What shall we call it? Racism or …?! [Archives:2000/22/Focus]

May 29 2000

By Anwar Al-Sayyadi
When God created us of different races, tribes, and colors, He never meant to discriminate one race from the other, or to encourage us look down upon each other. According to the Holy Quran, God created us of different nations and tribes so that we know each other and live together in harmony and peace. But man’s greed has misconstrued God’s design.
Unfortunately racism in Yemen is very much existing, but very much denied. Yemen is one of the countries, which has signed almost all the human rights conventions and international treaties of human rights. I would like to quote Mr. Qadhi Hamud, the Chairman of Yemeni Organization of Human Rights who once said “The human rights in Yemen are theoretically much better than in many countries.”
Issues concerning Human rights, freedom, justice, equality and respect for every individual’s dignity deserve much more attention than is being paid now. I know that the President is giving a lot of significance to these issues. But unwillingness or personal prejudices of top politicians and security officers impede the process of adoption of these basic values and, as a result, racism is being perpetuated. I have tried in the following, to review some of the leading cases, pertaining to violation of basic human rights in Yemen.
1. Tribal racism
Here in Yemen the first question one is confronted with when one is introduced to someone is where one is from. Even in Dabab (public small bus) casual conversation opens with, ‘where are you from?’ The theme and mode of discussion would depend on your answer. The thing is that one is prone to be looked at and treated based on the answer to this question. If one comes from the same area or neighboring areas as the person who has asked the question, one will surly receive a favorable response, and if not, one can’t normally expect any special treatment or even a smile. This is only one side of the ugly face of racism practice in Yemen.
People, specially officials, deny the existence of racism, yet they themselves practice it every day in their lives. This practice is very clear through nepotism in employment. Most of these officials Ð if not all Ð employ their near or distant relatives and tribesmen, although unqualified, and give them different ranks. In some cases, in order for the official to get his relative a job, he creates a new post with a fancy title, and no real task.
2. Discrimination of Muwalladeen
Another example of racism one often encounters within the government institutions is discrimination of Muwalladeen. For example, there is a differential treatment depending on whether or not one is a Muwallad (born of a non-Yemeni mother, or born outside Yemen). If one is a Muwallad, one is debarred from joining a Police Academy, even if one wishes to serve the country like any other Yemeni.
Ironically, Yemenis outside Yemen could become ministers like in Indonesia, where as in their own country they can not dream of joining the Police Academy. Why? Because their fathers Ð may God forgive them Ð committed an unforgivable crime by marrying a NON-YEMENI woman. It is sad that a significant segment of the society is denied the right to serve the country. It seems that the individuals or the committee which have stipulated this condition forget the role of the Muwalladeen in the revolution, when they sacrificed their lives for the country. Today, that same country denies its children their natural rights. Especially if you are a black or of African origin it is even worse. The color of one’s skin becomes the determinant of people’s respect for him. One must hold one’s ID card always on one’s person. Because any soldier, any police or any security person can intercept and interrogate you for nothing, if only the color of your skin is different or your Arabic pronunciation sounds non-native.
Another such discriminatory law is marriage. If you want to get married to a foreigner you must get permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice. If you happen to fall in love with a non-Yemeni, you are condemned and you can’t marry her.
I know some time ago the Ministry of Immigration invited Yemenis immigrants to invest in their country and tried to give some encouragement in this regard. But the real objective was to draw benefit from their money. The welfare organization established under the name of “Yemeni Emigrants’ Children Welfare Society (YECWA)” is meant to solve this problem, and to help some of Muwalladeen victims suffering from such prejudicial practices. I heard from one of this welfare board members that they face problem from the government side. I would like to thank the late Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf (God’s Mercy be on him) for his courage, commitment and conviction to fight for Muwalladeen and human rights as well.
3. Al-Akhdam
Another big segment of the Yemeni society that suffers racism is Al-Akhdam. Even the very name conjures up very ugly and shameful connotation even now, that of ‘SLAVES’. Islam is against all these things I mentioned above. But, unfortunately, all these still exist in Yemen. These are the Yemeni version of the concept of untouchability, which exists in India too. The way these people are treated reminds me of the untouchables in India. But the Indian Government is working hard to give the untouchables their basic rights and dignity and put them back in the social main stream, by guaranteeing them reservation in different governmental institutions, such as education, employment, health, etc. unlike our government, which denies the existence of any discrimination against these people or others. If you look at the way they live, the kind of jobs they have or rather they are allowed to have or take up, etc., you will immediately realize their status in the society and how they are looked down upon even by young children.
4. Geographical Discrimination
Last but not the least, is geographical discrimination. Again this side of racism is strongly denied by the officials and by those who are in the corridors of power. Where you come from within the country ensures a lot of advantages to you and helps you in getting your job done easily. A good look at the high governmental posts all over the country will reveal which segment of the society is considered superior. This kind of nepotism leads people to feel discriminated against; This is very much rampant especially in Taiz, Ibb, Tehama, and the southern governoerates.
The denial of this problem by the government is a travesty of truth. On the contrary the government should admit the existence of this problem, and that would be the first step in solving the problem. In recent days, people suffering from the economic hardships, political instability, and the breakdown of law and order, assault on people, kidnapping etc. have become a routine and regular occurrence. We are sitting on a time bomb; May God help Yemen and save us the day it explodes.
I hope the president and his council will take note of all these cases of discrimination and leave no stones unturned to improve the image of Yemen so that the annual reports on the Human Rights Watch, US Dept. of Human Rights Report and International Declaration of Human Rights reckon Yemen to be a civilized society. We will keep praying for it…