Friday, October 03, 2003

HAJJI: I respect the troops serving all over the world, whether in Germany or Iraq. They're heroic young patriots who serve their country and we owe them. But, let me say this--they're not immune to criticism. I think it's a real shame that so many of the soldiers are racists. And, I'm sure that, it isn't winning the hearts and minds either.

World War II had its "krauts," Vietnam had its "gooks," and now, the war on terrorism has its own dehumanizing name: "hajji." That's what many U.S. troops across Iraq and in coalition bases in Kuwait now call anyone from the Middle East or South Asia. Soldiers who served in Afghanistan say it also is used there. Among Muslims, the word is used mainly as a title of respect. It means "one who has made the hajj," the pilgrimage to Mecca.

But that's not how soldiers use it. Some talk about "killing some hajjis" or "mowing down some hajjis." One soldier in Iraq inked "Hodgie Killer" onto his footlocker. Iraqis, friend or foe, are called hajjis. Kuwaitis are called hajjis. Even people brought in by civilian contractors to work in mess halls or drive buses are hajjis - despite the fact that they might be from India, the Philippines or Pakistan, and might be Hindu or Christian.

[...]

"This is more of a commonsense thing," he said. "It's like using any other derogatory word for a racial or ethnic group. Some may use it in a joking way, but it's derogatory, and I'm sure people have tried to stop it."

"Hajji," [Samer] Shehata [of Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies] said, sounds like racist terms that U.S. soldiers used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, such as "towel-head."
Exactly. I mean, towel-head and Ay-rab were getting so old.

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