Collateral Damage

My Iraqi friend, Haji, has the most beautiful eyes that I have ever seen on a human being, man or woman. They are a bright golden brown and fringed with long dark lashes, and they flash with love and pride as he tells me of his daughters, with whom I used to work at the local primary school.

The youngest, Tiba, won a craft prize. Zahra is on the Student Council. Sarah is in high school now. Sweet girls, all of them, smart and humble.

I ask if Sarah is attending the nearby state school and Haji’s eyes become immensely sad as he explains that she began the school year there, but had to transfer to the Islamic College several suburbs away.

“She met a lot of racism,” he tells me, and I feel a stab of anguish in my heart. “Some of the students, they teased her, because she wears the hijab.”

I recall the thundery day in 2004, soon after the US invasion of Iraq, when our school was struck by lightning. All the kids had screamed as the classroom was plunged into darkness and the windows shook, and Sarah and her cousin Muhammad had dived beneath their desks. They had seen the TV news coverage of the obliteration of Bagdhad.

The following year, Zahra had sought my help to write a story in her news journal, about the angry man who had spat on their mother because of what she wore, and sworn at them.

“How do you spell ‘frightened’?” she had asked, and I wished she hadn’t ever needed to know.

amberdextrous amberdextrous
51-55, M
50 Responses Feb 23, 2010

wow! and you know what the sad thing is! a lot of ppl, at least when it comes to muslims who wear the hijab, they don't scream at the men. they wait until the men are gone and then they scream or do whatever to the women and children when they've cornered them. <br />
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I can NOT respect anyone who verbally attacks an innocent women, child or an elder. NO matter the race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status. Not At ALL.

Dex, when a parent gets to the stage of needing to withdraw a child from school, the bullying has moved beyond a single incident and usually help has been sought from the administration and not given. At our school we have a simple response. The parents of the bully are contacted and a discussion is held with all the children and their parents present. All the parents of our school are supportive. In one instance where there was a repeat incident, the bully was promptly suspended and the whole school was told why. There has been no reoccurrance. Bullying in schools, if it is serious enough to warrant a parent needing to withdraw their child, is institutionalised, supported by an administration that is scared of the school's reputation, or wants to deny that such problems exist in their school.

While in no way defending the school, which should have had effective anti-racism programs in place, I must say that it is very difficult to monitor students' behaviour at all times. And high school kids are very effective at exploiting the slightest opportunity to denigrate anyone who does not fit their view of what is cool or normal. <br />
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No matter how intensive a staff regime of monitoring student conversations, some will find a way to put the Sarahs of this world down, in an attempt to elevate their own status. Eventually, one would hope, education will overcome bigotted ignorance, but I would rather the good fight was won with the power of its ideas than by encouraging an informant culture, or by threat of punishment.<br />
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We should be able to look to our political and community leaders for guidance on such issues, but alas they do not seem to be setting a very good example. Australia's ongoing debate about its miniscule intake of asylum seekers, often seasoned with strongly racist overtones, is a case in point, with eachof the major parties engaged in a race to the bottom.

As a teacher, I must say that I am inclined to agree with phatnhappi on this, that the school was negligent in providing a safe and non threatening environment for this child. A boy who had been dreadfully bullied at another school recently joined my class. I learned from other parents I know with children at his former school that racism was a factor. He is Italian. Since joining us at our school he is happy and thriving. There is no excuse for racism or intolerance, but turning a blind eye to children doing it is breeding trouble for years and generations to come.

Fundamentalists will be found among every religion, and it's always a shame when someone judges an entire culture and/or religion by a vocal minority. <br />
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As someone who's lived in a multicultural area her entire life, I find such prejudice and hatred hard to fathom. But unfortunately, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist

hair splitting, i dont think so. whew - and still you charm em baby. x

Dex - your story brought tears to my eyes. I can understand your love for your friend Haji and you seeing the beauty of him as an individual and not as a "race". i embrace all ethnic backgrounds as well and feel this same love toward all people. I agree that children should never have to experience harrassment to such a degree that they must change schools as Haji's daughter did. It is appalling. The school should have taken a very strong stand on acceptance and tried to reach the students and turned them around rather than forcing a student to flee because of their actions. At least you are in a position to make a great impact in the school. Thank you for educating us too with the real facts.

I will defer to your obviously superior appreciation of these technical terms, lineswine. Racism, then, is a subset of xenophobia. <br />
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Given that, whatever our ethnic background, we are all members of the same race -the human one- such hatreds are still irrational.

I hate to disillusion you, but there is a BIG difference between Xenophobia & racism.<br />
For example a American caucasian who happens to hate, for example, all Canadians is a xenophobe, as the hatred is expressed because they live in a different country.<br />
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An American caucasian who hates only, say, Polynesians is a racist, as the hatred is expressed for the difference in body types.<br />
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Hair splitting? I don't think so.

