Jul 27th 2010

I Understand Shirley Sherrod

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

As an Arab American, I can empathize with Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia Department of Agriculture official who, last week, after being falsely accused of making anti-white racist comments, was forced to resign from her post.

For those who don't know the story:

On July 19th a right wing blogger posted a video excerpt of a speech Sherrod gave to a Georgia NAACP dinner in which she related an event that had occurred 24 years ago. A poor white farmer had come to Sherrod asking for assistance and she told her audience how she had dismissed his appeal thinking "his own kind would take care of him."

The video excerpt became a sensation and was highlighted by commentators on the Fox News Channel as evidence of the reverse racism tolerated by the Obama Administration. Within hours of enduring these attacks, the Secretary of Agriculture, concerned that this would politically harm the Obama Administration, forced Sherrod to resign.

Only then did the entire story come to light. When the full speech was aired, it became clear that Sherrod had only told her audience about this episode as part of a confession of a painful mistake she had made that had caused her to reexamine her behavior and recognize her responsibility to all who were poor and in need. In fact, she had helped that poor farmer, who came forward to tell the national media of the gratitude he and his family felt toward Sherrod.

By week's end, President Obama personally called Sherrod to apologize as did the Secretary of Agriculture, who offered her an elevated position.

In the midst of this crisis, I wrote a number of short pieces on a few websites charging that Sherrod had been "lynched" and was a victim of a hysterical mob spurred on by lies and cowards in authority who, out of fear or political calculation, had sacrificed her to a mob refusing her right to a fair hearing.

I understood her plight because I, and many other Arab Americans and American Muslims, had endured similar treatment. Over the years a veritable industry has developed of anti-Arab groups and individuals whose job it has been to track our progress and to challenge our every advance with smear campaigns. Taking our quotes out of context, making patently false and sometimes bizarre claims that fabricate connections with terror groups and extremists, these characters and the websites and right-wing publications who use their work have directed their attacks against many prominent Arab and Muslim Americans and those in government or business who work with us.

This is what happened to my son more than a decade ago, when he worked for a time at the Department of State. The same types of attacks have followed my every move for decades. When in 1993, Vice President Al Gore asked me to head up a project he was launching to support economic development in the West Bank and Gaza, one of the professional Arab bashers wrote a piece suggesting I had been supportive of terrorists. Using this material, a prominent liberal magazine editorialized that Gore should remove me from the post. To his credit, Gore defended me and arranged a meeting with the magazine's editor. When the editor produced the quote I was alleged to have made and I shared with him the full text of what I had said, he recognized his error and apologized. But the attacks never stopped. When I was invited last year to deliver the closing remarks at a Department of Justice conference, a right wing researcher published an article describing me as "[Attorney General Eric] Holder's Hizbollah Buddy" and when I addressed last year's Pentagon Iftar dinner, another of these anti-Arab hatchet men wrote a piece in a conservative magazine noting that a "well known Wahhabi supporter" spoke at the Pentagon.

Much the same has been experienced by others in my community. An Arab American state legislator in Michigan, and even the newly crowned Miss USA were falsely accused of Hizbollah ties. Young attorney Mazin Asbahi was forced to resign from the Obama campaign over similar fabricated charges.

And even now a new storm is brewing. A new mosque is being planned in an area near Ground Zero, the site of the terrorist attack that killed 3,000 innocents on September 11, 2001. Some local groups have objected and have been supported by the likes of 2012 presidential aspirants Sarah Palin, who called the mosque a "stab in the heart", and Newt Gingrich, who saw the mosque as part of a larger challenge arguing that "America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization".

A conservative magazine accelerated the assault with a personal attack on the mosque project's leader, Imam Faisal Abdul Raouf - a truly honorable man with a long record of promoting peace and reconciliation. Using the now familiar tools of half quotes, fabricated connections (described by another writer as: "his wife has an uncle who used to be "a leader" of a mosque that now has a Web site that links to the Web site of an allegedly radical organization"), and innuendo, the article attempts to portray Imam Faisal as a suspicious and even dangerous threat. And now Congressman Peter King, the Republican ranking member of House Homeland Security Committee has called for an investigation into Faisal Abdul Raouf.

And so I understand Shirley Sherrod. I know what she has endured and while I celebrate her vindication, I know we, as Americans, are not yet out of the woods. Something is fundamentally rotten in our "gotcha" political culture - where groups seeking political advantage can so easily make victims of innocents and cowards will let good people pay a price rather than defend their rights to a fair hearing.

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Sep 11th 2021
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Sep 11th 2021
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Sep 7th 2021
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Sep 4th 2021
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Sep 1st 2021
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Aug 27th 2021
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Aug 21st 2021
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Aug 17th 2021
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Jul 25th 2021
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EXTRACT: " .... while China’s leaders never mention it, they are just as embittered over Russia’s theft of Chinese territory in the nineteenth century as they are over the West’s imperial predations. With Western imperialism having been largely rolled back, it is Russia’s continued occupation of historic Chinese territory that stands out the most to ordinary Chinese observers. For example, the city of Vladivostok, with its vast naval base, has been a part of Russia only since 1860, when the tsars built a military harbor there. Before that, the city was known by the Manchu name of Haishenwai." ---- "There is also a demographic argument for Putin to consider: the six million Russians spread along the Siberian border face 90 million Chinese on the other side. And many of these Chinese regularly cross the border into Russia to trade (and a good number to stay)."
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EXTRACTS: "According to a new analysis by researchers at Brown University, America’s two-decade war in Afghanistan cost it nearly $2.3 trillion. Now, Afghanistan’s neighbors – Pakistan, Iran, China, India, and the Central Asian countries – are wondering just how much it will cost them to maintain security after the United States is gone." ----- "After clandestinely supporting the Taliban as a means to undermine the US war effort, Russia now fears broader destabilization in Central Asia and beyond." ---- "Similarly, after having made nice with the Taliban, China also now fears the greater regional instability that the US withdrawal may incite. In addition to disrupting Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Eurasia-spanning Belt and Road Initiative, a revitalized Taliban could re-energize the Islamist extremist threat in China’s western Xinjiang province."
Jul 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "When former Fed Chair Paul Volcker hiked rates to tackle inflation in 1980-82, the result was a severe double-dip recession in the United States and a debt crisis and lost decade for Latin America. But now that global debt ratios are almost three times higher than in the early 1970s, any anti-inflationary policy would lead to a depression, rather than a severe recession. ---- Under these conditions, central banks will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, and many governments will be semi-insolvent and thus unable to bail out banks, corporations, and households. The doom loop of sovereigns and banks in the eurozone after the global financial crisis will be repeated worldwide, sucking in households, corporations, and shadow banks as well. ---- As matters stand, this slow-motion train wreck looks unavoidable."
Jun 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "Xi Jinping’s call for friendship gives us an opportunity to examine Chinese politics on both the domestic and international stage. On the face of it, it suggests the possibility of rapprochement between the rich liberal democracies represented by the G7 and the authoritarian Chinese state. However, despite appearances of a call for a closer relationship, there is more than one way of being friends – and Xi’s idea might be somewhat different to what many in countries attending the G7 might expect."
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "