by Vijaya Chandrasoma
After the mass shooting a few weeks ago in Atlanta, Georgia, which left six Asian American women dead, Maizie Hirono, Democratic senator from Hawaii proposed legislation to contain the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans, fueled by rhetoric that blamed the Chinese for the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
In an address last week, President Biden condemned “vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who have been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated”.
Attacked and scapegoated with third grade insults against China from the bully pulpit of the former hate mongering president. A president who had no clue how to alleviate the pandemic, resorting to his characteristic refusal to accept responsibility for his incompetence by blaming China, the country of origin of the virus. His infamous taunts of the “China Virus”, “China Plague”, “Kung Flu” inflamed the anger and hatred of his white base to attack Asian Americans, who they imagined, in their racist delusions, were responsible for the spread of the virus.
The legislation aimed to mitigate violence against Asian Americans passed 94 – 6 in the Senate. The six senators from deep red states who voted against the legislation were Josh Hawley (Missouri), who incited the insurrectionists against the Capitol on January 6, Tom Cotton (Arkansas), Ted Cruz (Texas), Roger Marshall (Kansas), Rand Paul (Kentucky) and Tommy Tuberville (Alabama). The modern counterparts of Hitler’s cronies, Goebbels, Himmler, Goring and Mengele, they are staunch sycophants of the deposed and disgraced American president. They are all vociferous propagandists of the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from their Fuhrer.
Asian Americans, like all Americans of color, have been subjected to racist slurs and violence by white racists for centuries. Hate crimes against Asian Americans have accelerated in the past year; over 3,800 cases of racist violence have been reported against Americans of Asian origin during this period.
So the American theme, its modern doctrine, is now clear. In a way, the doctrine is very similar to the white supremacist symbol of 1488 – 14 for the 14 words of the motto of white supremacy: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”, followed by a repetition of the number 88 for the eighth letter of the alphabet, the letter HH, representing the Nazi salute, Heil Hitler. According to these white racists, America is for white Americans, Hitler’s Aryans. Immigrants from non-white nations are tolerated on grudging sufferance.
When a disaster occurs in a foreign country which has an adverse effect on America, the American descendants of that country who have been legal American citizens for decades, sometimes centuries, become responsible for that disaster, and are worthy targets for violence. The latest example is Asian Americans. There are many other such targets, even today.
The classic example of the doctrine are the Africans who were kidnapped from their homes, brought in chains to America, and forced to slave in American plantations. The forced, unpaid, tortured labor of these slaves built the economic powerhouse that America is today. They are Americans of several generations, they have absolutely no connection with Africa. They are racially profiled and brutally murdered on a depressingly regular basis. And after four centuries, they are still not Americans, they are African Americans.
The Chinese emigrated to America in waves. Immigrants in the 19th century worked mainly on the transcontinental railroad network. They suffered racial discrimination at every level, contemptuously called “The Yellow Peril”. White Americans, while enjoying the benefits of their cheap labor, denied them citizenship, they were not allowed to own land or marry Caucasians. Most of these immigrants have little or no connection with their country of origin. But they are still known as “Chinese Americans” or “Asian Americans”.
Significant Japanese immigration to America began in the mid-19th century, caused by economic necessities. Poor living conditions and high unemployment forced them to look to America for a better life for themselves and their families. They also shared with the Chinese the discrimination, racism and slurs, and were considered an extension of the “Yellow Peril”.
When Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, and America declared war against Japan, an estimated 120,000 Americans of Japanese origin, who had no connection with Japan, certainly none with the attacks, were forcibly incarcerated in internment camps based solely on their ethnic origin, although America had been their home for decades. They are still known as “Japanese Americans” or “Asian Americans”.
Ironically, when America entered the same war against Hitler’s Germany and Italy’s Mussolini in 1941, a few Germans and Italians were “deemed enemy aliens,” and placed under curfew. A couple hundred were even locked in “internment camps”. There were 1.2 million and five million of German first and second generation immigrants, respectively, and over 600,000 first generation Italian immigrants. The vast majority of Germans and Italian immigrants were treated as “Americans”. The reason is obvious, the Asians are the Yellow Peril, Hispanics the Brown Invasion. There is nothing called a White Peril. Not to white Americans, anyway.