I hate to disillusion you, but there is a BIG difference between Xenophobia & racism.<br />
For example a American caucasian who happens to hate, for example, all Canadians is a xenophobe, as the hatred is expressed because they live in a different country.<br />
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An American caucasian who hates only, say, Polynesians is a racist, as the hatred is expressed for the difference in body types.<br />
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Hair splitting? I don't think so.

Thank You for your contribution to the discussion, lineswine. Perhaps you are right in your implication that I am wrong to use the word "racism" to describe the treatment of my Islamic friends. Perhaps "xenophobia" is more correct. But you are really splitting hairs.<br />
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I will split some hairs of my own and say that the "race card" is more often played by xenophobes and racists in order to make their points. If anything, I am playing the "racism card", if you wish to be that technical.<br />
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As for Godwin's Law... you are welcome of course to count posts, but we made it to comment number 47 without anyone at all mentioning Hitler or Nazism, except an oblique reference to the use of propaganda, so it doesn't seem likely to crop up in the near future.

Islam is NOT a race...it is a religion.<br />
ANYONE can follow Islam.<br />
You many not like what is done in the name of Islam by a few extremists, but you CANNOT call it racism, simply as Islam is NOT a race.<br />
The "race card" is played with wild abandon by some who see racism in everything, however they just illustrate their own issues with race.<br />
I'm just now counting the posts until Godwins' Law is invoked.

This just reminds me of the sick spectacle of Tony Blairunapoligetically justifying the invasion, changing the reasons a to whu they went almost on a daily basis. The committee gave him such an easy ride. Meanwhile, the cases of cancer increases in areas where there has been fighting. Do the maths. Thank you for fighting the disease of racism. I hope we can all make a diference :)<br />
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Mizz

Thank You for your comments, my friends.<br />
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Laddonasangel, Thank You for sharing your story about Adel. Another tragic tale of ridiculous bigotry. If his mother is American, that makes him "half American"... but when does the scale begin to tip in their favour? What percentage of their genes need to be sourced from the US before they are accepted as "an American"? And when will people recognise that no matter what his parents' origin, he is *fully* human? You must have a very large heart yourself to love and admire this man so much, that you are prepared to see him happy with someone else.<br />
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Escher, you are right to fear the disappearance of difference. The cultural hegemony of the US, with its influential movie, music and media industries, has already turned Australia into the 51st State of the Union. I rejoice in multiculturalism, and love to see the range of traditional ethnic music and dance groups who perform at various community arts festivals and events. Vive la difference!<br />
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FreeFallWall, it is heartwarming to see that at least some of the younger members of the world community will look for the solution, rather than the problem. let's keep spreading the word that racist behaviour is just not acceptable, and we will change the world.<br />
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MostonRat, I am always keen to acknowledge contributions to debate about the issues raised in my stories, and to let the contributor know how much their comments are appreciated. I am humbled to think that my words have given you hope for change.<br />
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JohnnyBean, I understand your sense of RAGE! To spit on another person is to degrade them as a human being. It goes beyond an attack on their ethnicity and becomes an extremely personal thing. I hope the man who did it now uses his mouth in more productive ways!

Stories like that almost put me into a RAGE. People are so ignorant! How could you ever think you had the right to spit on anyone for being who they are? I hope the man that did that either learned how wrong he was, some how, or no longer has a mouth to spit with.

:( What we can do is to raise awareness. Tell the world about the things that happen. Make it unpopular. From history, we learn that this is the only way people stop being hostile towards one group... Or at least reduce it.<br />
Your story touched me. Good job

I met this guy and we IM every day and begain to talk on the phone and he said to me one day ' i have to tell you something but please do not hate me.He said I am a muslem man from saudi Arabia and we lived in texas and after 911 our neighbors and friends has nothing to do with us' and threw rocks at us and broke our windows.His Dad was Saudi and his mom is american but now she wears what the women wear in Saudi and he is one of the kindest men i have ever gotten to now.We wanted to get a relationship going but in saudi we would not be able to walk hand in hand' and it would be a big change so i just stayed in my state and he in his.He now works at a big buisness and is now the top boss' and i wish him all the best.I hope he will find a wonderful Saudi girl to marry and have many great kids.Wish it could ov been us' but it was not in the cards' and it broke both our hearts..Adel is his name and he will always have a piece of my american heart...

