Spring 2012] RACIALIZING ISLAM BEFORE AND AFTER 9/11
confusing to me as a foreign lawyer. I had no deep knowledge of the workings
of the U.S. criminal justice system in the real world, not in law books or
Hollywood movies. Race politics had high-jacked the criminal justice system.
People took sides. O.J. Simpson’s guilt or innocence could not be separated
from his racial identity. I was also very surprised that while society and the
justice system were so preoccupied with race, law school curriculum seemed to
deal with race from the perspective of “color blindness,” instead of critically
evaluated one of the most important issues in American society. Racial
discrimination was a “white elephant” in law school classrooms. After many
years, I learned that the Michigan Law School was one of the important
venues in a famous Supreme Court decision on affirmative action.2
The new era of awakening arrived in 1995, when Timothy McVeigh
exploded a public building killing hundreds of innocent people in Oklahoma
City. I was at the airport, returning from an American Society of International
Law meeting in New York on my way to Malta. They kept me at the airport the
whole day without any explanation, and then sent me home on another flight.
I figured that by carrying a Turkish passport I became an instant suspect in
terror cases. On the morning of 9/11, as I watched the horror on TV, I hoped
that the names of terrorists were not similar to mine! Unfortunately they were.
Since then, my travel experiences have been difficult and humiliating. Visa
applications to Europe were nightmarish, if not humiliating. They involved
long investigations, background checks, visa officers accusing me of
fabricating my documents. Flying back and forth was a stigmatizing
experience as I was “randomly” searched because of my Turkish passport.
Sometimes, they stamped my boarding card with a red sign, which meant that
they searched me again and again each time I changed planes, until I reached
my final destination. After 9/11, every time I returned to the United States
immigration officers interviewed me in a back room, sometimes for hours,
after long trips from Europe. They asked what is wrong with me that I am still
a Turkish citizen, despite my green card, my profession, and my American
husband. I should be an American citizen. I became an American citizen!
My personal experience in the United States helped me gradually
understand the deep and complex relationship between racial politics,
various forms of discrimination, the very important role of the legal system,
and the complex relationship between race and law from the perspective of
critical race theory. Law can be read, interpreted, and implemented from
various angles depending on who reads or interprets it and, more
importantly, who is the subject of a particular law. Looking from a critical
race theory perspective, I learned that court decisions are not dead materials.
Their lifetime is much longer than their historical moment of decision. They
can be interpreted, reused, and abused depending on what current motives
prevail. Law also could be used as a political tool to protect the interests of
2 Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003).