Cuban Refugees who fled the Castro regime, and settled in America in the 1950s are “Cuban Americans”. Mexicans and immigrants from other Central and South American countries, some who had lived in the United States when it was Mexico, which became Texas or New Mexico when the US government “annexed” their homelands, are simply Hispanics, or Hispanic Americans.
And the original inhabitants of the land stolen from by the white man are also prefixed as Native Americans!
Then we come to 9/11, when 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists committed the most terrible domestic attack against the United States in its history. The terrorists were from four countries, 15 from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one each from Lebanon and Egypt.
A 2017 study estimated that there were 3.45 million Americans of Arabic origin living in America, many second and third generation Americans. The vast majority oppose Islamic terrorism and expressed their horror of the 9/11 attacks. They have little connection to their countries of origin. They are adherents of Islam, the third most popular religion in the US, after Christianity and Judaism. Predictably, Muslims have been targeted for violence ever since 9/11. Many ignorant, racist Americans (and recent events have proved that they number in the tens of millions) have assaulted and murdered not only Muslims, but anyone who looked Arabic to their racist eyes. They are still known as Arab Americans.
Immigrants take the pledge of allegiance to the United States of America when they are granted citizenship. They also renounce their allegiance to their country of origin. For first generation immigrants, this may be an impossible emotional exercise.
I can best explain this conundrum with my personal experience. I emigrated to the United States in 1990 at age 49, to escape the general violence of an ethnic war, and the personal violence against political rivals of the administration at the time. I chose the United States because my older son was already there on a scholarship to a leading university, which he was awarded while he was in Colombo, on the basis of his scholastic performance. I received my Green Card in 1998 and my citizenship in 2003 as did my family. I will be forever grateful to the USA for giving me the second chance which I desperately sought; which enabled my children to grasp with both hands the wonderful educational opportunities available during the Clinton years to kids who were willing to work hard.
But despite the fact that I swore my allegiance to my adopted country, I have always been a Sri Lankan by emotion, an American by document. When peace finally returned to Sri Lanka in 2009, I had little hesitation in retiring in my home country. My children, who were in their teens when they emigrated, still have an affection for the old country. They speak Sinhalese, have many friends here and visit often. But, after 30 years, America is their home. My grandchildren are Americans, pure and simple. I believe this to be the natural evolution of assimilation for immigrants everywhere.
When Mexico played soccer against the Americans at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 2013, there was a capacity crowd of 90,000 spectators, 89,000 Mexican Americans cheering the Mexican team on, waving 89,000 Mexican flags! Old Glory was hardly to be seen.
It has to be stressed that Americans of every color and creed have fought for America, against Nazism of the Germany of the 1940s, and more recently, to stave off a Nazi/Russian attack on its democracy. Americans of every color and creed have given their lives enforcing the laws of America and defending its constitution. There are grave sites of many nationalities in the Arlington Memorial Cemetery. They were all true Americans, sacrificing their lives for their country. Death is one route to drop the ethnic prefix of a true American.
The only other route is the privilege of having a white skin. Orange is also acceptable. There are no English Americans, no German or French Americans. They are all white, all Americans, all Caucasians. The rest of us will always be Arab Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Pacific islanders or when in doubt, “Other”. Never ethnic adjective-free Americans, not unless we die for America. Italian Americans may be the exception to this rule, but in any job or official application or document, there is no box for Italian Americans, they tick the magic box that says “Caucasian.”
Countries which have attracted most mass immigration from other countries for a variety of reasons, poverty, violence or seeking a better life for their families are, besides the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. When these immigrants become citizens of their country of choice, they are Canadians, Brits, Aussies or Kiwis. The white racists in these countries have their own slurs for their immigrants. But they have no official classification as African Canadians, Pakistani British, Asian Australians or Sri Lankan New Zealanders. The United States of America is the only country which officially identifies, advertises and endorses its concept of white racism. Perhaps unknowingly, even instinctively.
This concept may finally disappear when the most haunting fears of white racists – the loss of white dominance, privilege and supremacy over colored immigrants – become a reality, predicted for 2040. When the browns, the blacks and immigrants of all other hues will form the national majority and restore racial balance.
Racial and social justice for all, which will make the USA, at long last, a true Nation of Immigrants. All Americans, no ethnic prefix.