Thank You for your comments, everyone.<br />
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You are right, Page, acceptance of each other's differences is the key. How boring would the world be if we were all the same?<br />
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Penguins, maybe that thought of yours finished like this: Timothy McVeigh was a home-grown terrorist, and his racial origin was not used to stigmatise and stereotype an entire ethnic group, the way non-caucasian groups are often stigmatised and stereotyped due to the actions of a single member of their commuity.<br />
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JJTM, long may you breathe, and long beat your human heart!<br />
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MostonRat, Thank You for the personal insights you offer, and for reminding us how the horrors of the Holocaust and apartheid policies are not just dim historical events but still present in many living memories. I am sorry you have suffered bigotry because of your ethnic background and admire your courage in telling people when you are offended by it.<br />
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Creolelady, I was deeply touched by your devotion to your Muslim friend and saddened to read that she has had trouble finding work due to her religious beliefs. Anti-discrimination legislation is all very well, but in practice, many people become economically disadvantaged because their race, religion or culture is not accepted as part of the mythical 'mainstream' and they are denied opportunities.

I can totally relate with what you are saying. My best friend is Muslim. She has endured so much because she wears her hijab, and therefore stands out. When we went to school together I used to feel I had to be her defense agianst negative comments. I just couldn't fathom in my mind why people would be so hateful to the kindest and most brilliant person I know. She even has a hard time getting jobs. Very stupid to me how people don't take time to get to know the people's hearts underneath the religous clothes.

Collateral Damage<br />
By might I know very very little about you personally so I stop to take a deep breath then I start again to keep me from becoming fustrated from the air that I breathe to my beating heart I'll always just be another human being

I'm caucasian. I blend in "sort of"... I've seen the worst racism and have been a victim of discrimination. So it was interesting for me to recall, (just as I recall 9/11) the Oklahoma City bombings. I remember standing looking out over the harbor. The mood was melancholy.<br />
I was there with a vietnamese guy and an american woman.. We were wondering who had committed the act and she said, "Your people"<br />
"What do you mean, your people/" I asked. <br />
She said, "You immigrants.."<br />
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I daresay Timothy McVeigh would fit in quite nicely at a CPAC convention. Ex serviceman, blond..<br />
looks like that monkey who ****** with the federal office in New Orleans. White and smug. <br />
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I don't know where this is going.. maybe someone can complete the thought for me

Talk about a non sequitur!

people can be so cruel and judgmental. It is so sad that we cant just accept one another and be happy.

Err, I think you may be in the wrong place, Ajaj...

What up sound hot

Very moving and well written.

Although quite sad your story is....I appluad you for sharing it with us so eloquently!

A very wise man once told me that the most important lesson I could teach myself was to judge people like a blind man would: by what they say, how they treat you, and what they smell like. It's silly, but it's stuck with me.

It is without any humanity and is criminal, amber. These people are soulless creatures without any heart or scruples or any real human qualities.<br />
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Mizz

does it ever seem to you like some would just not be happy without someone else to feel superior over? it always seems like we have someone it's popular to hate :(

There seems to be such a media pack-mentality, Mizz. They all take their cues from each other, and are mutually-reinforcing. And so unsupportable assertions like "Muslims are violent" become matters of record, established facts instead of urban myths.<br />
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The commercial connection to the deliberate creation of division and fear warrants scrutiny. A TV station here in Australia would run "home invasion" stories just before ad-breaks, and then advertise security screens. A coroporations check revealed the TV company owned the security firm. First create the fear, then make a heap of money catering to it. It's brilliant business thinking, and utterly immoral.

Wow, that's unfortunate. We have some Muslims (?) at this college. I always feel awkward when I see one though because I'm not sure how to respond. In high school we had blacks, asian, mexians, etc. because of the army bases nearby, but I don't think there were any Muslims there. So now when I see one, I panic. My curiousity draws out my interest and I want to know what they're like, but I can never gather the courage to say hello. I'm not a social person, so that also doesn't help. Anyway, when I see a girl in a hijab and she's alone I always wonder what it's like for her and if she's ever come across racism. But when I see her with someone else, it makes me smile... although, I'm rather envious of the friend.

You're welcome, amber. <br />
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Sadly, there are other culprits that are as bad as Murdoch. Express newspapers, which includes the Daily Express and the Daily Star is owned by a goose-stepping editor and the ever odious Daily Mail are equally culpable. <br />
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Mizz

Those media outlets whipping up that xenophobia wouldn't happen to be owned by Rupert Murdoch, would they, Mizz? Murdoch's father -who never had to sell his citizenship to make a dirty dollar- would be rolling in his grave. <br />
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Whoever the media proprietors, they make me sick too, mate. There is an EP group called "I No Longer Watch The News". I suggest you join it.<br />
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Thank You for your comment.

