The only thing I hate more than President Obama’s racist policies is the way he continuously negates them through an incredibly strategic cute public persona which makes him seem hip, quirky and removed from the violent structures that manifest in daily interactions. While President Obama’s dancing, jokes, and tweets are endearing, they don’t excuse how disruptive, damaging, and lethal his policies can be.
The most recent of these light-hearted public comments was a tweet directed at Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year old Muslim student who was arrested in school yesterday morning in Irving, Texas after bringing a clock he invented to class that was apparently mistaken for a bomb. The act of a teenager being taken out of class, detained by police and sent to a juvenile detention center for inventing a clock was seeped in Islamophobia and caused public outcry. The incident, just days after the anniversary of 9/11, reminded communities of the reality of institutional racism, policing and militarization of Muslims in this country.
President Obama’s tweet in question showed solidarity with Ahmed. “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great,” the POTUS account tweeted. But here’s what Obama is missing–or more likely, conveniently left out. What happened to Ahmed is part of an intentional policy that targets Muslim communities domestically and abroad for the purpose of maintaining a false sense of safety and expand United States hegemony all under a guise of “national security.”
It would be naive to say that the discrimination of Muslims started with President Obama, or even after the attacks in 2001, but in the past decade and a half alone, this country has seen an incredible amount of institutionally discriminatory policies that contributed to Ahmed’s arrest. These laws include heavy surveillance of Muslim communities by state police forces and the FBI, no-fly lists and strict discriminatory immigration policies. Community organizer, Darakshan Raja of the Washington Peace Center recalled that Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism Summit that took place earlier this year at the White House singled out Muslim youth as the main focus of de-radicalization efforts globally. The heightened fear imposed by national policies plays a crucial part in racial profiling and hate crimes, which shot up by 1,600% in 2001 and continue to target an estimated 150 Muslims per year.
Ahmed’s treatment does not exist in a vacuum, nor is it separate from other forms of policing, both domestic and foreign. For Black youth, the media outlets, politicians, anchors and anyone else trying to justify racist acts of violence use the word, “thug”; for Muslims, Sikh men (often misconceived to be Muslim) and individuals of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, the codeword is “terrorist.” The deep irony here is that within the United States, the latter word is used as a scare-tactic to discriminate and control people like Ahmed, while internationally, the word is used right before we ourselves shoot.
In 2013, President Obama delivered a speech about drones in which he declared that although not intentional, it is a “hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties.” Although the exact number is unclear, the average estimation of civilian casualties to drone attacks in the past decade is 476, with some estimates closer to 1,100. The issue with these numbers is that they rely on a dichotomy of “combatant” and “civilian,” which are not the clear-cut categories we expect as explored in the film “Waziristan: The World’s Drone Strike Capital” produced by Madiha Tahir. In fact, the word “combatant” is often twisted to authorize killing of innocent people who have not done anything to be labeled as such.
In 2012, the New York Times reported that according to several administration officials, “[the CIA] counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants…unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” This revelation means any male killed by a drone strike is labeled a combatant and not added to the lists of civilian casualties. This labeling is incredibly violent and perpetuates Islamophobia, as simply being at the wrong place at the wrong time will not only get you killed, but even serve as a justification for your death.
The very concrete repercussions of labeling are demonstrated through Obama’s drone warfare, but the discrimination and violence enacted on Muslims continue in this country individually and collectively. Our police force, media and political systems are not separate from our military; the label of “combatant” put on Muslims in Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and other locations of drone strikes contribute to a fear and heightened policing of Muslims in the U.S.
President Obama’s tweet loses its charm when reflecting on the policies he historically and continuously enforces- killing innocent people by using the same word Ahmed was accused of being for the purpose of maintaining a control on a region. To make more positive change for Muslims like Ahmed, Obama could advocate for changing domestic policies that label people of Muslim descent as terrorists, close Guantanamo Bay–which continues the torture of knowingly innocent people–and make tangible steps towards stopping drone-warfare and leaving regions that maintained intervention continue to destroy. Until then–not cute, Obama.
(Title image via).