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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 identification?

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.


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