Monday, June 15, 2009

Racism among US military in Iraq

Salon today runs an important piece on racism in the US military. The focus is initially on how easy it is now for neo-Nazi white supremacists to enlist in the US army, but by the end of the report the focus turns to US troops in Iraq and the prevalence of racist expressions for Arabs - "sand niggers," towel-heads," "ragheads" (made popular soon after 9-11 by right-wing darling Ann Coulter), and, of course, "hajji" - an expression I've heard used by Iraq vets who've taken a course with me.

Just how pervasive? Get this:

- On the neo-Nazi Web site Blood and Honour, a user called 88Soldier88, wrote in 2008 that he is an active duty soldier working in a detainee holding area in Iraq. He complained about "how 'nice' we have to treat these fucking people … better than our own troops." Then he added, "Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come." Another poster, AMERICANARYAN.88Soldier88, wrote, "I have the training I need and will pass it on to others when I get out." . . . .
Carter F. Smith is a former military investigator who worked with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command from 2004 to 2006, when he helped to root out gang violence in troops. "When you need more soldiers, you lower the standards, whether you say so or not," he says. "The increase in gangs and extremists is an indicator of this." Military investigators may be concerned about white supremacists, he says. "But they have a war to fight, and they don't have incentive to slow down." . . . .

"I hate Arabs more than anybody, for the simple fact I've served over there and seen how they live," he tells me. "They're just a backward people. Them and the Jews are just disgusting people as far as I'm concerned. Their customs, everything to do with the Middle East, is just repugnant to me.". . . .

. . .

On, a social networking group for neo-Nazis, a group called White Military Men hosts numerous contributors. It was begun by "FightingforWhites," who identified himself at one point as Lance Cpl. Burton of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company, but then removed the information. The group calls for "All men with military experience, retired or active/reserve" to "join this group to see how many men have experience to build an army. We want to win a war, we need soldiers." FightingforWhites — whose tagline is "White Supremacy will prevail! US Military leading the way!" — goes on to write, "I am with an infantry battalion in the Marine Corps, I have had the pleasure of killing four enemies that tried to kill me. I have the best training to kill people." On his wall, a friend wrote: "THANKS BROTHER!!!! kill a couple towel heads for me ok!". . . .

"We don't exclude people from the army based on their thoughts," says S. Douglas Smith, an Army public affairs officer. "We exclude based on behavior." He says an "offensive" or "extremist" tattoo "might be a reason for them not to be in the military." Or it might not. "We try to educate recruiters on extremist tattoos," he says, but "the tattoo is a relatively subjective decision" and shouldn't in itself bar enlistment.. . . . What about something as obvious as a swastika? "A swastika would trigger questions," Smith says. "But again, if the gentlemen said, 'I like the way the swastika looked,' and had clean criminal record, it's possible we would allow that person in." "There are First Amendment rights," he adds.

"Rooting out extremists is difficult because racism pervades the military, according to soldiers. They say troops throughout the Middle East use derogatory terms like "hajji" or "sand nigger" to define Arab insurgents and often the Arab population itself.Racism was rampant," recalls vet Michael Prysner, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. "All of command, everywhere, it was completely ingrained in the consciousness of every soldier. I've heard top generals refer to the Iraq people as 'hajjis.' The anti-Arab racism came from the brass. It came from the top. And everything was justified because they weren't considered people."

Another vet, Michael Totten, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne in 2003 and 2004, says, "It wouldn't stand out if you said 'sand niggers,' even if you aren't a neo-Nazi." Totten says his perspective has changed in the intervening years, but "at the time, I used the words 'sand nigger.' I didn't consider 'hajji' to be derogatory."

But this last reference really surprises me:

Geoffrey Millard, an organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in Iraq for 13 months, beginning in 2004, as part of the 42nd Infantry Division. He recalls Gen. George Casey, who served as the commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, addressing a briefing he attended in the summer of 2005 at Forward Operating Base, outside Tikrit. "As he walked past, he was talking about some incident that had just happened, and he was talking about how 'these stupid fucking hajjis couldn't figure shit out.' And I'm just like, Are you kidding me? This is Gen. Casey, the highest-ranking guy in Iraq, referring to the Iraqi people as 'fucking hajjis.'" (A spokesperson for Casey, now the Army Chief of Staff, said the general "did not make this statement.")

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