Racism against Arab Americans: Key Concerns for law enforcement to overcome racism and promote better relationship with Arab Americans and other Middle Eastern Groups
1. 0 Introduction
Like Hispanics, Arabs are a linguistic and cultural community that share a common primary language (Arabic) and historical and cultural background of the Arab world, and not a religious or racial group. Never the less, Arabs have been “ racialized” and discriminated on the basis of their perceived religion (Islam). A majority of the Arabs is Muslim but the largest Muslim countries, e. g. Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Turkey, Iran and Nigeria, are not found in the Arab world. In addition, there are over 1 billion Muslims and only 200 million Arabs, 10-12 million of whom are Christians. These basic misconceptions have perennially exposed the Arab Americans to a myriad of challenges.
The challenges facing the Arab Americans include: racial discrimination, hate crime resulting from stereotyping and generalization of the community, civil right abuses, racial profiling, discrimination at work (exploitation, marginalization and harassment) unfair and targeted immigration policies (Navarro, 2002; Henderson, Ortiz, Sugie, & Miller, 2006; Audi, 2008; Human Rights First, 2008; U. S. Department of Justice , 2008). While these challenges only escalated after the September 11 terrorist attacks, they have always been there and are linked to the U. S. Middle East (ME) policy i. e. constant military interventions that ensure U. S. strategic dominance in the M. E and guarantee the supply of oil and the alliance with Israel . In fact, contrary to the popular belief that the discrimination against Arabs began at the 9/11 attacks, it is the above mentioned policies that motivated the 9/11 and that have consistently strained the relationship between the U. S. (government, citizens and agencies) and the Arab world (the Arab Americans included). This has resulted in concerns for the law enforcement to overcome racism and promote better relationship with Arab Americans and other Middle Eastern Groups which is the focus of this paper. Before delving into the key concerns it is vital to briefly discus the challenges, which are a major concern for law enforcement, facing by the Arab Americans.
2. 0 Challenges facing Arabs Americans as concerns for law enforcement
One of the major challenges facing the Arab Americans that is a major concern for law enforcement is the escalating hate crimes against Arabs. Following, events of terrorist attacks associated with Muslim extremists, there have been increased incidences of religiously and racially motivated violence and crimes against Muslims or immigrants from the Arab world. Suffice to say that the hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in parts of Europe and North America have existed for long due to decades of political antagonism, intolerance, racism and exclusion/marginalization of Muslims. The recent incidences (mainly the 9/11 attacks) of extremism and terrorism in the name of Islam have only served to exacerbate the existing discrimination, intolerance and subsequent hate crimes against Arab Americans. This is a key concern for the law enforcement to overcome racism in the sense that the law enforcement agencies have to be vigilant to for potential hate crimes and to provide protection to Arab Americans during heightened M. E tension or following terrorist events. When they fail in this respect or appear to fail the Arab Americans lose their trust and confidence in the agencies and hence deterioration of relations.
A close related challenge and concern is stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists. The stereotyping is often fueled by government antiterrorism, counterterrorism, immigration and M. E policies, which seem to entrench racial profiling of Arabs. The negative stereotyping and associated racial profiling promotes the treatment of Arab-Americans as crime suspects based on their ethnicity/race and religion and thus denying them the equality and protection guaranteed by the constitution. In addition to being perpetuated by government policies, the negative stereotyping is also perpetuated by the entertainment industries through movies, music, books, computer games and TV dramas that reflect Arabs and Muslims in the negative light. This stereotyping is of greater concern when law enforcement officers adopt it in their engagement with the Arabs and Muslims.
Another related concern is a legal frame work that perpetuates discrimination (real or perceived) against Arab Americans and Muslims. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government adopted legal policies that were targeted at the Arab communities and a gross violation of civil rights of the citizens. A case in point is the passing of the “ uniting and strengthening America by providing appropriate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism Act (Patriot Act) in October 2001 (immediately after the 9/11 attacks). The Act and other counter-terrorism policies allow the government to abuse the civic rights of citizens and foreigners (suspected to be involved in or planning terrorism) through indefinite detention, denial of due process, deportation based on mere suspicion, illegal surveillance and wiretapping. The law enforcement agencies (at the state, local and federal levels) are under constant pressure to incorporate counterterrorism in their duties, which has resulted in poorly defined, discriminative and inconsistently enforced policies. The use stringent immigration policies, that seem to target the Arab and Muslim immigrants has also raised the tension between the Arab American community and the law enforcement. These policy that entrenched government scrutiny on Arab-American communities in law has expanded the gap between the law enforcement and the Arab Americans as the Arabs live in fear and anxiety. In fact, a recent survey found that Arab Americans are more afraid of law enforcement agencies than of hate crimes against them. The Arab communities particularly stated that they fear racial profiling, immigration enforcement and surveillance. These fears have also precipitated into loss of trust, which is one of the four significant obstacles to better relations between the Arab Americans and the law enforcement agencies. Other obstacles identified by the studies include communication/language barriers, lack of cultural sensitivity among law enforcement officers and concerns on immigration status hence fear of deportation . Suffice to say that hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims, negative stereotyping and discriminatory policies are intertwined and inspire the discrimination against Arab Americans and hinder the promotion of relations between law enforcement and Arab Americans.
3. 0 Concerns related to cultural insensitivity
As mentioned earlier, the Arabs are a linguistic and cultural group and thus culture and language are major factors that contribute to their discrimination and thus influence some of the key concerns for law enforcement. America being an enriched society where ethnicity, race and culture overlap law enforcement have to modify their engagements/interactions with the different communities. This can only happen when and if the law enforcement forces understand and embraces the cultural, racial and ethnic mosaic that is America. With regard to the subject of this paper, the law enforcement agencies need to understand the cultural influences of the Arabs in order to overcome racisms against the Arabs and promote relations with this community.
The law enforcement ought to understand that culture and historical background affects the behavior of Arab Americans variously. A classical example is that of the Arabs migrating due to hostile governments have a negative perspective of enforcement agencies thus may react in unexpected ways. For instance, when asked for a drivers license by an officer, Lebanese Arab immigrants will get out of the car to talk to the officer; while in Lebanon this is a sign of courtesy in the U. S. the officers requires citizens to remain in the car for safety reasons. While officers may consider direct eye contact a sign of defiance, to Immigrants from Africa, M. E and Assai this is a sign of respect but it is not acceptable for a male officer to look into the eyes of Arab women. As such, Arabic culture affects communication because the differences in the gestures and language often result in misunderstanding and miscommunication. Communication can be promoted by enhancing the awareness of officers on the perceptions, cultural filters, stereotypes and biases. The resulting effective communication would in turn influence behavior and response.
Another major concern is that of language barrier because some of the Arab Americans have limited English skills. Established Arab Americans, who have been in America for long often understand and speak English and thus when asked if they speak English they find it offensive and thus officers need to asses if an Arab American is a recent arrival or established citizen before asking if s/he speaks English. To overcome language and cultural barriers the law enforcement has been recruiting bilingual officers, training officers on the diverse cultures and recruiting culturally diverse agency. In addition, when interrogating Arab Americans the officers should do it slowly, be patient as it may take longer than usual and not be aggressive. In conclusion, hate crimes, negative stereotyping against Arabs and Muslims, discriminatory policies, racial profiling, cultural and language barriers are the key concerns for law enforcement to overcome discrimination and promote a better relationship with Arab Americans and other Middle Eastern Groups.
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