Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Case for an American-Indian Alliance

It is often said that you could judge a person by the company he or she keeps. For a nation-state, that company would probably be the alliances, security cooperation agreements, and defense pacts with other nation-states. While it is not time for the U.S. to abandon some of its allies, it is time for the U.S. to at least reevaluate its friends and other, new potential partners.

Conventional wisdom, particularly during the Cold War, held that the U.S.'s natural allies were other democracies. This is the line of thinking that produced the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the U.S.-South Korea alliance, and the entrance of the U.S. into the Vietnam War. For a map of other U.S. military relations (as of 2007) see Wikipedia (link). The map depicts an odd-assortment of bedfellows for the U.S., such as Egypt, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Argentina.

Obviously, the argument that the U.S. is allied to multi-party democracies is an illusion. There are not many who would argue the Egypt is a democracy since President Mubarak has been in that post since the 1980s. Pakistan is less a democracy and more of a rotating feudal oligarchy based on lineage much like the Philippines. But beyond the performance of the actual institutions that can be overlooked, to a certain extent, is the actual character of the democracy.

For me, a crucial factor for my government is its inclusiveness. What makes the U.S. powerful is not that we spend billions on defense (though it helps) nor that our economy makes up some large percentage of the global market (also helps), but rather it is the inclusive nature of the U.S. polity. Anyone can be an "American" as long as you uphold the ideals in the U.S. constitution. Thus, the American nation is not based on ethnicity, religion, or race. Rather, it is based on an ideal of government. Or at least, this is how its supposed to be groups like the Tea Party are straying dangerously close to defining the American nation in racial terms.

Europe has been trending this way for some time now. Unfortunately, many of these states are our allies in NATO or bilaterally. In the United Kingdom, there is the British National Party, an exclusive club for white Britishers that has representation in Parliament and the European Parliament. The existence of these parties is less a problem than the proclivities among the populace that allow these parties to gain representation on the national stage. True, such organizations have always existed but they were always considered far-right, extreme, outside the mainstream debate. As far-right Europe draws on the fears produced from increased migration from Africa and Asia (read: not white) population, these parties and sentiments are being tolerated by conservative parties. In essence, conservative politics is making room for a discussion on what constitutes an Englishman, Frenchman, or German. To the far right in Europe, the "nation" is ethnically and racially-based.

This notion is simply incompatible with the U.S. whose polity thrives on the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious, and the multi-gender characteristics of the population. While the line between non-interference in domestic politics and upholding American ideals is thin - more can be done to promote the notion of multinational democracy. One thing is to build partnerships with those democracies who do emphasize the multinational nature of their society.

A useful place to start would be India. Since 1947, India's existence has depended on inclusion. Despite the Partition, a large number of Muslims are still Indian citizens. Besides Islam, India is home to a number of other external and internal religions, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, Judaism, Zoroastrianism. Besides religion, the other primary determinant among people is language of India has well over 1,000. Without a commitment to pluralism and the promise of representation promised in the Constitution India would cease to exist.

Centripetal forces are present in India, just as in the U.S. Unequal development has seen India's resources concentrated in the northwestern areas of the country, Punjab and Gujarat. Similarly, U.S. resources are concentrated in the coasts, primarily the Atlantic and Pacific. In attempting to institute a national language in Hindi, India created an uproar in its southern states who were weary of northern linguistic imperialism. The U.S. could borrow this lesson in the occasional discussions of an English-only policy. Where the states markedly differ is in the internal security threat. India's "gravest" threat (according to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) are the Naxalites/Maoists. Solving a number of local issues in Naxalite areas, good governance, equal representation, and a reduction in corruption would go a long way to bring many Naxalite recruits back into the mainstream discussion.

The U.S. should pay attention to the internal discussions that its allies and partners are having on the issue of the national character. The far-right's demand for a racial or ethnically-centered nation-state is anachronistic and dangerous. Most importantly, it is contrary to U.S. values. While disregarding longtime allies and commitments is not advisable at this stage, maintaining awareness of the situation is important. Rather, the U.S. should look to cultivate new partnerships with other pluralistic democracies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

America, Land of the...?

The title is a question because the United States seems to be a bit confused on what it wants to be.

