Monday, September 19, 2011

We need to challenge politics of fear 10 years after 9/11

By Dawud Walid
As we reflect on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, our country has the opportunity to reflect upon how far we have collectively moved away from being seen as a moral authority on civil and human rights in the world and where we need to go in the future to restore this perceived authority.

Ten years ago, the world grieved with us as we lost our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters and friends to the most deadly terrorist attack upon American soil. Even countries and organizations that have continued to be deemed extremist — Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah — denounced the attack by Al-Qaeda as a crime against humanity and “un-Islamic.” However, much of the sympathy and empathy that we received from the world has fundamentally eroded 10 years later.

In less than two months after 9/11, President George W. Bush signed into law the U.S. Patriot Act, which provided unprecedented powers to federal law enforcement entities to surveil persons without predication of terrorism-related activities, including the expanded usage of paid informants (15,000 FBI informatns alone, according to current data) to infiltrate religious institutions and the ability to detain citizens during border reentry without charges in the name of national security.

Such powers have led to systematic abuses ranging from United State Border Patrol agents having the authority to detain and question persons — including citizens up to 100 miles from the U.S. border — without proof of criminal activity and anti-war activists having their homes raided and being served with grand jury subpoenas due to their lawful political expressions to citizens being placed on the no-fly list while being overseas, then being barred from flying home to their own country, America.

Besides problematic laws such as the Patriot Act being instituted post-9/11, a growing cottage industry of Islamophobes has shaped the political discourse in our nation and has influenced policy makers at the highest levels of government.

The Center for American Progress recently documented that some of the top Islamophobes have received up to $43 million dollars of funding from conservative foundations, not including other donations and honorariums, in which these same bigots have met with top federal law enforcement officials, testified in congressional hearings about American Muslims and the need to erode civil liberties more in the name of national security and even trained FBI and Homeland Security agents.

The increase in domestic abuses coupled with the culmination of reports such as the high levels of civilian casualties, labeled “collateral damage,” in the ongoing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and de facto war in the Waziristan area of Pakistan by American military personnel along with CIA drones and the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp have severely tarnished our reputation abroad.

Thus, even with President Obama giving speeches with much fanfare in Egypt, Ghana and Turkey about America’s commitment to human rights and our stated desire to “partner with the developing world,” polls such as a recent report released by the Arab American Institue show that America’s approval rating around the globe is at a record low.

While some Tea Party politicians and acolytes clamor about “taking America back” — meaning turning the clock back to the pre-civil rights movement era — we must be bold enough as Americans to stand up for the spirit of civil and human rights, be more vocal in confronting systemic bigotry and offer solutions to contemporary problems before some misguided souls push us toward the brink of fascism.

This starts with the awareness that many laws and policies that were basically shaped to confront Muslims who were deemed national security threats did not stop with Muslims, but has adversely impacted all American’s constitutional rights.

We need to continue to raise concerns about problematic provisions within the Patriot Act and call out unabashedly racist and xenophobic political rhetoric. Moreover, despite it being uncomfortable, we need to engage as a nation in intellectually honest national discussion about why most of the world is not fond of America and what are the root causes of the despicable disease of international terrorism, besides fear-mongering and Mickey Mouse explanations such as extremists attack us because “they hate us because of our freedoms” that have led our nation into unjust military conflicts.

As we remember those who were lost in the tragedy of 9/11, who we cannot bring back, let us be resolute in bringing back what we can, which is the American spirit of striving toward making our nation “a more perfect union” by ensuring “liberty and justice for all,” while standing against the politics of fear.

Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan (CAIR-MI)

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