Monday, August 22, 2011

With All My Might by Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij - racism in the wake of Sept. 11th

Bookmark and Share

Finally, a book that addresses the reality of the post-Sept. 11, 2001 racism against anyone who looked Middle Eastern, or who looked like the terrorists, or who was Muslim, dark skinned, spoke or didn't speak Arabic.


Gabriella Naseem Akhtar van Rij’s With All My Might explores the racism that has pervaded the world since 9/11, documenting her own experiences as a woman born in Pakistan and adopted by Dutch parents.  Although she had faced racism and pressures to conform throughout her life, after 9/11 van Rij experienced particularly ignorant forms of racism, prejudice, and bias that were not influenced by logic or reasonable thought, rather, by immutable conceptions of Middle Eastern people.

As the media bombarded people with terrible images of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Bin Laden, van Rij was confronted with ignorance; “Pictures are very powerful and people started to associate the people on the news with people like me, who just happened to look like them.”  Although she had experienced a great deal of racism in her life in Brussels, she was unprepared for North American racism, thinking that it was “over and done with.”

Van Rij gave technical seminars on computer programs for multinationals and someone made the comment “about my looks being identical to the people shown on television,” an experience that she calls “surrealistic.”  She had watched the same images as her client; however, she in no way connected the images of the terrorists to herself.  She finds herself justifying herself to the ignorance of the world, reminding herself that she was brought up in Europe and that the war had nothing to do with her.  She calls justifying herself to those with preconceived notions and bias a “bad habit I have” and one that is unnecessary.  The woman to whom she unnecessarily justifies herself “could not have cared less and definitely did not listen.  All she cared about is that I looked like those people on television and wondered if I could potentially do harm too.”

Van Rij’s account of the racism that she has experienced since 9/11 highlights a gross inequity in today’s society, in which many ignorantly hold Muslim and Middle Eastern people in general responsible for the terrorism and radicals, no matter what their religious alignment, beliefs, or personal history, even holding biases against some second generation Americans of Middle Eastern descent.  We are confronted with these issues continually through such programs as CNN’s Unwanted: The Muslims Next Door and the resistance to the building of mosques on American soil.  With All My Might stimulates deep thought and reflection within readers, encouraging them to reexamine their attitudes and the manner in which they have unfairly treated people in the last decade.

# # #

No comments: