Global racist agendas are alive and kicking

Racism is like an infectious disease, it eventually harms those who promote it. Eventually, you reap what you sow.

Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi

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Racism reared its ugly head in the United States last week with Donald Sterling, the owner of a professional basketball team, making allegedly disparaging and hateful comments about African Americans in a telephone conversation with his girlfriend. The fallout, as soon as the audiotapes hit the Internet, was widespread condemnation from players, administrators and society at large.

The outpouring of anger, which includes calls to prosecute 80-year-old Sterling, shows just how sensitive this issue still is in a society that ostensibly has made much progress in race relations over the past few decades. For individuals like Sterling, there are laws in place acting as a first line of defense. It is, however, much more difficult to tackle others who hide their racist views.

An even more difficult situation to deal with is state-sponsored discrimination. This is evident in the Burmese government's acts of genocide against Muslims, and the behavior of the Israeli state toward its Arab citizens. And lest we forget, it was only 20 years ago that South Africa's now-defunct National Party discriminated against its black citizens on the basis of skin color, an institutionalized racist system eventually defeated with the aid of an international boycott movement.

An open anti-Islamic agenda

Racism, however, is everywhere. In European countries, there has been a rise of right-wing groups spewing hateful rhetoric against foreigners and opposing their right to live on the continent. Some parties have an open anti-Islamic agenda, including the French National Front, the Danish People’s Party and the Italian Northern League, to name a few. Many of these racists gained a foothold in the European Parliament after the 2009 elections, and are likely to do the same after this year's May 25 elections, affirming a clear shift to the right in public sentiment.

Racism is like an infectious disease, it eventually harms those who promote it. Eventually, you reap what you sow.

Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi

In the past, parties with such clearly racist agendas were denounced and marginalized. However, these bigots have used the media quite effectively to give themselves more relevance than they deserve. The reality is that they are just a loud and fear-mongering minority compared to the moderate voices in Europe.

Orientalists like Bernard Lewis have contributed to a growing hatred of Muslims in the West. For example, it was Lewis, quoted in the German newspaper, Die Welt, who warned of a Muslim majority in Europe by the end of this century — a clear attempt to frighten Europeans, based on Muslim immigration and birth rates. Right wing groups have been quick to exploit these fears and justify their ideological positions. These petrified people have now voted for these parties. However, many European countries have legislation banning all forms of discrimination, raising hopes that these parties will eventually become irrelevant.

It goes without saying that Muslims are not the sole victims of racism. In the U.S., African Americans, Hispanics, Mexicans and other minorities from Latin America and elsewhere are routinely discriminated against. The same goes for other parts of the world where majority groupings want to assert their dominance based on race, ethnicity, religion, language and culture.

Rarely acknowledged and addressed

It is, of course, prevalent in Arab societies, but rarely acknowledged and addressed. Discrimination is part and parcel of this region, with many practicing it unknowingly due to a lack of understanding and education. This is expressed in the way Arabs of various hues view other clans, cities, sects and religions. We have inherited many prejudices from the past, with some proudly considering the most racist poems and sayings as an asset. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination has issued a report on racism in Arab countries showing it affects citizens and foreigners.

Racism is an ever-present scourge in football, to such an extent, that FIFA boss Sepp Blatter had to institute a policy to clamp down on it. There are incidents every week at football matches around the world, where black players are taunted with monkey cries and bananas thrown at them.

The way we view others speaks more about ourselves. It reflects our level of civilization and human development. Citizens of poor nations, according to a study involving 80 countries conducted by the World Values Survey organization, were found to have higher racist tendencies. The issue doesn’t use poverty as a cause of intolerance, but links it to educational levels and lack of cultural sophistication.

Many Arab Muslims like to categorize people, even with Islam banning the practice quite explicitly ages ago. People should remember the hadith that says: “An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab, or a non-Arab over an Arab. Also, a white has no superiority over a black or a black over a white, except in piety.”

Racism and discrimination is a reality of our daily lives and thinking. It is the responsibility of governments to promulgate laws criminalizing all forms of bigotry. Of more importance is the responsibility of the clergy, teachers and journalists to fight racism and spread the values of equality, mutual respect, humanity and justice. To achieve a common humanity based on these values and principles, we have no choice but to eliminate racism.

Racism is like an infectious disease, it eventually harms those who promote it. Eventually, you reap what you sow.

This article was first published in Arab News on April 30, 2014.


Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi is the editor-in-chief of Sayidaty and al-Jamila magazines. A prominent journalist who worked with Asharq al-Awsat in London and Arab News in KSA, al-Harthi later moved on to establish al-Eqtisadiah newspaper in KSA, in which he rose the position of Editorial Manager. He was appointed editor-in-chief for Arajol magazine in 1997. He won the Gulf Excellence award in 1992.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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