I always grew up thinking that the U.S. was the Land of the Free. To me, free meant the opportunity to do as one pleased (of course, I was 5 when I stepped foot here so I was free as much as my mum allowed me to be). My interpretation of this phrase means that any citizen can do and say as he or she pleases so long as it doesn't violate local laws. That includes freedom to worship (so build the Park 51 mosque).

Unfortunately, it also means that people are free to hate. Irrational hatred has and always will exist, but 2010 is different. Now we have Twitter, Blogger, and a variety of other sites connecting us to potential (mis)information. In addition, a large percentage of the U.S. population probably has regular access to information on the Internet. So, all of a sudden, a fringe group that may enjoy the backing of 50 individuals could gain access to millions. Suddenly, a fringe group's activities are a rallying point for irrational hatred.

Enter the Dove World Outreach Center a 50-member (Evangelical) church in Gainesville, Flordia. They plan to burn Korans on 11 September. Thereby perpetuating the Islamophobia griping some, most?, of this country - where people somehow believe the actions of less than 20 persons spoke for a religion of well over a billion people.

On a blog post entitled "Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran," the author simply mixes personal assessment with a cursory discussion of the religion. "Reason" 9 reads "Deep in the Islamic teaching and culture is the irrational fear and loathing of the West." Those 50 members must have logged some significant frequent flier miles canvassing the entire world's Muslim population. Or they didn't, perhaps they were talking about themselves and got the order mixed up?

Besides stirring the pot of irrational hatred and extremism, the Dove World Outreach Center is getting some free publicity. What better way to recruit new members than with a controversial campaign? But at what cost?

GEN Petraeus in Afghanistan thinks that the Dove Center's recruitment drive is going to cost military lives and has condemned the event. I'm guessing the far-right will only pay lip service to its concern for the men and women in the military who may become causalities. If anything, causalities will just be held up as martyrs and proof that they were right all along.

As a side note, and a lead-up for the next post. Why is nobody discussing the growing numbers of converts to Islam among long-established populations in the U.S.? I get the sense that there's been more than a few conversions to Islam. Does this mean that these people are also enemies of the far-right? Do they no longer have the right to worship wherever they choose, be it in Gainesville, FL or at Park 51 in New York City, NY?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Just build the NYC cultural center and mosque

Any person or group can build anything, anywhere (within the law of city ordinances).

Unlike Charles Krauthammer, I don't believe that the actions of al-Qaeda crazies speak for the majority of Muslims. The actions of al-Qaeda don't even speak for those Muslims who may considered themselves Islamist. In fact, what al-Qaeda does speak for is a crazed band of murderers who are holding a Holy Book in one hand and a weapon in the other. That so many people are willing to, and allowing themselves to, associate al-Qaeda with over a billion other people is dumbfounding.

The Islamophobia gripping this country (as well as Western Europe) is getting a bit out of hand. France is instituting dress codes (not to mention deporting Roma), and the United Kingdom is having a fantastic time installing security cameras in predominately Muslim neighborhoods. According to polls, 60 to 70 percent of people in the United States disagree with building the cultural center-cum-mosque in NYC (this was in a Washington Post Metro Express paper on 20 August).

And do you know what else? There already is a mosque within a half mile (between 4 and 5 blocks) from the former site of the World Trade Center. Masjid Manhattan (masjid = mosque in Arabic) has been in the area since 1970. Of course, I don't know if they've occupied the same space, but I'm sure a tax revenue database search will clear that up. On a side note, it's sad that the masjid finds it necessary to state that it is not affiliated with any organization "to build anything new in the area of downtown Manhattan." Further, it's sad that they must also state two paragraph later that they, and their members, "condemn any type of terrorist acts." Perhaps the websites of catholic churches should carry similar disclaimers; that their resident priests are not pedophiles (St. Patrick's in D.C. does not). Or perhaps members of Congress should carry disclaimers stating that they are ethical).

Which brings me to my last point: this is an election year, congressional midterms. So rather than proposing new plans for growing jobs AND the economy, or for "winning" Afghanistan, nationalist strategists (both Democrat and Republican) would rather make electoral issues based on victimizing "the others." Between "illegals" and "Muslims," the nationalists have plenty to gripe about.

