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Front Page » September 21, 2004 » Opinion » Unfairness in times of crisis an American institution
Published 3,593 days ago

Unfairness in times of crisis an American institution


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate community editor

Imagine yourself seated in the most comfortable chair in the house reading a good book when suddenly two men in black suits and hats come through the door without identifying themselves and ask you if you are who you are. When you tell them yes, you are who they believe you to be, they tell you that they are from the FBI and arrest you without informing you as to the reason for your being placed in custody.

Most Americans, now or at any time in our history, would be appalled by such behavior from government officials. But at the beginning of America's entrance into World War II scenes like this were a reality.

With the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and subsequent events since then, many Americans have either been reminded or have learned for the first time the hysteria that accompanies war. That hysteria carries over in many forms, sometimes including official reaction to a situation.

Most Americans are aware that at the beginning of World War II many Japanese Americans on the west coast of the United States were systematically rounded up and sent to camps for the duration of the conflict, due to the fear they could be sabateurs or in league with Japan. This problem has been addressed again and again in the press and even by the government when Congress enacted a bill to compensate surviving camp members in 1997 for their loss of property when they were relocated to camps at that time.

The cry from many who were in favor of these reparations and the apology that came with it was that the reason the Japanese were rounded up was because of their skin color. They argued that the same didn't happen to people of German or Italian descent, even though the other two axis powers were in league with Japan.

But that cry was and is wrong. A number of Italian and German American's were rounded up and detained at a similar time; just not as many. That is not a well known fact, largely because the numbers were much smaller. Most were first generation immigrants, but a few were from later generations.

The groups that are rounded up by a government in fear are sometimes obvious, and other times they are not. Totalitarian governments make no excuses for their actions. Democracies need to make them, despite the fact they often do the same thing.

Since Sept. 11 many Americans have lived in fear of people who look middle eastern. There have been incidents concerning absolutely innocent citizens all over the country, people who were just going about their daily business from boarding airliners to driving across a state line.

We here about them and often pass them off as an aberration, but those incidents are not that simple for the people caught up in them. I worry constantly about our country being sucked into a new era of McCarthyism, where everyone is guilty until proven innocent.

It's easy for Americans that are obviously of European descent to ignore these cases, but they could have serious repercussions, not only for the innocents involved, but for all of us.

Probably one of the stories that has touched me the most through this whole thing is that of a man named Bilal Mahmud, a father of three children, a former U.S. Marine, a Vietnam veteran and an American Muslim who has not even had a traffic ticket in 17 years, despite being a long haul hazardous cargo truck driver.

In late July Mahmud was informed by the Department of Homeland Security that he posed a security threat and that with that designation he could no longer drive loads that hauled hazardous material in accordance with the provisions of his commercial drivers license.

For the last 28 years Mahmud has had an exemplary record with the company he works for, but because of this designation, he had to turn over his license to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles. The Federal agency refuses to tell him why he has been declared a security risk, despite requests to do so. He has now lost his livelihood, building him a prison without walls.

Mahmud, an African American, wonders if it is because he is Muslim, or if he unknowingly has come into contact with people through his travels around the world that are a threat, and so he is considered one himself?

These actions don't sound like they would come from the country I know as America, but then I am a white American, with no particular religious affiliation. So I probably personally never will know what that is like.

There are those that each time people who are different from us come into our country they want them thrown out. It started very early in our history with individuals who were not of western European descent (except of course the slaves and indentured servants) and went right up through our history to the Irish, the Italians, those from the far east, people from south of the border and to the present day fear of individuals of middle eastern descent or those associated with them.

There are a lot of jokes about racial profiling, but the practice is no joke to those that are of different races. Obviously our government is also starting religious profiling as well, making American citizens who are every bit as patriotic as Christians, but who don't believe in the same gospel, near criminal in the files of security agencies.

It has been said that many Americans would be extremely surprised if they were to look in the files of the FBI and found their names there. While the agency has cleaned itself up a lot since the latter days of J. Edger Hoover, who went from being a hero in the early days of the agency to become a reigning totally out of control empire building tyrant in his later life, there are still problems there, along with every other security agency.

But the single biggest problem they all have is paranoia and a disregard for the rights of the citizens of this country. As long as the common man stands around and doesn't make a peep about the way they operate and continues to elect those into office that believe in such strong handed tactics, everyones constitutional rights are in jeopardy.


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