Saudi Arabia News: Living On The Edge

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URL: http://www.arabnews.com/Article.asp?ID=10347 Washington Watch: Still a dangerous time for Arabs

By James Zogby

Sometimes it feels as if we are living on the edge. The wounds of Sept. 11 are still open, the anthrax scare continues to grow, and now the nationís leaders are warning of credible threats of new terrorist attacks.

If this were not enough, Congress has just passed and the President has signed into law a new anti-terrorism bill that poses significant threats to civil liberties, and some law enforcement officials are discussing new forms of ethnic-based profiling. Both the bill and the renewed use of profiling would seriously compromise the rights of Arab Americans and Arab residents in the US, Just when we had hoped that we had brought to an end to the backlash that plagued Arab American and American Muslims in the aftermath of the terrorist attack, we are confronted by new threats and reminded that the hate didnít go away - it just went temporarily underground.

I was reminded of this last week when, for two consecutive nights, I engaged a conservative congressman in a televised debate on CNN on the issue of airport profiling. This issue is an old one: Should airline security personnel be permitted to single out Arabs for special searches and security procedures before allowing them to board planes? The congressman with whom I was debating was strident in his defense of this practice. He noted that the Sep. 11 terrorists were all Arabs, as were the 120 individuals on the Justice Departmentís terrorist watch list. "Of course", he concluded, "we should single out Arabs." I made clear my disagreement, noting that the practice of racial and ethnic profiling is both discriminatory and bad law enforcement. The job of law enforcement, I stated was to secure the plane and all materials that are placed on the plane. If procedures are followed-the pilotís cabin is locked, all baggage is inspected, passengers are searched for weapons and an armed sky marshall is on board-then there should be no need to single out or humiliate any individual group of passengers.

Because there has been a focus on Arab passengers, many mistakes have been made and many innocent people have been victimized. I noted the example of a Republican congressman, an Arab American, who only three weeks ago had been, denied access to a flight because of his last name. I also gave other recent incidents of discrimination resulting from profiling: Two instances where pilots refused to fly with passengers named Mohammed in first class; and two separate cases where Hispanics and South Asians were removed from flights because they were thought to be Arabs. In each of the above cases and many others, ethnic-based profiling has proved to be ineffective, discriminatory and hurtful. Can ethnicity legitimately be part of a profile? Of course it can. But in too many cases, it has been used as the only category in the profile, and this is when profiling is wrong.

What troubled me was not the stridency of the congressman, but the flood of hate-filled e-mails I received during the two days of the debate. I was called a "traitor" and a "terrorist". I was told to go back to my country (which happens to be the US, since I was born here), and I was derided as a "hater of America".

When, at the same time, a number of major US newspapers ran a story quoting me suggesting that it would be advisable for the US to consult with its Arab and Muslim allies before deciding to continue its bombing of Afghanistan during Ramadan, more hate mail poured into my office. What both of these episodes taught me was that while incidences of hate crimes have died down, the hate is still there ready to rear its head at the slightest provocation. I feared that I had been premature in assuming that the backlash had receded.

Another issue, even more dangerous than the backlash, is the recent behavior and the rhetoric of federal law enforcement agencies. The Attorney General has twice spoken about his intention to arrest terrorist supporters. According to law enforcement officials, the number of those "arrested or detained" is now over 1,100 and growing rapidly each day. The new anti-terrorism act gives law enforcement unprecedented, and I fear, dangerous new powers to:

o Arrest and detain suspects for indefinite periods of time, without traditional protection of due process (i.e., no evidence needs to be given and no right to defense);

o Conduct secret searches, and

o Conduct wiretaps "without probable cause".

The result of all of this has been the growing number of arrests. What is both unclear and troubling is "who are the 1,100?" and "why are they being held?" I directly asked these questions to the attorney general, urging him to provide Americans with more details. Many civil libertarians are concerned that the very large majority of those detained have nothing to do with the terrorism investigation.

