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Speaking While Palestinian

Aimee L. Smith

You have probably heard about the sarcastic quip, "Driving While Black” in response to racial profiling. “DWB” burst into mainstream awareness with the 1996 lawsuit against New Jersey Turnpike Authorities that documented that Troopers on I-95 were almost five times more likely to pull over drivers of African descent over other drivers. I can personally attest that members of my family have been pulled over on the New Jersey Turnpike, with a complete unwarranted search of the vehicle being made, only when traveling with African Americans. As problematic as this behavior is, the lawsuits and publicity had opened up the dialog to the point were even white Americans and law enforcement officials were condemning the practice of racial profiling. That was pre-9/11.

The response to 9/11 led not only to an increase in the profiling and illegal detention of people of Arab descent and practitioners of Islam and a wave of hate-crimes against people perceived to be in one of these categories, but it also led to a return to widespread acceptance of racial profiling. Over 1,000 immigrants of Arab or Pakistani origin have been swept up and detained in INS jails, often without informing their friends and family. The exact numbers are still unknown and many have not had access to legal representation. Even an American citizen, Jose Padilla, has been stripped of his constitutional rights to due process as the government has condemned him without a trial as an enemy combatant. He is currently being held in a military base and has been denied access to a lawyer. None of this would be possible if it weren’t for the acquiescence of the United States citizenry, who have been bombarded with messages of hatred, xenophobia, nationalism and fear since that fateful day.

On Nov. 2, I and many others participated in a legal protest for Palestinian rights in the streets of Boston with respected community activist and Palestinian Amer Jubran. The following Monday at eight in the morning, Jubran, a legal United States resident, was visited at his home by INS and FBI agents. His home was illegally entered and he was taken in for questioning. Amer was told that if he cooperated with the FBI, he could be home in time for lunch. If he failed to comply, they could let him rot in jail for 50 years. Apparently, exercising his right to have the benefit of legal counsel during an FBI interrogation is considered “not cooperating,” because he remains in jail to this day. Amer spent first 24 hours in the prison with hands and legs shackled in solitary confinement. When he told one of the guards that this treatment would not satisfy the standards of Amnesty International, the guard reportedly said, “Amnesty International standards do not apply in here, my friend.”

Amer Jubran is being held on some alleged immigration technicality that does not even warrant incarceration. But his real crime, as far as the FBI is concerned, is his willingness to exercise his first amendment rights of assembly and speech in the streets of Boston, followed by his refusal to be interrogated without benefit of legal counsel. This is not the logic of security; this is the logic of repression.

I suppose if we American citizens really fell for the line about the 9/11 hijackers -- “they hate us because of our freedoms” -- then fear without reflection might make us willing to give up those very freedoms so that “they” would have no reason to hate us anymore. The fact is, the reasons that drive desperate people to violent acts are much more complicated than the rhetoric we are made to believe, and we really aren’t stupid enough to accept the empty Bush administration analysis.

The United States has been the perpetrator of many crimes against humanity, has created and funded the creation of many weapons of mass-destruction, and is the only nation to have dropped the atomic bomb on regions with dense civilian populations. There is much in our history to feel shame about. But at the same time, there is one major thing that we should feel proud about, and that is the promise of the enshrinement and protection of rights that are offered by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. How closely these promises are realized is directly proportional to how willing each and every citizen and resident of this land will fight to protect them. It is a lot like maintaining strong and healthy muscles: use them or lose them.