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What is a brown body worth?


2996 is the number of lives lost in the September 11 attacks 14 years ago. It's a figure well-known across the world, and a figure increasingly co-opted to justify further violence — much of this in the form of the United States' ongoing War on Terror.

Stylised brown bodies and white bodies on scalesThe term War on Terror itself is oxymoronic — war instills the very violence, brutality and mass displacement it aims to remove.

The ultimate death toll of foreign intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen is estimated to be over four million. Perhaps the indifference towards this number comes from a sheer inability to comprehend it. More likely, however, is the toxic apathy bred by racial homogenisation and the Islamophobia that follows from it.

The idea of the 'Muslim' has moved far beyond a harmless religious identity to a delusive and violent caricature. The term itself has come to represent more of a placeholder than much else — a frame maintaining a consistent appearance no matter its content.

Racialisation plays a key and definitive role in this, fuelling the marginalisation of people who fill the common brown-skinned connotation. In the immediate aftermath of crimes implicating Muslims as culprits, Indian Sikh people and their temples too face intensified violence and desecration due to being read, mistakenly, as 'Muslim'.

An overwhelming perception of Muslims as 'savage' and antithetical to peace accounts for incidents where overtly racist people can rejoice easily at the loss of human life, to little negative reaction. When a person is deemed unworthy or bereft of humanity, their death becomes gruesomely welcome.

This effect was seen in spades when over a hundred people were killed due to a crane collapse in Saudi Arabia in September last year. Many Americans saw the tragedy as 'karma' for the events of September 11, retweeting reports of the event with 'Thanks Jesus! On 9/11 too! God has spoken' or 'Karma is a bitch huh muslims?', and even describing it as 'retribution' and 'a beautiful rainbow.'

The idea of karma touted by these tweets is based on the notion of balance. Ironically, the numbers here do not add up. Instead, a false equivalency is established — an imbalanced equation rarely questioned by those in power.

We are taught that nearly four million and counting killed in the War on Terror cannot equal the just under 3000 lost in the September 11 attacks; that there is still a score to settle, a debt to be repaid. Why? Because a brown life is perceived as inherently less in worth than its white counterpart.

Islamophobia demands an insatiable call for retribution with a quota that can never be fulfilled. In mathematical terms, it's almost a case of the 'sum to infinity'; here, a recursive pattern where the death toll will grow constantly, yet always be inadequate. No limit has been set socially or politically.

The immediate and continuing aftermath of the War on Terror is far-reaching. Even as demonised Muslim men like Shaker Aamer are released without charge, Guantanamo Bay remains open; the effects of Abu Ghraib remain deep and scarring in the collective consciousness of a community where violent assumptions of guilt still target us.

For the billions of Muslims living across the globe, there is constant suspicion and hatred that often manifests in hegemonic oppression.

While racism is a large facet of Islamophobia and Islamophobia itself does not define racism, Muslims are seen as justification for its prevalence. As an intimidating and monolithic group in the mainstream public perception, Muslim people exemplify ideas of a cardinal threat against the Anglocentric West.

This laterally affects how brown non-Muslim minority groups are treated, best displayed by Australia's attitudes towards asylum seekers in the pursuit of 'border protection', where vulnerable people are instead portrayed as a danger to 'our way of life'.

Political, cultural and social trends are continuously guilty of equating people of colour to anything less than fully human. From the War on Terror to immigration detention centres, this allows widespread and detrimental abuse. Racism easily renders minorities worthless in institutional eyes — a fact that sorely needs addressing.


Somayra IsmailjeeSomayra Ismailjee is the recipient of Eureka Street's inaugural Margaret Dooley Young Writers Fellowship. This is an updated version of an article she wrote last year as part of the application process.

Somayra is a 17-year-old writer from Perth, of Indian and Burmese heritage. She has an interest in current affairs, ethics and social justice, particularly the intersections of racism, Islamophobia, misogyny and classism. Her work has appeared in New MatildaRight Now Inc and Media Diversified, among other publications.

Keep an eye out for her articles in Eureka Street over the coming months, and follow her on Twitter @somayra_

Main image: Shutterstock

Topic tags: Somayra Ismailjee, Muslim, Islamophobia, September 11



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Existing comments

Somayra congratulations on winning the Margaret Dooley award and also on a stimulating article printed today.. You presented interesting facts and figures with balanced opinions that gave rise to reflection. I totally agree with you about the prevalent attitudes suggesting that all vulnerable people can be a threat to our way of life . I would also ask above all how can about 100 children in detention on Nauru be a threat to our way of life?My tears are very close to the surface as I hear of a 5 year old child self harming. For God's sake Mr. Dutton let the children go.

Celia | 03 February 2016  

Somayra, congratulations on winning the Margaret Dooley Award. Your insights on the racism that dominates politics in the western world are very well thought through and expressed. And you are only 17. I agree completely. And I agree with Celia's heartfelt comment on the detention of children in Nauru. This should be the basis of our upcoming election in Australia but neither side of politics wants to address it. It reminds me of the position of the German population during WWII. We will come to deeply regret our silence.

Mary Ann | 03 February 2016  

There are good and real reasons for people to be concerned about what is being done in the name of Islam. Read http://www.faithfreedom.org/Articles/sina/call_to_muslims.htm

Frank S. | 03 February 2016  

Congratulations Somayra on winning the fellowship & on the article. I look fwd to reading more of your thought-provoking & impressive writing.

Teresa Martin-Lim | 04 February 2016  

Congratulations Somayra on an excellent examination of the issues and our urgent need to address these especially after today's report on children in detention. I really do not think it is going too far to link the perceived lack of interest of the Australian public to this issue and the bipartisan support to the German republic leading up to World War 2.

Tomk | 04 February 2016  

What a biased reading. Iraq fought Iran in a bloody war that cost 10 million Moslem lives i.e. "brown on brown" to use her racist language. Reading the article It would be easy to assume her one-sided view that the current situation of terrorism has been initiated and maintained by "white against brown" with Islam the victim. Whites are the Islamophobic racists who are maintaining a world of constant tension. Funny. Last time I looked, Iraqi's couldn't get the US and its 'lackeys' out of their country. Recently they asked them back in? An acknowledgement that "browns" cannot solve their own problems. I wonder how Somayra interprets the Saudis. Currently engaged, without white help. In "brown on brown" against Yemen. Or the Muslim 'insurgencies' in the Philippines: in Boko Haram in Africa with not a white in sight. Indonesia too, the largest Muslim nation. Has internal "Muslim-created" problems.

Karl H Cameron-Jackson | 06 February 2016  

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