Most, we believe, are simply individuals caught up in the web of the very large net cast by law enforcement. Some might be guilty only of visa overstays, while others are simply being held, with no charges, waiting to be investigated. My fears where not calmed when the attorney general spoke last week about this investigation and noted: "Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visa - even by one day - we will arrest you. If you violate a local law, you will be put in jail and kept in custody as long as possible ... In the war on terror, this Department of Justice will arrest and detain any suspected terrorist who has violated the law. Our single objective is to prevent terrorist attacks by taking suspected terrorists off the street. If suspects are found not to have links to terrorism or not to have violated the law, they are released. But terrorists who are in violation of the law will be convicted, in some cases deported, and in all cases prevented from doing further harm to Americans."

By conflating visa violators with terrorist suspects and failing to distinguish between the two, the impression has been created that they may be one and the same. What is especially troubling here is that after six weeks of telling Americans that they should not treat all Arabs and Muslims as suspects, the practices of profiling and massive detentions are sending the exact opposite message. Of course, I hasten to add here my observation of a few weeks back when I noted how angry I was at the terrorists who committed the Sept. 11 atrocities, and those who still may be in the US intending to commit more heinous acts of murder. It is they who have created the fear and put all of us at risk. But having said this, it is of critical importance to note that we must not allow law enforcement to fall into the trap of victimizing a segment of the Arab-American community as they attempt to ferret out a small group of evildoers.

We are in a dangerous period. And this situation may become worse before it gets better. Arab-Americans still have great respect for the enormous goodwill of the large majority of our fellow Americans. But we face a difficult challenge. We must continue to make clear our absolute abhorrence of terrorism. We must, at same time, fight to defend our constitutionally-protected rights against the continuing dangers of backlash that can occur when we raise our voices to object to bad policies that we know threaten to weaken our country, both at home and abroad.

Copyright, Saudi Arabia News, Fair Use for Educational and Research Purposes Only

-- Robert Riggs (rxr.999@worldnet.att.net), November 06, 2001

Answers

There is always suspension of a lot of human rights during wartime. This is only to be expected, especially when that war hits our homeland. Last time that happened was during the Civil War. Human rights restrictions by Lincoln were enormous in number. When are people going to realize that you cannot pussy foot around, that under such dire circumstances, you must go all out to kill your enemy before he kills you. Once victorious, all civil rights can be re-established. They always have been, and they always will be.

-- Wellesley (wellesley@freeport.net), November 06, 2001.

James should be thankful were not instituting an internment program on Muslims like we did on the Japanese US citizens during WWII (lesson learned). Profiling is an unfortunate, but necessary, side effect of war. I think the case of the young Nepali man about to board a flight was a good use of profiling; young, payed in cash, Nepali, Muslim name. People that are profiled should not feel ashamed or humiliated. For instance, let's say they profiled all arab looking or muslim sounding last name men before a flight and found one of seven that had evil plans. I would think that the other six would be thankful. Searching everyone just to give the "type" of people were really after the "warm and fuzzys" would be an extreme waste of time, money and resources. One is almost led to believe that PC has infected James' civil liberties stance; I know it surely has Robert's :-).

-- Steve McClendon (ke6bjd@yahoo.com), November 07, 2001.

Violations of civil liberties under the guise of war has happened many times since the Civil War.

In World War I, US born citizens were persecuted for their political beliefs, some were even deported (Palmer Raids). That was the "war to end all war."

In World War II, concentration camps were established, as is widely documented.

McCarthyism was a direct result of the Cold War and Korea War.

During the Vietnam War, the FBI engaged is massive attacks on civil liberties of people who disagreed with the war on Vietnam, which killed two to three million Asians. Among the victims of the "COINTELPRO" program (Counter Intelligence Program) was Martin Luther King, Jr. Some suggest that even JFK and RFK became victims of the desire by the military-industrial complex for escalated war.

During the 1980s, Oliver North and FEMA worked on plans to suspend the constitution in the event of a full scale US invasion of Central America, and round up peaceful dissidents into internment camps. This came up during the Iran-Contra hearings, but Rep. Jack Brook's question was squashed by Committee Chair Sen. Inouye, who said it could only be discussed in secret.

War and civil liberties are incompatible. Perhaps the day will come soon when the US supports civil liberties and democracy in the Arab world, since the countries in that part of the world with the most extremism seem to be those with the least amount of democracy. Repression fuels extremism which fuels more repression which fuels terrorism ... an endless, escalating cycle of violence.

-- mark (mrobinowitz@nospam.igc.org), November 07, 2001.


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