Singling Out Arab Americans Destroy Trust
Detroit Free Press
The question of trust between the Arab-American community and the rest of society seems certain to haunt us for a long time to come, in the wake of the appalling terrorists attacks.
Our country has been dramatically challenged as a result of this national tragedy, which raises serious questions about core American values of diversity, tolerance and civility in a multiethnic, pluralistic society.
New laws and regulations implemented by our government, in particular the USA Patriot Act, and the proposed Michigan Anti-Terrorist Act, have undermined our commitment to civil liberties. While every American should be concerned about the massive and unchecked authority that has been seized by the federal government during this crisis, perhaps the greatest anxiety is felt by those who can expect to be its first targets: members of Arab-American and Muslim communities.
The new laws and policies severely limit judicial review of executive actions; eliminate the attorney-client privilege and basic due process rights for some suspects; legitimize indefinite detentions without process or appeal; vastly increase secret searches, seizures, surveillance, eavesdropping and wiretapping; and create crimes based on guilt by association.
These measures significantly erode the system of checks and balances between the three branches of the government, allowing the executive branch broad discretion to act unilaterally. Some provisions are reminiscent of human rights violations that have been routinely deplored by the United States when employed by other nations.
Moreover, these extraordinary measures have been adopted without serious deliberation or serious consideration, even in the U.S. Senate, where only Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., showed any real concern for the long-term consequences of the Patriot Act. It is appalling to hear many of our elected officials openly state that they were happy to vote for a bill that they did not even read.
These laws have been enacted to fight terrorism at home and abroad. Such a fight, however, requires trust as its backbone. Trust cannot be achieved as long as any particular ethnic or religious community in our nation is perceived to be a target, is singled out or is forced to face selective prosecution based on race, nationality or religion.
Racial profiling and selective prosecution are increasingly accepted and routinely used as tools of law enforcement. Government plans to interrogate no less than 5,000 young Arab men identified solely on the basis of their age, gender and national origin sends the clearest possible message to both the Arab-American community and to society at large: The government believes that young Arab men are, by definition, suspicious and possibly dangerous. This profile is almost identical to that which will now be used by the Immigration and Naturalization Service for new visa applications, screening delays and procedures, which will affect only young Arab men. The crisis of trust is not metaphorical or implicit. It could not be more clearly expressed than through discriminatory measures such as these.
The American way of life is based on fairness, justice and liberty for all. All of these virtues are at risk, not just from killers who would massacre innocent civilians, but from our own government's rush to place security before liberty. In a world in which the president can simply sign orders creating military tribunals which bypass all constitutional and legal protections, our Constitution and our Bill of Rights are on trial.
Our country has been viciously attacked.
Will we allow ourselves to be bullied into diminishing the achievements of more than 200 years of struggle to build a free, fair and just society? Will fear compel us to abandon the best elements of our traditions and the social and political embodiments of our highest values?
Or, will we instead redouble our commitment to preserve, protect and defend the principles that define this nation's greatness and its deepest source of strength? Can we learn to once again trust ourselves -- and each other?
IMAD HAMAD is Midwest regional director for the American Arab Discrimination Committee. Write to him in care of the Free Press Editorial Page, 600 W. Fort St., Detroit, MI 48226.
Americans Under Attack !