Monday, June 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Joel Stein


Your recent article (Time magazine: My Own Private India) is inflammatory and bigoted. Your article is peppered with racist and ethnocentric generalizations: "for a while we assumed all Indians were genuises," "I question just how good our schools were if 'dot heads' was the best racist insult we could come up with for a group of people whose gods have multiple arms and an elephant nose," and "disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy."

It is less a musing or remembrance of some small town lost to history and more of a targeted attack vilifying a minority (though visible) community. Some quick facts:
  1. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Edison (Census Designated Place) NJ had a population of 88,680 in 1990. Of that 70,492 (79.5%) claimed to be of the "White" race. 12,166 (13.7%) claimed to be of the "Asian" race. Of these Asians, 6,076 (6.8%) claimed to be "Asian Indian." In the 1990 Census there were more persons claiming to be "Asian Indian" than persons claiming to be "Black." In fact, "Indians" were the largest minority in Edison, NJ in the 1980s. (1990 Decennial Census)
  2. Fast forward a decade. The population of Edison CDP is now 97,687. Persons claiming to be "White" are now 58,116 (but still the majority, 59.5%). "Asians" now number 28,425 persons (29.1%). Persons claiming to be "Asian Indian" have more than doubled to 16,898 (17.3%). Of note, persons claiming to be "Black" numbered 6,728 and "Chinese" numbered 5,589 (up from 2,561 in 1990). (2000 Decennial Census)
  3. Now, into the present, or at least 2006 through 2008. According to the American Community Survey's 3-year estimates there are 105,050 persons in Edison CDP (give or take about 4,000). The population claiming to be "White" has continued to fall 50,960 (but still the most prevalent, 48.5%). Those claiming to be "Asian" number 38,004 (36.2%). Of those, 26,954 persons (25.7%) claim to be "Asian Indian," 10,959 claim to be "Black," and 6,093 claim to be "Chinese." (2006-2008 Decennial Census)
The point is that the "mostly white suburban town" that you left is still mostly "White." The Indian and Indian-American community is less than half of the township's total population. Presenting the story as only one of "immigration" is only a half-truth. Yes, "Asians" have immigrated, but "Whites" have also left, in large numbers. Nonetheless, the Indian and Indian-American communities are visible.

And they community should be visible. The story of the Indian and Indian-American communities does not start in 1965. It starts a century earlier in 1865, when the "Hawaiian Board of Immigration sends labor agent William Hillebrand to China to recruit laborers, instructing him to proceed from China to the East Indies... twenty years later, Asian Indians suddenly began appearing in the lumber towns of Washington and the agricultural fields of California. By 1920, some sixty-four hundred had entered the United States." (Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore, 294)

Perhaps, Joel, you would find a friend in Samuel Gompers whose statues mocks me on my way to work "Sixty years' contact with the Chinese, and twenty-five years' experience with the Japanese and two or three years' acquaintance with Hindus should be sufficient to convince any ordinarily intelligent person that they have no standards... by which a Caucasian may judge them" he said, in 1908. (Takaki, 296)

Perhaps, Joel, your inspiration came from a 1910 Forum magazine article by Herman Scheffauer who wrote "this time the chimera is not the saturnine, almond-eyed mask, the shaven head, the snaky pig-tail of the multitudinous Chinese, nor the close-cropped bullet-heads of the suave and smiling Japanese, but a face of finer features, rising, turbaned out of the Pacific and bringing a new and anxious question... [a] Hindoo invasion [of this] dark and mystic race." (Takaki, 297)

Finally, Joel, your xenophobic and reactionary rambling has no place in the immigration debate, much less in a serious discussion of integration and citizenship. Your last paragraph is most perplexing of all, in one fell swoop, you denigrate and marginalize two distinct communities. Your immutable view of "culture" belongs to an earlier century, what you fail to see is that Edison has changed - but you have not. You acknowledge that Chelsea has changed, yet you seem unable to cope with the demographic and geographic change of your hometown.

The worst part, Joel, is that you do not acknowledge the duality, the hyphenation, of this community. It is not simply "Indian," although many will claim it to be as such, it is something new (yes, more new than 1885). It is an Indian-American community with links to India and roots in the U.S. Our sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters fight, and have probably died, in the military that allows you to publish such articles.