Hopefully, when my granddaughter and/or grandson are vying for the presidency of the United States in a few decades, they will simply be known as Americans, and not as Japanese/European/Tamil/Sinhalese Americans. Although, truth be told, that does have a nice, global ring to it.
Save the Last Dance for me
By Capt Elmo Jayawardena
A few months ago, I was in Hong Kong, visiting a well-known charity organisation called Crossroads. It was to seek assistance for a project in Sri Lanka. Crossroads has an enormous warehouse filled to the brim with anything and everything; ready to be sent to places where people in need plead.
The store surroundings looked familiar. Then I realised I was standing where the old Kai Tak airport was, now pastured and replaced by the glamour of the new Hong Kong International Airport.
Yes, I have been here before, many a time at that, bringing jet aeroplanes into land on runway 13, turning at the famous Chequered Board at 600 feet and pointing at the short runway besieged by the sea. The final turn and approach was made between sky-scrapers that stood on either side, like sentinels, and one could spot the flat residents’ laundry hanging outside their windows.
The Chequered Board was fixed to the mountainside, big board with orange and yellow squares, clearly to say “Turn now, beyond this is damnation”.
That was Kai Tak, surrounded by hills, minimum length to stop, and the weather gods playing their fancy games so often that we, mere mortals who flew the machines were nothing but puppets on a string.
But we managed; day in and day out to put our aeroplanes down and brake like crazy to make sure we didn’t overrun and tip into the water.
When the skies were friendly, it was a thrill to land at Kai Tak. The runway usually was direction 130 (runway 13) and the wind rolled from the East, nice and steady and we came past Green Island and saw the Chequered Board in front to tell us we have to change direction lest we too got pasted like the Chequered Board on the same mountain. Then came the turn, low and precise to make the final approach, the laundry run, to fly between the buildings and place the wheels precisely at the touch down point to avoid going swimming.
Every time a pilot landed in Hong Kong in the olden days, there was that gleam in the eye. I’ve seen it a hundred times in my co-pilots and I’ve felt the same whenever I made the approach; the accomplishment of doing something right where the demand was high, which sent the adrenalin into overdrive.
The typhoon time was another story. The winds sheared, gusted, backed and veered and the rain swept across the field, diminishing visibility. Dark grey clouds hung low, covering the mountains and the Chequered Board was hardly visible. We went in by the leading lights, which were very powerful strobes that throbbed, giving us a path to follow to take us to the laundry lane. All this was with the wind playing wild symphony and the rain pattering down like machinegun fire. Most times, lining up on the runway for the short final run was almost impossible and that is where the pilot’s skill mattered, kicking rudders and wagging wings like a mad man playing drums just so that the aeroplane landed and stopped all within that little wet and slippery runway with the sea awaiting with open jaws for a luckless pilot’s mistake.
I remember my last flight to Kai Tak, in June 1998. I left home determined to do the landing. Most days, I would let the co-pilot fly, I’ve seen a lot of this airfield and the younger pilots were always grateful for a swing at Hong Kong. But this was my final flight to Kai Tak and I saved the last dance for me, just like the The Drifters sang.
The co-pilot was young and he mentioned he had never landed in Hong Kong. It was a hard call on me. I could not let this young man go and run through a flying career having never landed in Kai Tak. Maybe, years later his first-officer would ask about the infamous Kai Tak approach and my friend would have to answer that he had never done it.
All in all. the deck was stacked against me, there is something called professional courtesy and out went my last dance, “Son, you take it to Hong Kong”.
The weather was bad, the winds were howling, and we went in. The young man turned at 600 feet and the aircraft was bucking and jumping and he hung in there like a rodeo kid but that wasn’t enough.
With 300 feet to go we were pointing at mountains and the field was almost below us and then I took over and went around to the safety of the sky.
One thing I never did in an aeroplane is if I ever took over from a co-pilot, I never gave it back. I flew it and landed it – that was the golden rule, the safe approach.
The rodeo kid and I were now loitering in the sky to await our turn to make the next run. Then it hit me like a thunderbolt, same co-pilot, years later would be a Captain and when his co-pilot asked him about Kai Tak and how it was to fly in he would have to say “I got one chance and I blew it, couldn’t make the field and the Captain had to take over.”
