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"How many people in yellow/orange-alert America feel "freer" today than they did prior to 9/11?"
I didn't attend Attorney General John Ashcroft's speech last month in Minneapolis, but newspapers have quoted him as saying that Americans are "freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom."
Well, this American disagrees! And I would venture to say that many others feel the same way -- those who have been put on the "them" side of the "us vs. them" equation in the context of the administration's "you're either with us or against us" mentality.
It didn't matter whether you were a career FBI agent, a decorated war veteran, a duly elected congressman or senator, a military general or even a former president, you were labeled a traitor for voicing any criticism of administration policies. You were accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy, called a friend of Osama bin Laden and thrown to the wolves (or more accurately, the FOXes).
The intimidation in this country that's been whipped up by this official fear and warmongering has been far more effective than any Patriot Act in whittling away our civil liberties.
Interestingly enough, Ashcroft himself is not above using this technique to lump those who disagree with him in with the terrorists to thereby discourage debate. Recall his statement, three months after Sept. 11: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists -- for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies."
It's also no secret that this administration has used its considerable power to fight giving any real legal protection to government whistle-blowers and even attempted to water down the Sarbanes-Oxley Act's protections recently enacted for corporate whistle-blowers.
Of course, no "whistle-blower protection" exists for public disclosures or articles such as this one. But even without it, the First Amendment should suffice and is what I rely on. However, the official warnings along these lines that I've repeatedly received in the course of my attempts to speak on issues of public importance seem little more than veiled threats; or are they perhaps a warning that the First Amendment is not as robust as it used to be?
There's another large segment of our citizenry who have found themselves cast as "thems" by this "war" mentality. Complaints of discrimination against Muslim workers and reports of hate crimes against people believed to be of Middle Eastern descent have at least doubled.
Social psychologists say that the attacks of Sept. 11 and their aftermath have created a real-world experiment which unfortunately indicates that the more positively one feels about the United States, the more likely one is to be anti-Arab.
Although it must be recognized that the origin of this problem was in the horror of the violent attacks themselves and that certain government leaders, such as FBI Director Robert Mueller, have undertaken efforts to reach out to affected Arab groups, the social scientists point to other government actions following 9/11 (including the government's roundup and detention of illegal immigrants, the special registration requirements that single out students and visitors from Muslim nations, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) as sending "social signals" that are worsening these biases.
A specialist in the issues of prejudice and stereotyping has noted that people who perceive themselves under threat naturally tend to think of "who's with me" and "who's against me." In any event, I doubt that many in the Arab-American segment of the populace feel "freer today," as Ashcroft's generality suggests.
I could go on in a more general, abstract way about how "free" any of us truly is living with the ongoing terrorist threat to our safety that will be with us for a long time. For, distilled to their essences, security and liberty are very intertwined, if not the same thing. In that sense, how many people in yellow/orange-alert America feel "freer" today than they did prior to 9/11?
Ashcroft may be correct on other matters, including that the letter of the law contained in the Patriot Act is, for the most part, not the problem, but he is certainly either in denial, out of touch or painting far too rosy a picture by saying that Americans are "freer today than at any time in the history of human freedom." For our civil liberties can be and are in jeopardy in other ways.
For starters, we must do more to break down the "us vs. them" mind-set and the accompanying intimidation that ultimately threaten us all. We must recognize that we are all in this together.
Coleen Rowley works for the Federal Bureau of Investigation as a special agent with the Minneapolis office. (The views expressed are her own and are not to be construed as the official views of the FBI.) © Copyright C Rawley 2003 For fair use only/ pour usage équitable seulement .