Author: Wasim Rahman '02
By now, most of us know what is happening with American Muslims and Arabs. As a Muslim, I've found that most members of our community were very worried about my safety and understood my anxiety before I flew home this December. They were sympathetic to my worries about profiling and openly condemned it. I was so nervous about being taken off a flight for being South Asian or having a Muslim name that I shaved my beard and had the College issue a letter to me, stating I was a student in goodstanding here. I did not want any trouble and thankfully, I had a very pleasant flight home. I even had a Muslim meal on my flight, prepared according to Islamic law.
Almost all of us have heard of the dramatic rise in hate crimes against the Muslim and Arab communities in the United States. These crimes have ranged from setting an Iraqi-owned pizza parlor ablaze (Boston), stabbing a Saudi international student (Boston), driving a car into an Ohio mosque or chasing veiled Muslim women down the street (New York, Toronto and Los Angeles). As with profiling, we are quick to openly condemn these crimes. We are willing to speak against them, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
Yet there is another more serious problem brewing in our justice system. Unlike hate crimes, which are clearly wrong and detestable, there is another more serious type of crime being committed by our government. Under the pretense of combating the war against terror, our government has been systematically questioning and imprisoning Arabs and Muslims. Often they are trying to immigrate to the United States from Muslim countries. Some have committed minor immigration violations and others we know nothing about.
For instance, two weeks ago, the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on behalf of two local newspapers and Representative Conyers (D-MI) against the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Department of Justice. A memo issued by Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy last September requires the closure of all deportation hearings to the public and press at the discretion of the Justice Department. In specific, the Michigan ACLU filed a lawsuit with the case of Rabih Haddad in mind. Haddad was imprisoned because he traveled on an expired visa, but is now being accused of co-founding an Islamic charity in Michigan that supports terrorism. The charity, Global Relief Foundation, is the largest Muslim charity in the United States. At present, Haddad is in jail, and his deportation proceedings are being held in secret. Sadly, our government condones such a gross violation of civil liberties and does so in the name of combating terrorism.
I question our government officials: What threat does Haddad, an elderly man who has spent much of his life working on feeding refugees in places like Afghanistan, Palestine and Bosnia, pose to our government? If his charity is in fact guilty of supporting terrorism, then why not allow him a free and open trial? Secret trials are the sign of a government that must not be trusted. In the words of the Executive Director of the ACLU of the state of Michigan, "If hearings of this nature are being conducted in secret, how can we be sure that our justice system is really working and that detainees are being
Simultaneously, the ACLU is coming to the aid of Muslims and Arabs in New Jersey. Roughly 500 men have been imprisoned in that state and civil rights advocacy groups have been denied their legal right to know who has been incarcerated. Most have been reportedly imprisoned on immigration charges. According to the ACLU of New Jersey, there is a very clear state law expressed in three different statutes that requires jails to make public the names of those who are being incarcerated. Many students here at Middlebury are from New Jersey, and I suspect that some of them come from Hudson and Passaic counties. Both these counties are facing a lawsuit by the ACLU for not releasing names of those incarcerated. I strongly encourage my peers from these counties to contact their representatives and insist that the names be released. Just as we, as a community, condemn hate crimes and profiling, so too must we condemn secrecy of our government when it comes to trials and prisons.
According to an article in The New York Times on Jan. 23, 2002 entitled "Rights Groups Press for Names of Muslims Held in New Jersey," the government responded to repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act by releasing a list of 723 men who had been incarcerated on immigration violations. However, the names and locations of those in jail had been blacked out entirely. According to the article, "what was left was the detainee's nationality, date of arrest, legal charge and date of charging document. In more than a dozen cases, the documents showed a lag of more than a month between the arrest and the filing of charges." The article went on to describe the Catch-22 our government has created for the civil rights advocacy groups. They are allowed to visit those who have been incarcerated, yet the Department of Justice refuses to tell them where these men are and what their names are.
My point by sharing this information with all of you is that we should be aware of the gross infringement of civil liberties by our government. We should know how the Department of Justice is treating some of the most vulnerable members of our community. If Rabih Haddad and the men in New Jersey are terrorists, I am glad that the government has caught them. However, they have the right to have a free and fair trial. As Americans, we deserve to know who has been placed in our jails and why. What is happening today is un-American and simply wrong. As citizens of the freest country in the world, we should question our government when it takes the freedoms of our community members away. Our government should not be allowed to do whatever it wants in the name of a war against terror. It must be held accountable for the decisions it makes.
I beg the rest of our community to share this information with others you know and write your representatives. Insist on a free, open and fair society. Speak up for your Muslim and Arab neighbors.
In the Name of National Security? Rahman Condemns Unjust Treatment of Arab, Muslim Citizens
Author: Wasim Rahman '02