Don’t sacrifice freedom for security


The terrorist attack last week will change all of our lives forever. I would not wish on anyone the agony I experienced waiting to find out if my friends were alive, but I know that all too many of us felt it, and that the pain only increased when the answers came.

I think we all agree that we should not allow our anger and sorrow to make us forget our most cherished principles and hopes. However, I fear that is precisely what our leaders, and a large portion of our population, are doing. The last week has revealed the heroism, compassion and patriotism of which Americans are capable, but it has also revealed an eagerness for vengeance against the perpetrators (or anyone who looks like them), and a willingness to sacrifice the very freedoms that terrorists always seek to destroy.

Our government representatives are ready for war, and they want bin Laden “dead or alive.” Yet the government has only classified bin Laden as “a prime suspect.” Not even Texas administers the death penalty before trying the accused.

Even proceeding on the reasonable assumption that bin Laden is responsible, war with Afghanistan will fail to accomplish our goals, and will cost many lives on both sides. The Afghani people do not support the Taliban, but a starving population living in abject poverty can hardly overthrow the Taliban, and we should not bomb these people to punish them for their desperate circumstances. The only way to bend the Taliban is to conquer them, and another superpower with considerable geographical advantages has already tried and failed to do that, with tremendous loss of life on both sides. Even if the Taliban wanted to hand bin Laden over, they might have no more ability to capture him than we do.

Of course, a U.S. attack on an Islamic country is exactly what bin Laden wants — the more brutal the attack, the easier it will be for him to unite like-minded individuals in nations throughout the Middle East. Giving the CIA increased leverage to work with human rights violators and return to their assassination/government-toppling days will also do little to build goodwill in the Middle East.

We must weigh the dim prospects for success against the certainty that a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will produce significant human rights violations. It was not so long ago that the U.S. attacked a nation with a geography ideal for guerrilla warfare, where soldiers could not easily distinguish friend from enemy, and populated by a race of people who seemed, because of media portrayals and racial stereotypes, prone to violence and less than human. One can only imagine what Vietnam would have been like if Vietnamese terrorists had killed 5,000 Americans in a day of terrorism. It also does not help that, to an American soldier, many Afghani people will look like Osama bin Laden, the man we sent them to retrieve “dead or alive.”

Of course, no one in government has yet asked how bin Laden could find so many soldiers for his war. Much of the Muslim world lives in desperate circumstances under horribly repressive governments, and the U.S. has played a significant role in creating these conditions. Changing our policies and providing relief to those suffering in the region would not only fulfill a moral duty too long neglected; it would be a prudent investment in national security.

Whatever course we adopt abroad, we must ensure that our nation remains one of freedom and tolerance. Indefinite detention of legal immigrants on charges unrelated to terrorism is only a small step away from interning them. The Supreme Court has substantially weakened Fourth Amendment protections in recent decades, and I cannot see how virtual elimination of what remains will advance the investigations enough to offset the loss of a fundamental liberty.

More distressing than any of this is the increasing violence directed against Arabs, South Asians and anyone who looks like them. A Sikh man has already been murdered, and more indiscriminate violence will follow unless the government takes an aggressive role in advocating tolerance and protecting the threatened racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

Often, when our nation has faced a crisis of this sort, civil liberties and the ideological, racial, ethnic and racial minorities they protect have suffered. As a nation, we have expressed regret over the civil strife of the Vietnam war, McCarthyism and the internment of Japanese Americans, and we have taken some of the lessons from those incidents to heart, but the headlines in recent days give me a chilling sense of history repeating. To change this pattern, we must inform our leaders that we will not allow them to destroy what America stands for, in an effort to protect us. Whatever your thoughts may be on these issues, I urge you to share them with your elected representatives. Believe me, they will listen.

Contacts for selected national leaders

Executive Branch: President Bush Vice-President Cheney vice.president@whitehouse.govSenators: Senator Kennedy Senator Kerry Representative: Representative Capuano

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