Terrorist Crisis directory
October 22, 2001
Hundreds attend community discussion of race and Sept. 11
By Jennifer McNulty
The specter of internment looms large for Muslims in the United States.
That grim assessment underscored a public discussion of "Race and the Crisis"
last week that attracted an overflow crowd of nearly 500 people. UCSC faculty members
Angela Davis and Manuel Pastor were joined by Muslim community activist Maha ElGenaidi
for the two-hour event on October 17.
"I feel more insecure than ever living in the United States," said ElGenaidi,
founder and executive director of the nonprofit Islamic Networks Group in Santa Clara
County, which teaches about Islam in schools, corporations, hospitals, and law-enforcement
"I believe Muslims in this country are generally reviled by most Americans,"
she said. "There is widespread ignorance of Islam in the United States and throughout
the Christian world."
ElGenaidi fears Muslims could be interned as Japanese Americans were following the
attack on Pearl Harbor. But she also reported feeling encouraged that Muslims in
the United States are responding to the current crisis by building coalitions, doing
outreach, "trying out our political muscles," and working with law enforcement
"despite our tremendous fear of police and the FBI."
"We are tackling the issue of terrorism and condemning terrorism of all kinds
anywhere--although that isn't being reported," said ElGenaidi. "And we
are actually seeing ourselves as American. That's new. That's a change in our place
The evening's discussion of race touched on matters of identity, patriotism, U.S.
foreign policy, and militarism. Pastor, a professor of Latin American and Latino
studies and director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community (CJTC),
which cosponsored the event, described several recent hate crimes against people
of color that have occurred since September 11, as well as a wave of leaflets attacking
blacks, Jews, and others that have been posted in Santa Cruz.
"Race matters. It's unpatriotic to say that race matters, but it does,"
said Pastor. "As my colleague (associate professor of sociology) Dana Takagi
said to me earlier today, racism is bound to come out. It's like a virus. It's harbored
in us, and in times of fear and tension, it comes out. We need to be vigilant."
Calling for a "hard analysis" of events in the wake of September 11, Pastor
also spoke of the need to "honor the people in the towers and the fear of postal
workers and people working in the Senate.
"We must speak to people's grief, fear, and insecurity," he said. "We
must speak with compassion, not righteousness. We must speak with love, not haughtiness,
and we must come together."
ElGenaidi also noted the support she and the Islamic Networks Group have received
in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Although they received 16 hate calls and
e-mails in the wake of the attacks, the group also received 60 calls of support and
solidarity and is fielding "hundreds of requests for information about Islam,"
The forces of racism and ignorance are at play even as Muslims in the United States
are "being embraced by Americans and embracing being American," she said.
"Where do we go from here? We could be interned, locked up, and lose our identity,"
she said. "Or we could become a vibrant, productive force that helps change
society culturally, spiritually, and in terms of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle
Then, referring to the diversity of California and the San Francisco Bay Area, ElGenaidi
ended her remarks, which drew a standing ovation, by saying, "If it's possible
to change, it's going to happen here."
Davis, a longtime political activist and a professor of history of consciousness,
wondered aloud about the process by which the United States has moved "from
a profound sense of mourning to this ubiquitous flag-waving nationalism."
She mourned the loss of "hundreds of undocumented workers" who died in
the World Trade Center attacks and whose survivors dared not search for their loved
ones for fear of being deported. "Why are we being called upon to consolidate
as a nation that hatefully excludes those who are not citizens or appear to be noncitizens?"
Critiquing pronouncements that "things will never be the same," Davis said
that although the United States can no longer assume it is invulnerable, the terrorist
attacks "do not annul the history of U.S. militarism, the internment of Japanese
Americans, the meaning of the Vietnam war, and the U.S. contribution to the violence
that led to September 11."
"We must distinguish between the innocent people who died (in the September
11 attacks) and the government and institutions that control this country,"
"We must turn our gaze away from Washington and toward the people who don't
want another Gulf War, another Vietnam War," she said. "We must say to
President Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and those who would bring us more violence:
This war will not be conducted in our names. Not in our names."
Sociology professor John Brown Childs, who opened the evening with a reading from
his Iroquois ancestors, fielded a question about the "retractability of American
identity for people of color during times of crisis." Childs recalled his three
uncles who "fought against the Nazis during World War II" and fought for
civil rights in their native New England.
"They believed in the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and they
also fought against racism," said Childs. "When they were demonstrating
in Alabama, they were carrying the flag, but they were not saying, 'Everything is
fine.' They were saying, 'Things need to change.'"
Earlier in the day, history professor Edmund "Terry" Burke addressed a
group of more than 50 people who turned out at Cowell College to hear him discuss
"Justice and Peace in Islam."
Burke, who studies social movements, described the history of "injustice, anger,
and lashing out" that has unfolded for hundreds of years in the Islamic world
and the tensions underlying the current crisis. "Christianity, Judaism, and
Islam share a deep ambivalence about the place of the state in religion," he
"Modernity is a shipwreck for all religions. It's been tough," said Burke,
citing "criticism on the deepest level" of religious preconceptions, as
well as culture wars within the United States--and even within churches.
"It's tough to live in a secular state while trying to remain in touch with
one's religious heritage," said Burke. "For Muslims, it's the same thing,
with one important exception, which is the ways colonialism happens--and keeps happening."
The United States, through covert actions and overt colonial wars such as those in
Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, keeps trying to "stop history
and make sure things turn out the way we want them to," said Burke, a critic
of the militarism of U.S. foreign policy.
The September 11 attacks by "Islamic fanatics" play into "media-hyped
stereotypes" and present a challenge to Americans, who fall back on the "legacy
of the Crusades." But Americans must educate themselves about Islam and the
grievances of Muslims, which revolve around injustice, corruption, and foreign domination.
"If we blame the messenger, we miss the message, which is, 'Get off my back,'"
Burke's talk was sponsored by the Lutheran Campus Ministry. The public forum on race,
which was moderated by Dana Takagi, was sponsored by the Ad Hoc Faculty Working Group
on Current Events, the Institute for Humanities Research, the Center for Cultural
Studies, the Center for Global, International and Regional Studies, the CJTC, the
Divisions of Humanities and Social Sciences, College Nine, and the Office of the
Chancellor. Partial funding came from the September 11 Community Dialogue Fund of
the California Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment
for the Humanities.