BY ARSALAN SULEMAN
Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has a clear strategy to gain support for a 2008 presidential bid: stoke fear and hate of Muslims to win the hearts and minds of “red-state folk.” In front of a very receptive audience at the Heritage Foundation on September 14th, Romney, HLS class of ’75, suggested that intelligence agencies should consider engaging in even further surveillance of foreign students and in wiretapping mosques. Rather than actually proposing different means of improving intelligence gathering, Romney made these vague, suggestive statements for one purpose only – to endear himself to conservatives at the expense of innocent foreign students and Muslims.
In his speech to the Heritage Foundation, Romney asked the audience several rhetorical questions indicating a desire to increase surveillance on foreign students and mosques. “I’m talking about…tracking students, visitors. We have 120 colleges and universities in Massachusetts, roughly. How many individuals are coming to our state and going to those institutions who come from terror-sponsored states? Do we know where they are? Are we tracking them? How about people who are in settings, mosques, for instance, that may be teaching doctrines of hate and terror, are we monitoring that? Are we wiretapping? Are we following what’s going on? Are we seeing who’s coming in, who’s coming out? Are we eavesdropping? Carrying out surveillance on those individuals that are coming from places that sponsor domestic terror?” Tracking, monitoring, wiretapping, following, seeing, eavesdropping, surveillance – no, Romney is not synopsizing Orwell’s 1984; he’s making a bid to be President.
The problems with Governor Romney’s string of questions are that 1) he is drawing unfounded suspicion on foreign students and mosques, 2) such positions alienate necessary allies in intelligence gathering efforts, and 3) these views poison the overall atmosphere in America, especially in regards to the treatment of Islam and Muslims. On the first point, to absolutely categorize all foreign students from “terror-sponsored states,” whatever that is supposed to refer to, as being inherently suspicious or more dangerous is an unwarranted and counter-productive position. Many of the students from foreign countries come to America to witness how the world’s most celebrated democracy actually functions. I do not think that stalking them would be a very welcoming introduction to American values and democracy. Apparently, Governor Romney does not care about attracting foreign students to study in and learn from America. He said as much on the O’Reilly Factor on September 16th: “Well, I’m not going to be terribly worried about people who are coming from terrorist-sponsored states. I’m – you know, that’s not [where] I’m trying to attract more students.” If civil liberties are to mean anything, the presumption of liberty and privacy should extend to all persons in America, unless there is some probable cause otherwise to initiate an official investigation. The need for a well-functioning public diplomacy effort demands that we treat our foreign guests with the utmost hospitality, civility, and respect so that strong ties may be formed between Americans and the future leaders of such foreign countries.
Furthermore, Romney should not make blanket suggestions that mosques be wiretapped. As a governor, he should be concerned with protecting the civil and religious rights of all law-abiding residents of Massachusetts. To make general accusations against the thousands of mosques in America is insulting and disturbing. Having served as a member of the Federal Homeland Security Advisory Council, Romney knows well enough the laws regarding wiretaps. In fact, in an interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN on September 18th, Ronmey stated, “Well, I’m not talking about doing anything unconstitutional, and you don’t wire tap unless you have probable cause and a court order to do so.” Romney also knows that the FBI has, consistent with federal wiretap laws, wiretapped some mosques in pursuit of certain investigations. In front of reporters at the Otis Air National Guard base in Bourne, Romney clarified, “I’m not suggesting a new form of counterintelligence or a new form of intelligence in this nation.” Instead of making baseless attacks and insinuations against mosques that are sure to alienate Muslims, Romney could instead foster relations with the Muslim community to ensure their cooperation and assistance in ongoing and future investigation and policy efforts.
Finally, something must be said about the ease with which Islam and Muslims are maligned in this country. Instead of being appalled by the desecration of the Qu’ran at Guantanamo Bay, Americans around the nation actually engaged in copy-cat acts of defilement. Mosques around the country received remnants of burnt Qu’rans, feces-covered Qu’rans, ripped-up Qu’rans, and Qu’rans that had been flushed in toilets. Every day there are reports of mosques being vandalized. Radio talk-show hosts often break out into tirades against Islam without having a shred of knowledge about the religion to back up their distortions and lies. So when organizations like CAIR and MAS (along with other allies such as the ACLU) criticize Governor Romney for his statements, it is not because they have a political agenda. Rather, it is because they care about the climate of fear and hate that is pervading America. This is not an issue about being politically correct; it is an issue about whether our leaders are going to lead America in a direction of unity and cooperation or division and distrust.
Romney described himself as a “red speck in a blue state” and as someone who has always considered himself “red-state folk.” I hope that the rest of the “red-state folk” out there can see through Romney’s instigating remarks. None of his insinuations were actually part of a recommended change in policy. Instead, they were designed to show “red-state folk” that Romney too could debase himself with fear-inspiring and prejudicial remarks. We should all beware of Big Brother Mitt.
Arsalan Suleman is a 2L from Kenner, LA.