Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Anti-Identity" Politics and the Hypocrisy of the Radical Right

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

It has been fashionable for Rush Limbaugh and other pundits of the political far Right to brand Supreme Court nominee Sonia Maria Sotomayor, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, as a "racist" and purveyor of "Identity Politics" based on a public remark that she made some years ago. Judge Sotomayor's statement, in essence, compared her experiences as a Latina raised in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx with the experiences of her white counterparts in the judiciary.

In essence, Judge Sotomayor noted that a "wise Latina" could make better judicial decisions than a person who lacked her depth of diverse racial, ethnic, and class experiences in the social melting pot of America. The remark was followed by a clarification and quasi-retraction from Judge Sotomayor and President Barack Obama, both of whom stated that the "choice of words" was unfortunate.

There is little doubt that any person nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court would be anathema to the Rush Limbaugh crowd. The political dividing line between conservatives and liberals – or reactionaries and progressives – is a deep and contentious one. And, as most of us know, the Right is in no mood for conciliation or cordiality after their decisive defeat in the presidential election of 2008.

But to call Judge Sotomayor a functionary of "Identity Politics" – that is, the advocacy of race and ethnicity as central factors in the work of promoting justice – is both an outrage and an act of profound hypocrisy.

The real "identity politics" in the American judicial system is a racist and xenophobic trademark of the radical Right.

For the record, I'm sure that Judge Sotomayor will make a good, and possibly brilliant, addition to the Supreme Court. She is a totally qualified, experienced, and thoughtful jurist with first-class intellectual credentials.

The Puerto Rican people, Latinos, women, and all persons who love justice should be delighted with Judge Sotomayor's nomination.

That said; let us not forget that the American justice system is, sadly, still riddled with the contradictions of racism and Xenophobia. All too often, as we saw in the recent trials of the Holy Land Foundation defendants and Dr. Sami Al-Arian, juries are quite willing to ignore substantial exculpatory evidence, or to substitute real facts with testimonies from "secret" witnesses in their rush to convict defendants based more on political associations than on any evidence of criminal conduct.

The "identity politics" of racial and religious discrimination also holds true for Naji Hamdan, a Muslim-American citizen who has endured a nine-month imprisonment and been subjected to torturous interrogations in the United Arab Emirates because of U.S. complicity in his arrest.

Identity politics hold equally true for possibly hundreds of innocent Muslim men victimized by torture, abuse, and false imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, and in countless secret American prisons worldwide.

The identity of being Muslim, especially in this time of war being waged in Muslim lands, is sufficient (for both juries and zealous prosecutors) creates the presumption of guilt before the bar of justice, even when the empirical evidence of innocence is clear and overwhelming.

Identity politics is, indeed, alive and well in America, but don't blame Judge Sotomayor; it is not she who is racist. The racism, and politics of racial and religious identity, is manifested by the same people who gave us torture rendition, illegal government surveillance, and the support for the violence and injustice that frames both U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world, and all too often, Islamophobia in the American court system.

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