November 3, 1979: The Greensboro Massacre
On November 3, 1979, at the corner of Carver and Everitt Streets in Greensboro, North Carolina, forty Ku Klux Klansmen and American Nazis handed each other shotguns and automatic weapons from the trunks of their cars and opened fire on black and white anti-Klan demonstrators and union organizers who had gathered at Morningside Homes, a black housing project.
In the aftermath five people were killed and 11 wounded in the attack. All five were members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO) [which had recently become the Communist Workers Party (CWP)], and four were rank-and-file union leaders and organizers.
Sandi Smith, president of the student body and a founding member of the Student Organization for Black Unity (SOBU) at Greensboro’s Bennett College. She was a community organizer for the Greensboro Association of Poor People (GAPP) and became a worker at the textile mill where she and others formed the Revolution Organizing Committee (ROC) to unionize the plant. Sandi was a leader of a march of over 3,000 people in Raleigh to free the Wilmington 10, ten young activists jailed on false charges to stop them from organizing. In her work at a Cone Mills textile plant, she battled sexual harassment, low wages, and unhealthy working conditions.
Dr. Jim Waller, who received his medical degree from the University of Chicago and trained at the Lincoln Hospital Collective in New York City. In 1973 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, Waller organized medical aid and set up a clinic to aid American Indian Movement activists under siege by the FBI. When he moved to North Carolina to teach at Duke University he coordinated Brown Lung screenings in textile mills, co-founding the Carolina Brown Lung Association. He later gave up his medical practice to organize workers becoming vice president of the AFL-CIO local textile workers union Waller and went to work in a Cone Mills textile plant in Haw River. From inside he helped organize and eventually became president of the AFL-CIO union local after leading a strike in 1978 that helped the union grow from about 25 members to almost 200.
William “Bill” Sampson was a student anti-war activist and president of his college student body. He studied at the Sorbonne in Paris during college, received his Masters degree in Divinity from Harvard in 1971, then studied medicine at the University of Virginia. As a medical student he organized health care workers to support the liberation struggles in southern Africa. Bill left medical school to work and organize in one of Cone Mills’ Greensboro textile plant, where he built the union and focused on training new leaders. The workers had chosen Bill to run for president of the local.
Cesar Cauce was a Cuban immigrant who graduated magna cum laude from Duke University, where he was a campus leader in the anti-war movement. He rejected a full scholarship to study history at the University of California at Berkeley and instead to help to unionize Duke Hospital workers. Cesar organized strike support for union struggles throughout NC and was a regular participant in the Goldkist strike, a campaign to organize poultry workers in Durham. He also traveled extensively throughout the South, writing about class struggles for the Workers Viewpoint.Dr. Michael Nathan, chief of pediatrics at Lincoln Community Health Center in Durham, a clinic that helped children from low-income families. Nathan had been an anti-war and civil rights student activist at Duke University. He organized and led a chapter of the Medical Committee for Human Rights (MCHR), an organization that fought for improved health care for poor people. Mike studied child health and treated sick children in a mountain clinic in Guatemala in 1972 and 1973, and was a leader in a movement to send aid to liberation fighters who eventually toppled the apartheid system is what’s now Zimbabwe.
“The Republican Savior”
"The NYPD is continuing a massive, all-encompassing dragnet for intelligence concerning anything connected with Muslim activity through intrusive infiltration and record-keeping about all aspects of life, politics and worship", the court filing stated. "The NYPD operates on a theory that conservative Muslim beliefs and participation in Muslim organisations are themselves bases for investigation".
On the evening of December 27, an Indian immigrant to America named Sunando Sen was pushed by a stranger onto the subway tracks in New York City and struck and killed by an oncoming train. Sen had called New York home for years, and after years of hard work and struggle had recently managed to achieve his lifelong goal of opening a small business of his own, a copy shop in Upper Manhattan.
His roommate, MD Khan expressed shock at the death of his friend, a soft spoken man who liked to stay up late watching comedy shows and listening to music: “He was so nice, gentle and quiet… It’s broken my heart.”
The following day, the NYPD announced the arrest of Erika Menendez, a 31-year-old woman who had been spotted on security footage fleeing the scene after Sen had been pushed. Upon being detained and taken to a 112th Precinct police station for questioning, Menendez confessed to Sen’s murder and revealed as her motivation a desire to commit violence against Muslims. As she told detectives:
"I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims… Ever since 2001 when they put down the Twin Towers, I’ve been beating them up."
Sunando Sen was not a Muslim, but as a brown-skinned foreigner living in the United States, he was targeted and killed in an act of hate which is the by-product of an ongoing campaign of bigotry and demonisation against Muslims living in America.