There was no way I could crucify this young man’s soul, make him poor as gutter water in a field where professional prestige mattered most.
‘Son you take it in, go and land this aeroplane.”
That’s precisely what he did. He waltzed with the wind and came through the clouds and turned at the Chequered Board and flew down the laundry lane and lined up the big 747 on the short runway to land as smooth as Mr. Neil did on the moon.
Then I saw the glitter in his eye – Last dance or no dance, I wouldn’t have traded anything for that look. That’s what flying was all about.
It is possible that my rodeo-kid friend would read what I write and remember. It was all between him and me and the old Kai Tak Airport.
He, I am sure by now, is a Captain. I like to think that he too would at times give away his turn to dance just to see the gleam in a fledgling’s eyes. That should be the legacy.
If not, what would we be worth as professional pilots?
MICHELANGELO OF ITALY and BARANA OF SRI LANKA
BY Sampath Fernando
“Every block of stone has a statue inside and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” –
Michelangelo (AD 1475-1564). And he discovered THE DAVID inside a rock of marble around AD 1501-1504.
Barana, the Sri Lankan sculptor, performed a similar act in the 5th Century AD. He was supposed to have accomplished this around 455-477 AD during the reign of King Dhatusena. Avukana is a standing statue of the Buddha near Kekirawa in the North Central province of Sri Lanka. The statue, which has a height of more than 40 feet (12 m), was carved out of a large granite rock face.
BARANA, THE SCULPTOR
There are enough historical records about Michelangelo and his paintings and sculpture. Barana was virtually unknown. My speculation is that he was employed by the king, not for his artistry but merely for his skills to get a Buddha statue sculptured. In ancient Sri Lanka, kings were well known for creating Buddha statues and Stupas (dome shaped buildings to preserve relics).
Whatever the reason both Barana and Michelangelo deserve great honour from us. Why? It is amazing the genius of both of them, how they produced such wonderful work of art without the aid of modern cameras and computers, electromechanical drills etc. Also, how did the Romans carve their tall fluted columns which are perfectly proportioned. The magnificence of ancient Egyptian pyramids goes without saying.
Michelangelo later in life developed a belief in Spiritualism, for which he was condemned by Pope Paul IV. The fundamental tenet of Spiritualism is that the path to God can be found not exclusively through the Church, but through direct communication with God. I speculate than Barana was a devout Buddhist. Buddhism being the only organised religion at the time. As mentioned earlier the kings spent lot of wealth and employed skilled artists to honour the Buddha.
THE PERFECT BUDDHA STATUE
Carved out of the living rock with supreme assurance, Avukana Buddha is a magnificent image. His expression is serene and from his curled hair sprouts the flame called siraspata signifying the power of supreme enlightenment. Although the statue is large and stands straight up with feet firmly planted on the lotus stone pedestal, the body retains a graceful quality enhanced by beautifully flowing drapery clinging to the body.
THE TALLEST BUDDHA STATUE IN THE WORLD
The magnificent free-standing (still attached to the original massive rock) statue carved out of a single rock is the tallest Buddha statue in existence today. Following the destruction of similar but much larger statues at Bamiyan in Afghanistan, the Avukana Buddha has gained even greater significance in the Buddhist World.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
My parents were devout Buddhists and school holidays were combined with a family pilgrimage. So, I was taken to Avukana statue with my two brothers and the two sisters to worship the Buddha. I was only about 10 years old. As I reached my adulthood I began to look up to Buddha for his philosophy.
As an octogenarian, I visited the site on 7 December 2019 and venerated Barana for giving us such a marvellous image of art. A combination of philosophy and art!
“I am still learning” said Michelangelo at the age of 87. I can say the same thing now, seven years ahead.
(The writer taught Applied Physics at The University of Arts London (UAL) and retired as a professor.)
Identity issues continuing to fuel Mid-East conflict
On the face of it, the decades-long Middle-East conflict is all about who controls which plot of land in the chronically conflict-ridden region. For example, the powder keg city of East Jerusalem is claimed by both the Israelis and the Palestinians. On and off, the city erupts in violence on account of its disputed nature and we are just witnessing a new round of such blood-letting. Ownership of real estate seems to be at the heart of the conflict. But there is more than meets the eye in the conflict and land ownership is just one vital aspect of it.
