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Cowardly Service

by Sudhama Ranganathan Friday, Dec. 19, 2008 at 5:55 PM

When I was a student at the University of Connecticut I experienced an assortment of racist and bigoted behavior. The behavior was directed at myself primarily and had to do with post – 9/11 bigotry. Much of it centered on feelings of patriotism vs. non-patriotism. Some of the inspiration for this mood can even be attributed to the paranoid sentiments of false patriotism spread by the now outgoing administration.

Cowardly Service...
pied_piper.jpg, image/jpeg, 400x358

I was a student in a small program located in a remote section of my school in the basement of an aging building. As a result of this isolation it became easier to harass me. The treatment was not blanket in terms of all the people I attended classes with or even who were in the same graduating class. There were a select few people who regularly took their feelings about what happened on 9/11 further than was appropriate or even legal with regards to me.

My racial background is that I am biracial with my mother being white and my father East Indian. My name is passed down from my father’s side of the family and as such is Indian. I have a name which, to someone who may not know much about the differences between a name which would point to India or one which would point to the Middle East, could sound similar to say a 9/11 hijacker. This made it easy for certain professors who were bigoted to single me out as a target for harassment and encourage such behavior on the part of certain students.

The way it worked and attracted people was by playing on race based fears, a sense of belonging vs. not belonging and a rewards system. The message was constantly insinuated and thrown about that I was a Muslim extremist terrorist. As such students were connived into harassing me under the misguided pretenses of doing a service to their country. When I was seventeen I was involved in protests which had to do with anti apartheid activism and civil rights issues, and this was brought up as well. But, bear in mind this was not religion based, not that I was a Muslim, nor against my own country - America.

I made it through the ordeal with my diploma in tact so in the large scheme as far as my not graduating they fell flat on their face in failure. However, because the harassment continued throughout my time in the program the issue for me now is the fact that it happened at all. In this day and age no matter the circumstances we need to learn to respect other Americans and other people here in the US. Without a fundamental respect of each other how can we expect to receive respect?

For instance, the Bush administration tried to pretend we could simply go it alone in Iraq. As we quickly found out that was not to be the case. We ended up staying there much longer and becoming much more bogged down than we would have had we gone in with a large contingent of allied nations (not that we should have been there in the first place). We paid a huge price for that. That kind of lack of respect for other people on a fundamental level promotes the sense they don’t matter and can be very costly. On a smaller level this sort of ignorance of American principles contributed to the level of harassment and race based discrimination towards me at UCONN.

Following 9/11 we heard many similar stories about people being targeted for harassment based on race. As with what happened to me it was usually under the guise of patriotism to mask feelings of prejudice which only hides fears of differences between people. It made me realize exactly how pathetic and weak it is to participate in such behavior.

At times it seemed only people who were naturally afraid, who were raised in an environment of fear or became fearful as a result of some personal experience could have fallen victim to such a simple trap. But, then there are many who experience such things and manage to rise above their situations and do the right thing. Either way, appeals to the most base fears successfully recruit some into negative, un-American and lawless behavior. These aren’t heroes they are some of the lowest people society has to offer no matter their title or position. They will do whatever it takes to feel secure even if it means robbing others of their rights. Many even relish it.

Some may be joining in where they wouldn’t normally if were they not afraid of the consequences of being alone or ostracized. This includes participating in behavior that deep down they know is wrong. However, they engage in behavior which goes against their beliefs and never stand their ground because of a fear of taking a leap of faith.

Often the case is as it was in mine an appeal to a false sense of fidelity. This is a thinly veiled threat because if they don’t the alternative is being labeled disloyal and being shunned from the pack. They may attempt to take consolation in the idea they are involved in some sort of service to a greater cause. But is there anything noble about trying to rob your neighbor of their god given and constitutional rights to satiate your want to be a member of the circle?

Involving oneself in such activity is the service of cowards. In the end it is not patriotism but an insult to the flag, the founding fathers and the constitution you are committing when engaging in such activity. Although recently the current administration helped foster such an environment it has happened before on scales large and small. We have a member of a minority class elected as president now and a hope for the future. But, in the small pockets darkness can hide, so let us stay vigilant not only for ourselves but for each other as neighbors, countrymen/women and as human beings.

To read about my inspiration for this article go to

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