Muslim-Americans, as well as Hindus, Sikhs and others who purportedly “look Muslim” have been humiliated, assaulted and in many cases murdered by individuals often galvanised to violence by politicians and media figures who have enthusiastically engaged in public hatemongering against the Muslim community in the country.
Anti-Muslim violence increases
The 9/11 attacks precipitated a surge in hate crimes, but even as the events themselves recede further into history, the level of hatred and violence directed at Muslim communities is paradoxically increasing. Within the past month, in New York alone, police have suspected racial hatred as being the motive behind several crimes.
This includes a string of murders specifically targeting Middle Eastern storekeepers in Brooklyn, the last of whom, a 78-year old Iranian immigrant named Rahmatollah Vahidipour, was shot to death while closing his boutique and whose lifeless body was then dragged to a backroom and covered over with merchandise from his store.
Within the same week as Vahidipour’s murder another Muslim man was viciously beaten by two men who preceded their attack by asking him whether he was “a Hindu or a Muslim”, while another man was stabbed several times outside of a mosque in a random attack by an assailant who screamed “I’m going to kill you Muslim”, while repeatedly plunging a knife into his victims’ body.
Far from being aberrations, these incidents are in line with national statistics which show anti-Muslim violence in America nearing record highs, a trend which comes in tandem with highly public campaigns against mosque construction as well as fear-mongering by politicians and media figures regarding alleged plots by Muslim-Americans to override the constitution and impose Islamic law on the country.
The US election cycle also saw Muslims used as convenient targets for politicians seeking office, with one example being incumbent Illinois House of Representatives Republican Joe Walsh who told a cheering crowd at a campaign rally that “Muslims are here trying to kill Americans everyday”, before making a baseless and highly incendiary claim that radical Islam had “infiltrated” the Chicago suburbs and that Muslims there were planning an attack that would “make 9/11 look like child’s play”.
While working the crowd into hysterics was a convenient campaign strategy for Walsh, just days later the Muslim community experienced the consequences of his rhetoric. A man opened fire on an Illinois mosque while it was packed with hundreds of congregants for Ramadan. The next day, another mosque was hit with an acid bomb thrown at a window while worshippers had gathered for night services.
Despite these attacks against Illinois Muslims in the wake of his statements, Walsh steadfastly refused to apologise for his rhetoric demonising the Muslim-Americans and instead doubled-down on his blanket accusations against them, a reflection of the mainstream acceptability of anti-Muslim rhetoric by political figures in the US today.
Indeed the use of Muslims as a punching bag by opportunistic politicians seeking a minority group to scapegoat has become a regular feature of American political life which shows no signs of abating, despite the “trickle-down” effect by which this bigotry is now manifesting itself in real violence against innocent Muslim-Americans on a regular basis.
Behind this hatemongering lies a deep cynicism, as leading anti-Muslim politicians such as Newt Gingrich who have warned of “stealth jihad” and other nefarious plots by Muslims in America were within recent years helping facilitate Sharia-compliant finance programmes in the country and who maintained notably cordial relations with prominent Muslim leaders.
With Muslim-bashing becoming politically fashionable in recent years, politicians such as Gingrich have markedly changed their tune and it has been to the detriment of Muslim-Americans, as well as to the general level of social cohesion and tolerance in the country.
In addition to political hatemongering, the past several years have seen a highly organised and well-funded group of anti-Muslim activists who have been sponsoring campaigns targeting Muslims across the country.
Leading figures in this movement such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer have led a crusade to vilify Muslims throughout the country and to exclude them from public life through campaigns of smears and hate-mongering which have cast Muslim-Americans as an insidious fifth column within the country.
Their views have gotten considerable popular attention, and thanks to a documented network of funders and media associates they have managed to bring their message to people across the United States.
In the past few months, a major controversy erupted when Geller’s anti-Muslim organisation sponsored the placement of Islamophobic advertisements at major subway stations in New York as well as in other cities across the country.
Some advertisements depicted pictures of the 9/11 attacks with verses from the Quran superimposed, while others called Muslims "savages" and implored people to “fight Jihad”. While the campaign has been challenged by many liberal commentators, including one infamous incident in which Egyptian-American activist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for attempting to cover a sign with pink spray paint, they continue to run across the country and to spread a message of indiscriminate, vitriolic hatred towards Muslim-Americans in a manner unlikely to be tolerated were it to pertain to any other minority group.
While correlation does not necessarily imply causation, the question must be asked - what effect do advertisements such as these have on the psyches’ of people such as Erika Menendez? Was Sunando Sen, a law-abiding, hardworking immigrant who had given his life to achieving the American dream and who was pushed to his death by a woman who “hated Muslims” a direct victim of this campaign of bigotry? That he lost his life on the same subway system which for months has played host to hateful, incendiary advertisements such as Geller’s is a tragic irony but is in many ways the natural result of a national culture of anti-Muslim bigotry that has become mainstream in both politics and popular culture.