As important as land and issues relating to material well being that grow out of it is religious identity and connected cultural markers that are seen by the Israelis and Palestinians as defining them as ‘nations’. This accounts for the centrality of East Jerusalem to the complex problem which is the Middle East.
In the latter city are places of worship which are seen as being of the utmost sacredness by the groups concerned. For example, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to Islam and therefore the Palestinians, and which came under attack in the current round of violence, is located in East Jerusalem. Likewise, numerous are the sites in East Jerusalem which are sacred to the Jews. The Temple Mount is one such structure which is revered by the Jews. But many of these places of religious worship are revered by almost the entirety of the communities of the region, although some groups proclaim exclusive ownership over them.
It is for the above reasons that pronouncements to the effect that ‘Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel’ could be anathema in the ears of a considerable number of Palestinians and many of those of the Islamic faith. Recognizing this statement as true and factual could be tantamount to conceding that all Islamic sacred sites in East Jerusalem should come under the complete control and jurisdiction of the Israelis.
To very many sections professing the Islamic faith in the region, conceding East Jerusalem to Israel would be unthinkable because East Jerusalem is integral to their identity as a people or as a ‘nation’. This is the reason why they would see themselves as fully justified in taking up arms to defend their perceived ownership of East Jerusalem. And ‘native’ places and locations are almost sacred to most communities and ethnic groups because those are the sites where they could practise their religions and cultures. The same line of reasoning holds good for traditional Jews. Since East Jerusalem is home to numerous sites that are sacred to them they would see themselves as justified in possessing the city by even the force of arms.
It is in view of the foregoing that former US President Donald Trump could be said to have destroyed peace prospects in the Middle East to a considerable measure by fully endorsing the position that ‘Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel’. By doing so, the former US President legitimised Israel’s complete hold over the city. But the truth is that ownership of the city is bloodily contested and this has been so for decades.
The question could be asked as to why one group should consider it unthinkable and revolting that the other group should exercise controlling power over religious sites that are claimed by it as well. In short, why are these group antagonisms so deep-rooted? We go to the heart of the Middle East conflict with this question.
In fact, the ‘enmity’ could be centuries long. Its roots could lie in the ‘myths of origin’ churned out by hard line sections in both communities. Both Judaism and Islam revere Abraham, seen as the originator of most theistic religions of the Middle East. Abraham is believed to have had two sons of different natures. At the popular level, each of the adversarial groups in the Middle East sees itself as deriving from the ‘better-natured’ of the sons. Like most popular myths, these notions die hard among the more impressionable sections.
However, there is no denying that land and territorial disputes have been keeping the flames of conflict and war ablaze in the Middle East. This is true of today as it was at the turn of the last century, when the British were seen as implanting the Jews in the land of Palestine at the expense of those who were already inhabiting it. That is, the Palestinians of today. The Jews were seen as growing in number in Palestine and they very soon laid claim to a state of their own in Palestine. Thus were sown the early seeds of the conflict which has bedevilled the region to date.
As matters stand, Israel controls to a considerable degree all contested areas in the conflict except the Gaza strip where the militant group Hamas exercises extensive governing control, backed by some staunchly pro-Islamic extra-regional states. At present, the religious unrest in East Jerusalem has invited the military involvement of Hamas, which development has, in turn, triggered off a spiral of violence between the Israeli security forces and Hamas. At the time of writing, the violence has claimed more than 30 lives.
It is highly regrettable that the violence is occurring in the holy month of Ramadan. It is hoped that the international community would intervene to end the violence and make a fresh effort to work out a political solution to the conflict.
A scrutinizing look at Middle East developments over the decades would indicate a close link between land issues and identity questions. These factors could be said to have been mutually-reinforcing. To the extent to which the Palestinians see themselves as being deprived of land and other means of livelihood, to the same degree are they seeing themselves as suffering on account of their religious identity. This trend aggravates religious tensions. Economic issues deriving from land questions trigger a sense of being victimized on account of religious and cultural markers.
Accordingly, US President Joe Biden has his work cut out. If he is serious about bringing peace to the Middle East, he will launch a fresh bid towards evolving the two-state solution. Under this formula there is a possibility of resolving land issues equitably.
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