Jobs @ MG
American response a threat to freedom
By Muqtedar Khan, PhD
|Since the tragic events of 11 September
members of the administration and the policy community have been hitting
the airwaves advancing recommendations on how US should respond.
Understandably anger has dominated over other emotions such as disbelief
and sadness. Clearly the attack on America has united Americans in their
resolve to ensure that it never happens again.
But once we start separating the emotional rhetoric from the more serious
discussions a frightful picture is emerging. It seems that American
leadership has resolved the tensions between security and freedom by
privileging the former over the latter. Without a debate over how far we
can jeopardize our freedom in pursuit of security, we seem to be inclined
towards doing “whatever it takes”. Maybe this unwise consensus will
soon dissipate and more sensible measures will be taken to ensure the
security of not just Americans but also of the American way.
Until then we must grapple with what is being recommended;
1. Richard Gephardt in his discussions with Brit Hume on Fox News revealed
that the Congress was considering providing its citizens with smart
identity cards. These cards will be like a personal dossier. Imagine being
stopped by a police officer for speeding and when he asks you for your ID
you reveal not only your name and address but also your religion, your
ethnic and national origin, your immigration date and maybe your financial
and police record if any. This is not only a form of profiling but also an
invitation for discrimination. The smart cards if implemented would be the
end of privacy. Moreover will cards carried by Muslims and Arab Americans
have a different color or have a star marked on them for instant
2. Terrorism experts are suggesting the presence of “sleeper agents”.
They argue, without any evidence that Bin Laden may have sent in agents
who now live as normal citizens with normal jobs but will be activated
when necessary. The list of suspects provided by the FBI indicates that
all of them had entered the country recently. The idea of sleeper agents
if not discarded can become another tool for discrimination. It
presupposes guilt even before any crime has been committed. Fingers can be
pointed at any established citizen simply based on his or her ethnic or
religious origins. Guilt by association can become the norm.
3. After the Oklahoma bombing the Congress passed security laws, such as
the secret evidence law, that violates fourth amendment rights of
individuals. The law allows for prosecution without permitting the
defendant to refute the evidence. This law has so far been used only
against Muslims and Arabs. Attorney General Ashcroft said that he would
ask Congress for expanded powers to detain foreigners, wiretap telephones,
track financial remittances. Needless to say, Muslims and Muslim
institutions will be the target of this secret surveillance by KGB, sorry
I mean the FBI. I recognize the difficulties that a free society imposes
on policing. But if some liberties have to be curtailed in the interest of
the larger good of national security, then it must be done on the basis of
an accurate threat assessment. Baseless exaggerations about sleeper agents
and multiple layers of embedded terrorist cells will merely increase the
scope and depth of civil rights abuses.
4.Many Congressmen are talking about revisiting immigration policy. There
is a danger that the new policy may lend itself to racial profiling and
religious discrimination. Before the relative triumph of the civil rights
movement, US immigration policies were markedly racist, encouraging white
immigrants and discouraging others. We must resist the temptation to
rollback the appreciation for multiculturalism and diversity in our public
policy. Policies designed to limit immigration from Muslim countries may
also cause permanent divisions of families, leaving behind spouses and
children of American permanent residents and citizens.
5. Ashcroft is also talking of controlling the flow of relief funds. In
the past at the behest of Israeli authorities Muslim organizations raising
funds in the US to alleviate the misery of Kashmiris, Palestinians,
Bosnians and Chechens, have been subjected to harassment and scrutiny by
FBI. They were accused of raising funds for Hamas. If one is not careful
and cautious in implementing security measures, many refugee camps and
non-governmental organizations providing much needed relief all over the
world will be made to suffer unnecessarily.
It is possible that such draconian measures will eventually take a much
milder form as more and more people realize their threat to American civil
society. But we cannot wait for that to happen. We must act now. I invite
all who are concerned about our freedoms and the quality of our civil
society to let Washington know our concerns now.
Ironically the terrorist’s attack probably intended to force a change in
US foreign policy. It seems that instead they will be forcing dramatic
shifts in domestic policy.