I read your post with sadness, particularly at the coda, it's depressing that this young girl witnessed blindhatred at such close quarters. I have no doubt that these incidents have increased significantly as a result of the invasion of Iraq. What has also spiralled out of control is the barely disguised Islamaphobia, racism and general intolerance and bigotry of the press in the UK, particularly the written press. Day after day they print half-baked stories, using inflamatory language, designed only to stoke up resentment and hatred. Funnily enough, they take no responsibility for what inevitably follows. They really should should face criminal charges, but as they basically regulate themselves, they can do whatever the hell they like. It makes me sick.<br />
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Mizz

From Otep...Smash the Control Machine:<br />
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Start a war, exploit the poor, watch the profits soar and soar........

It's really hard for me to talk about this because I do have biracial children. I have been into many a fight (or many more) because of bigotry and just plain FAGGOTRY.

You hit the nail as usual, gryf. At its heart, racism is about greed and power and the pursuit of profit. "Divide and rule" has always worked, as human history has so often shown. Can we please evolve a little further?

Some of the sweetest, kindest and most honorable people I've ever known were Muslims...It saddens me to tears when I think of the horrors that innocent people are subjected to, by the warfare of power hungry --greed oriented propagandists, arms manufacturers and all the harbingers of violence....In every culture, on every level, you will find cruel and insensitive people--this is a difficult world.

Indeed, Dex...a sad truth, but truth nonetheless....<br />
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LadyA.....great comment!! Love ya, chica!!

Thank You, marji and LadyA. <br />
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You are right, marji, in equating the racism I wrote about with that suffered by African Americans all those decades ago. You'd think enough of us had moved on from that time for governments and media to stop demonising people for their own political and commercial ends.<br />
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And you are right too, LadyA -we still have a long long way to go. The fact that the most vulnerable members of our community -our children- have to continue to suffer is doubly heartbreaking.

Thank You, angellights. It is sad that such a lovely family should have to put up with such stupidity in Australia, which is supposed to pride itself on being the land of the "fair go" for all.<br />
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The Bush administration likely learned their propaganda lesson from other sources closer to home as well, tgrsldy: most of the US Presidents dating back to Roosevelt have used the same tactics, as have other governments all over the world. <br />
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Here in Australia we had the Big Lie of the $350 million in bribes paid to Saddam's Iraq so that they would import our wheat, right up to the time Australian troops were committed to the initial invasion of the country. And nobody here in Australia has ever been found to be responsible, let alone been punished for it.

Indeed, Dex...he who ignores history, is doomed to repeat it....it worked in Nazi Germany, the consummate propaganda machine...the Bush administration learned from them quite well.

this is a really great story, well written too. sad.

Thank You for your kind comments, Polly. No-one who knows anything about children ever wants them to have to suffer. That they are forced to do so by the ignorance of others is appalling.<br />
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And Thank You tgrsldy. It was the nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels who said: Tell a big enough lie often enough and the population will believe it. Colin Powell started the big lie at the UN, and Bush, Blair and Australia's then Prime Minister, Howard, acted on it. Far too many still believe it, though it was long ago shown to be entirely false.

Indeed, Dex!!! And i think that one of the greatest travesties, is that most people still believe that Iraq had a hand in 911....the lie that was perpetuated lives on..and thrives.

Thank You for your comments, Laurie and nrskjh. You are correct in stating that it is individuals and their actions who matter so much more than stupid stereotypes. Again, I blame the media, who push their barrows -and a proportion of the population's buttons- with their bl<x>inkered coverage. They know that certain radical images sell advertising time and space, and so that's what they churn out, time and time again.<br />
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The school I worked at was very small but very diverse in ethnic backgrounds: out of 80 families, about 40 different languages were spoken at home. It was also very warm and supportive, and to hear that poor Sarah went from there to a high school where racist bullying was allowed wrenched my heart.

It just stems from this need to assign blame and assume superiority i suppose. Any sensible thoughtful person will be able to see how the acts of terror, often done in the name of religion, is really quite random and has affected people of all races and religions, including Muslims themselves. And of course there are people ignorant of the fact that there are Middle Easterners who are non-muslims as there are Chinese, African, Malay muslims.....what would it take for everyone to view everyone else as simply human alike? And if there is a need to judge, then judge them base on your interaction with them...base on their actions, their characters.. and not write them off, before you even get to know them, because of their ethnic/religious/cultural backgrounds.<br />
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Thank you for sharing your story...if only one person questions any negative preconceived notions they might have harbored about Muslims/Middle Easterners then you would have contributed positively in eradicating prejudice. :)

I'd have to say yes, it did, Roj. The way the media reported the build-up to the Invasion and then the war itself, with journalists "em<x>bedded" with US troops, deliberately and systematically demonised Muslim people and their culture. And that demonisation continues.

Crazy, isn't it? I wonder if it all got somehow worse and not better after 9/11 and the US response?