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Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: The contagion of racial violence

Every minority entity should be part of the ongoing movement to bring racial justice and equality in America

Update : 19 Jun 2020, 07:12 PM

On June 4, the US Department of State commemorated the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square revolt with a statement from Secretary Pompeo honoring the brave Chinese people whose peaceful calls for democracy and human rights came to a violent end when the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) sent the People’s Liberation Army into Tiananmen Square armed with tanks and guns. 

Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus tweeted: “We urge Hong Kong authorities to allow people to peacefully remember the Chinese Communist Party’s victims.” 

Hua Chunying, spokeswomen for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, had this biting response: “I can’t breathe.” These three words have become a symbol of police brutality in the US and a sad reminder of how lethal racial bias can be and how damaging it is to America’s global standing.

Anti-racism solidarity protests joined by hundreds of thousands of people around the world from Buenos Aires to Berlin, Melbourne to Milan, Abuja to Amsterdam have been strengthening despite the threat of a spreading coronavirus. Pseudo-despotic President Recep Erdogan of Turkey lashed out at US policies as “racist and fascist.” 

Other countries are making similar statements of concern about the situation in the US in ways they would with stereotypical conflict-stricken countries. Disdain for America’s domestic policies is not in their best interest, which has both short and long-term foreign policy implications.

The world still sees America as “a shining city on the hill” albeit the shine occasionally loses its lustre. The loss of America’s moral authority as to the way they confront peaceful protesters by military force along with baton-charging mounted police with tear gas and rubber bullets is a blatant affront to Americans and their first amendment rights. 

It weakens and complicates the US’ diplomatic efforts in terms of their ability to influence and criticize outside abusers like North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Syriam and Venezuela.

When I was serving as the US Ambassador to Fiji, its democratically-elected government led by an Indo-Fijian was overthrown by a para-military coup engineered by an opportunistic Fijian nationalist largely on race grounds. Fiji has historically suffered from racial tensions since its days of independence in 1970. 

The US government took a strong position against this illegal and unconstitutional development. At one point during this crisis period, several journalists, including an American, were taken hostage by the coup leaders. We made it abundantly clear that, if the hostages were not released immediately, we would reign hell on the hostage takers. 

Shortly thereafter, all journalists including the American were released. Can we today, make the same demands, when our journalists are arrested, tear-gassed, and harassed in the nation’s capital and other cities? In today’s toxic environment would I have been able to fulfill my mission with clarity and confidence? The answer is no.

Every minority group in this country should be part of the movement to bring racial justice and equality for all. “Injustice anywhere,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. admonished, “is a threat to justice everywhere.” Today, we see the African American community bearing the brunt of this humiliation and injustice. 

Tomorrow, it may be some other minority group. Many of us have read the brave and patriotic story of the family run Gandhi Mahal restaurant in Minneapolis which was burned down on May 28. 

The owner, Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi immigrant, despite this setback, turned his restaurant into a staging ground for medics, food, and into a makeshift safehouse dedicated to helping protestors who have been injured. 

He frantically screamed: “Let my building burn. Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.” 

Moving forward, the future trajectory of American racial and ethnic politics will depend not only on the dynamics within the African American community but also on the relationship and co-operation between them and other communities of colour. 

Every minority entity should be part of the ongoing movement to bring racial justice and equality in the country. In the long run, we need sustained action beyond the current protesting. 

We need ethnic communities, faith leaders, immigrant families, and second and third generation Americans to persevere and continue to be an unrelenting force pushing for change.

These are perhaps quintessentially political issues. But I conclude that what I have witnessed in the last couple of weeks gives me hope that perhaps there is room for racial and ethnic comity and the only way we can achieve that comity is with a strong combination of leadership from within the establishment and the public upholding the inherent values of the good people of this diverse nation. 

Only then will our actions truly match our words when we take the moral high ground on the global stage. America is an extraordinary country and its leaders must rise beyond their political colours and make the dreams of the founding fathers to bring America together a permanent reality. 

In the meantime, the world is watching. We cannot wait. The foundation of the American republic is being tested as never before. 

M Osman Siddique served as US Ambassador to Fiji, Tonga, Nauru and Tuvalu (1999-2001).

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