrorist that he was - he simply switches the African for the Arab and lets go of 'the values upon which he has raised his family'. What the senior Emanuel uttered is not all that odd for an Israeli racist. The domain of anti-Arab bigotry in Israel, from which Benjamin Emanuel draws freely, is not limited to Irgun terrorists. 'Mohammed's a pig', and 'Death to Arabs' are the staples of Israeli racism regularly sprayed on mosques and spewed at the residents of occupied Palestine, as is the hurling of severed pigs' heads into Muslim houses of worship. What is embedded in the senior Emanuel's remark is the regenerative transfusion of two differently coded modes of racism: Ashkenazi Israeli racism toward Arabs (and, for that matter, Sephardic Jews) and white American racism toward blacks. In a simple act of cross-codification, the two modes of racism come together and announce not just a mere Israelification of American political culture but also the transformation of racist registers of Blacks into Arabs (or 'sand niggers' as they have been popularly dubbed)." (Brown Skin, White Masks, 2011, pp 112-115)

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