Rooting out extremists is difficult because racism pervades the military, according to soldiers. They say troops throughout the Middle East use derogatory terms like “hajji” or “sand nigger” to define Arab insurgents and often the Arab population itself.
“Racism was rampant,” recalls vet Michael Prysner, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. “All of command, everywhere, it was completely ingrained in the consciousness of every soldier. I’ve heard top generals refer to the Iraq people as ‘hajjis.’ The anti-Arab racism came from the brass. It came from the top. And everything was justified because they weren’t considered people.”
Another vet, Michael Totten, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne in 2003 and 2004, says, “It wouldn’t stand out if you said ‘sand niggers,’ even if you aren’t a neo-Nazi.” Totten says his perspective has changed in the intervening years, but “at the time, I used the words ‘sand nigger.’ I didn’t consider ‘hajji’ to be derogatory.”
Geoffrey Millard, an organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in Iraq for 13 months, beginning in 2004, as part of the 42nd Infantry Division. He recalls Gen. George Casey, who served as the commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, addressing a briefing he attended in the summer of 2005 at Forward Operating Base, outside Tikrit. “As he walked past, he was talking about some incident that had just happened, and he was talking about how ‘these stupid fucking hajjis couldn’t figure shit out.’ And I’m just like, Are you kidding me? This is Gen. Casey, the highest-ranking guy in Iraq, referring to the Iraqi people as ‘fucking hajjis.'” (A spokesperson for Casey, now the Army Chief of Staff, said the general “did not make this statement.”)
“The military is attractive to white supremacists,” Millard says, “because the war itself is racist.”
I don’t think this should surprise anyone.