Law Professor Sahar Aziz spoke last Thursday about what she believes to be the maltreatment of minority groups in America. The 17th annual Buck Colbert Franklin Memorial Civil Rights Lecture hosted the professor from Texas A&M University, who is a Sunni muslim born in Egypt. Aziz works with muslim communities and is an expert on law in the Middle East.
In her discussion, she tried to bring light to African Americans’ plight in America and the movement’s similarities to revolutions around the world. When the Arab Spring occurred, many Americans cheered the revolution against the government by an oppressed people. Aziz argued that citizens ignore or oppress “their counterparts in America”. When many American citizens see protestors or members of the Black Lives Matter movement, they call them “thugs and hooligans”, said Aziz.
Professor Aziz pulled up evidence of systemic racism in the United States. African American citizens are incarcerated at almost 6 times the rate of whites and education rates, whether that be attendance, acceptance or graduation, are much lower for black citizens.
Even when only accounting for those without a high school diploma, black citizens are 16.6 percent unemployed while whites are only 6.9 percent. Aziz asked “Why are we so quick to dismiss grievances in America?” When it’s abroad, she said, Americans are happy to get involved in the revolution. Americans challenge authoritarian regimes and push for democracies. Aziz argued that “oppression is much more pernicious when clothed in democracy.”
Aziz also discussed Americans’ marginalization of foreign countries when conducting interventions. “When our government overlooks human rights violations or gives more money to brutal dictators”, the United States contradicts its own ideals, said Aziz.
The Iraq War, though against the ‘truly brutal’ Saddam Hussein, consisted of too many “fatal mistakes.” The torture in Abu Ghraib, one example, consisted of human rights violations and shamed many of the officials involved. The ‘political vacuum’ the American military left in Iraq allowed ISIS to form, which Aziz pointed out is far more violent than Al Qaeda. America “gave them generals”, she explained, by marginalizing authority figures in the country.
In some cases, she added, officials allowed prisoners to gather and discuss the founding of ISIS. America’s military interventions in the Middle East directly affect the world in multiple ways, such as inciting attacks in Germany.
It also indirectly affects the United States, as it ‘inflates fears’ for national security and leads to officials “eroding (U.S. citizens’) rights”.
As an example of America ‘contradicting itself’, she discussed many states’ motions to bar Syrian refugees from entering. Statistics show that America has accepted far fewer refugees for resettlement than many countries, and said that America forgets it thrives because of immigrants. The Statue of Liberty’s acceptance of the downtrodden and poor has fallen on “deaf ears” and does not represent America’s qualities, she said.
Professor Aziz honored the historical figure Buck Colbert Franklin and said she is happy to work with others on the “trail he blazed.” Buck Franklin is famous for his work during the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Franklin, an African American attorney who practiced law primarily within black communities, was living with his family in Tulsa at the time.
The Greenwood District, otherwise known as Black Wall Street, was destroyed by race riots. Buck Franklin, working from a tent, defended the people against the city of Tulsa’s plan to rebuild the residential district as a commercial one instead. He led and won the case in the Oklahoma supreme court.