Thursday, April 12, 2012

Americans have become remarkably careless about their civil liberties -- issues that previous generations fought and died for, like the right to vote and the right to religious freedom with liberty and justice for all. The United States today is home to millions of immigrants and their families who fled their own countries because of their fear of secret police, the dreaded knock on the door in the middle of the night, arrest without trial, surveillance by the Gestapo, the Mukhabarat, the Stasi, or the KGB and now the morals police of the Taliban. It is outrageous that some of these communities should now be under surveillance today in the "land of the free."

But where is the outrage? There is a huge presence of apathy and complacency in the land, with people ignoring abuses of civil liberties as long as it is happening to the "other" -- immigrant communities of a different religion, language, color or documentation. Courageous minority voices still speak up in their defense, but there is a disturbing acceptance of practices that seem totally un-American. Torture, arrest without trial and surveillance without cause are being justified because people are afraid and these practices are deemed to be keeping America safe from terrorism.

The recent revelations about the role of NYPD and the CIA in monitoring Arab and Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey would be almost amusing if it were not so sinister. Secret reports have been filed containing trite and irrelevant information such as -- "Observed a female named Rasha working in the travel agency -- she recommended the Royal Jordanian Airline." In spite of the Attorney General's assurance that police should only monitor activity when there is a basis to believe that something inappropriate is occurring or potentially could occur, this intrusive police surveillance of Egyptian, Syrian, Palestinian and Shi'a Muslim communities clearly falls outside these guidelines.

Trust have been broken. Fear and suspicion has been generated; prejudice and negative perceptions have been reinforced. That this is totally counter-productive in the search for terrorists seems to have escaped the notice of the NYPD and the CIA and their blundering spying in mosques and meeting places is not only an enormous waste of public resources, it is a violation of fundamental rights of citizens to be free of intrusive government surveillance as they go about their everyday activities.

James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute, warned in a recent blog post that if these rights are overlooked for Muslim Americans, "then these rights may ultimately be threatened for all Americans."