- Sometimes life mirrors the comic strips. The recent "Doonesbury"
series on ethnic profiling was frighteningly accurate and reflective of
our current reality.
- I should know; on Oct. 12, I was ordered off a Delta
Airlines flight at Raleigh-Durham International Airport because a panic-stricken
passenger seated to my immediate right said I made him nervous.
- The plane's captain explained that he was removing me
because I had created an "uncomfortable" environment. He refused
to hear my explanation, and I was quickly escorted off the airplane.
- Had he listened, he would have learned that the fear
and discomfort the complaining passenger apparently felt were in response
to discovering that I'm originally from Lebanon. As in the comic strip,
I was guilty of "flying while Arab" (akin to "driving while
black"). As one who teaches children to respect differences, recognize
similarities and appreciate connections between peoples, I was shocked
and insulted by this xenophobic discrimination.
- Given the horrific hijackings of Sept. 11, and last month's
attempted attack using a shoe bomb in mid-flight, the need for heightened
security at airports is painfully obvious. Yet racism and hatred of foreigners
must not be allowed to replace good judgment and wise security measures.
- The most recent high-profile example is the case of the
Arab-American Secret Service officer, entrusted with protecting the life
of the president, who was taken off a commercial flight on Christmas Day,
in part because he "looked suspicious." Vigilance is good, but
racism is bad; let's not let one become the other.
- Incidents like these illustrate how quickly civil rights
can be lost. After the passage of the USA Patriot Act and the planned military
tribunals, fundamental civil liberties are being violated.
- Ignore your rights, and they will go away -- for all
of us, immigrants and citizens alike. We must protect our freedom, not
sacrifice it through fear. And it is precisely during a time of national
emergency when abiding by our valued American principles is most critical.
If we believe in the principles symbolized by our flag, "liberty and
justice for all," then Attorney General John Ashcroft is wrong in
suggesting that some people do not deserve due process of the law. Just
as we have zero tolerance for terrorism, we must have zero tolerance for
violations of civil and human rights for all residents of the United States.
- It is not possible to have racial profiling, ethnic/religious
discrimination, arbitrary arrests and detentions -- and then expect to
return to the principles of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Today,
people of Middle Eastern descent, including some congressmen (one of whom
was also refused a seat on a commercial flight), are part of "the
other" being targeted. An injustice against one violates all of our
rights as it damages protections we each cherish. We must raise freedom's
torch higher instead of letting go of our civil and human rights to quench
- The abridgment of civil rights has too often been deemed
acceptable during times of war, as evidenced by the internment of American
citizens of Japanese heritage during World War II. Are we to believe that
after the war everything was made right again, even though there are many
stories to the contrary?
- This war on terrorism is open-ended, much like the everlasting
war on drugs. When will it be possible to declare victory? Can we risk
waiting that long while civil rights continue to be eroded? Shall we wait
until our Bill of Rights becomes a relic and our freedoms a mere memory?
When and how will we regain our squandered rights?
- We are a proud nation and we must remember who we are.
Except for the indigenous peoples, we are all immigrants or descendants
of immigrants, and we have all gained much from the continuing diversity
and varied contributions that all have carried with them and passed on
to this great nation.
- Thus, racial profiling ultimately affects us all -- Native
American, Asian-American, African-American, Arab-American, Latin-American,
Euro-American or any other flavor of law-abiding person -- and regardless
of the popularity of one's socio-political views.
- United We Stand must bring together people of diverse
ethnicities and persuasions with respect, tolerance and true allegiance
to our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Otherwise, fear and ignorance will
prevail, and there will be no real peace and security to enjoy in the New
- Wael Masri lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.