The sad, inescapable truth is that Sen will likely not be the last victim of the accelerating phenomena of violence against Muslims in the United States - the only question today is how far into the darkness America must travel before it decides to take a stand against it.
Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics.
Follow him on Twitter: @MazMHussain
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
New York City’s resident Islamophobe is back with yet another anti-Islam subway ad. Pamela Geller’s latest features a photo of the World Trade Center exploding in flames next to a quote from the Quran that reads, “Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers.”
When Geller last bought ad space in the NYC underground, New Yorkers didn’t react too kindly. Nearly all of the signs— which read “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad“— were vandalized.
As a result, The Observer reports Geller doubled her ad buy this time, and that “the new ads will be plastered across at least 50 different locations.”
“I refuse to abridge my free speech so as to appease savages,” she said.
Additionally, Geller’s latest bout of vitriol will come with a MTA disclaimer:
“A cost of opening our ad space to a variety of viewpoints on matters of public concern is that we cannot readily close that space to certain advertisements on account of their expression of divisive or even venomous messages,” the MTA stated at the time of the “savages” ad. “The answer to distasteful and uncivil speech is more, and more civilized, speech.”
The MTA had previously rejected Geller’s “savages” ad, saying that signs, according to the Associated Press, “should not demean individuals or groups based on race, religion or other protected categories.”
Geller sued over the rejection and a judge ruled that the MTA standards violated the First Amendment.
Geller’s ads are paid for by American Freedom Defense Initiative, the umbrella organization for the Stop Islamization of America, which has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.
Disgusting. The mta sanctions islamophobia in NYC yet again
Even more fucking disgusting. All of them are white. It’s clear what side of history they stand on.
Killed (legally?!?!) for playing music too loud. Yeah. Race didn’t play into this one bit?
Less than nine months after Trayvon Martin was killed, another black teenage student was killed under suspicious circumstances.
The accused murderer is now claiming the same “Stand Your Ground” defense, over loud music.
Over. Loud. Music.
One of the most beautiful and painful moments of teaching on record… a student feeling comfortable enough to say that “if I came out as gay I’d be beaten and kicked out on the street in the clothes I was wearing.” In front of 12 classmates.
Muslim civil rights groups and community organisations have condemned a series of anti-Islamic advertisements that will be appearing in New York's subway stations next week.
The ads had initially been rejected by the city’s Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) but were later allowed after a legal appeal ruled them to be expressions of freedom of speech. One ad reads: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
The ads are set to appear in at least 10 of the city’s 400 subways stations and have been designed and paid for by the controversial American Freedom Defence Initiative, which is led by outspoken anti-Islamist activist Pamela Geller. The AFDI has been termed an “active anti-Muslim group” by the civil rights watch dog organisation the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
"You are talking about people like me being called a "savage"," said Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. "It is all bubbling up. I know there is freedom of speech, but with freedom of speech comes responsibility. This promotes hate."
The AFDI first came to prominence during a prolonged fight about the building of an Islamic cultural centre in downtown Manhattan. Its critics dubbed the project a “Ground Zero mosque” and waged a high-profile campaign against it that many said was Islamaphobic. The SPLC termed Geller “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
Ads similar to the ones set to appear in New York have already been put on buses in San Francisco. However, the local transport authority in the city, known as Muni, donated the funds raised by the ad to the city’s Human Rights Commission and also ran their own ad next to it that stated: “Muni doesn’t support this message.” The AFDI has also sought to run the ads in Washington DC but authorities there have delayed them for public safety concerns.
Muslim civil rights groups said the ads were coming at an especially sensitive time as world politics are already being rocked by violent protests and attacks on American embassies in the wake of the production of an anti-Islamic film made by an Egyptian Coptic Christian living in California. It also comes after several high-profile incidents in the US, including the burning of a mosque in Joplin, Missouri. “They add to the overall picture of anti-Muslim feeling that is growing up in our nation,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The renewed controversy over the ads also comes on the same day as a major global report by the Pew Research Centre identified a rise of religious intolerance worldwide, including in the US. On the two measures the survey used – called “social hostility” and “government restrictions” - the US moved up the scale for the first time in both areas. When it came to official restrictions the US went from a low category to moderate, but when it came to the social hostilities index the country went from the lower end of the moderate scale to the upper end.
Sigh. Ohhhh USA.
A congressional candidate running as a Republican in the upcoming Illinois primary says the “Holocaust never happened.”
Arthur Jones, 64, a Lyons, IL, insurance salesman who organizes family-friendly, neo-Nazi events around Adolf Hitler’s birthday, hopes to be the Republican candidate chosen to run against Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District.
“As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews,” Jones said. “It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV.
“The more survivors, the more lies that are told.