When cricket bat and beard = “anti-Semitic killer”

Published November 26, 2014
Assim Abassi, 22, is seen carrying his cricket bat wrapped in a piece of cloth. –Photo courtesy of the Telegraph
Assim Abassi, 22, is seen carrying his cricket bat wrapped in a piece of cloth. –Photo courtesy of the Telegraph

Even without a concealed cricket bat, he would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Being bearded and brown in Brussels sets you apart, but not necessarily in a good way.

Assim Abbasi, 22, attracted sudden notoriety when the police in Brussels circulated his photographs that showed him carrying a concealed object. The police believed he was concealing a rifle.

The media soon joined the frenzy and published Mr. Abbasi’s pictures warning the public about an “anti-Semitic killer.”

After seeing his pictures in the newspaper, Mr. Abbasi rushed to the police to clear his name. It was not a weapon he was concealing, but a cricket bat, which he wrapped in a t-shirt to prevent the bat from getting wet in the rain.

Mr. Abbasi became yet another victim of racial profiling.

Also read: Racism is getting worse: Amnesty

Unlike Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian shot dead in 2005 by the London police after they mistook him for a terrorist, Mr. Abbasi has been fortunate. He could have met a similar fate at the hands of the police, who were on edge after an attack in May on a Jewish museum in Brussels that left three dead.

Mehdi Nemmouche, a French Jihadist and a veteran of the Syrian war, is under arrest and awaiting trial in Brussels for the attack.

Mr. Abbasi is understandably bitter about his experience. The police and the media publically humiliated him by insinuating he was a terrorist. He is further peeved because his family has been asked to relocate to Pakistan. They are not being deported. Instead, his father, a stenographer at the Embassy of Pakistan in Belgium, has been recalled to Islamabad after completing a four-year tenure. Mr. Abbasi believes the transfer back to Pakistan is motivated by his unintended recent notoriety.

 Assim Abassi, 22, is seen carrying his cricket bat wrapped in a piece of cloth. –Photo courtesy of the Telegraph
Assim Abassi, 22, is seen carrying his cricket bat wrapped in a piece of cloth. –Photo courtesy of the Telegraph

Officials and staff posted on assignments at embassies and foreign missions do have to return at the completion of their tenure. Mr. Abbasi cannot grieve his father’s transfer back to Islamabad. However, he can, and must, grieve his treatment by the Brussels’ police and news media who racially profiled him.

Being brown or “Middle Eastern looking” are not sufficient grounds to be suspected of having committed an offense.

Also read: Jihad Jane to the rescue

However, racial profiling by the police, news media, and other security agencies has become more frequent since the September 11 attacks in 2001. Thousands of young Muslim men were racially profiled in the US and Europe, where they had to prove their innocence. Their only crime was that they “looked like a terrorist.”

One of the most famous incidents of racial profiling of the Muslim youth took place in Florida on September 12, 2002.

Eunice Stone, 44, and her teenaged son alerted the authorities that they overheard three young Muslims in a restaurant in Calhoun, Georgia, planning a terrorist attack in Miami, Florida.

Soon afterwards, a media circus ensued.

The police intercepted the three young men on a Florida highway. They were taken into custody and were released without being charged 17 hours later. News channels telecasted minute-by-minute details of how the three suspected terrorists ran through toll booths. Bomb sniffing dogs searched their cars, while the police interrogated the three for hours.

The police and the media initially praised Ms. Stone for being vigilant.

In the post 9-11 America, snitching on young Muslim men was in vogue. After all, “they looked like terrorists.”

Few in the media suspected Ms. Stone’s account. It was only when the men were released after being subjected to 17 hours of interrogation that suspicions were raised about what she might have or have not overheard.

Unlike Ayman Gheith, Kambiz Butt, and Omar Choudhary, who were studying medicine in 2002 and are most likely practicing physicians, Ms. Stone was a high-school dropout who became a mother at 16. She was quick to embrace the media’s attention and jumped at the opportunity to be interviewed live on TV. A news channel in Atlanta even offered to put her up at a hotel in Atlanta so that she could be interviewed as the story unfolded.

Before the media and the law enforcement agencies realised that a well-meaning, yet overzealous, woman may have misheard as she eavesdropped, a new chapter in racial profiling had been authored.

Larkin Community Hospital in Miami, where the three medical students were heading for their internship, refused to accept them.

At the airports across North America and Europe, Muslim men were being subjected to ‘random’ checks. They were suspected of ‘flying while Muslims.’

Also read: NYPD monitored where Muslims ate, shopped, prayed

The racial profiling of the Blacks and Hispanics has plagued the US for decades. David Harris, author of the oft-cited research, Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation’s Highways, documents the systematic biases that subject racial minorities to heightened suspicion.

Mr. Harris revealed that the “blacks constitute 13 per cent of drug users in the United States, 37 per cent of those arrested on drug charges, 55 per cent of those convicted, and 74 per cent of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.”

The disproportionate number of black convicts has effectively disenfranchised young black men who cannot vote because of their convictions.

The recent riots in Ferguson, Missouri, are yet another episode of “driving while black”. Some 2,000 troops have been stationed in the mostly black suburb, which erupted in riots yet again after the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot dead Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, earlier in August.

Also read: Lahore, Ferguson & Toronto: Three sides of the same coin

Racial and ethnic minorities in the US are convinced Mr. Brown’s death is a result of racial profiling.

Others believe that Mr. Wilson was justified in using lethal force. President Barack Obama has promised a rigorous federal probe into the matter.

However, as the riots spread to other towns in the United States, this may be too little, too late.

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