From the time I was in elementary school, I was bombarded with ideas that there was no better place than America. Whether it was reading my American biased Social Studies textbooks, or reciting the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of each class, I was certain that the United States was a nation that provided “liberty and justice for all. ” However, after the attacks on September 11th, I realized that race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation has an affect on the amount of liberty and justice one received.
Following the events of September 11th, United States practices contradicted the idea of “liberty and justice for all. ” Arab Americans were profiled, interrogated, detained, assaulted, and hated. It is interesting to consider why, in a country supposedly founded based on freedom, a lack of liberty exists for certain groups of people. Jeremy Waldron in his article, “Security and Liberty: The Image of Balance,” strongly suggests that American citizens should question the government’s enforcement of freedom and security.
The attacks on September 11th, provided the government with an opportunity to put restrictions on our liberty in this country. Waldron admits, “some adjustment has to be made after it becomes evident that terrorists can take advantage of our traditional liberties to commit murder on such a scale” (194). Furthermore, he accepts that there is a relationship between reduced civil liberties and increased security but also challenges that statement, explaining this relationship does not always exist inversely. I agree that this relationship does not always exist inversely but I challenge Waldron.
The United States government is in a difficult position, and he should not be so critical of their practices if he cannot offer any suggestions. I am by no means saying I agree with the actions of the United States government but it seems like they are in a lose-lose situation. On one hand, they can maintain the civil liberties and security we had prior to September 11th, but if another attack occurs, the citizens of the United States will question why nothing was done. Now that the government has increased security levels and decreased certain civil liberties, they are facing criticism.
Waldron notes that increased security for the majority of people does not justify decreased liberty of certain groups. Since the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks were members of a visible ethnic group, their actions depict those of their entire group and people who look or speak like them are likely to face greater levels of suspicion, Waldron explains. This particular argument struck a chord when I read it. I realized and I hope many others realize that this type of generalizing existed in this country way before September 11th.
As an African American at Columbia University, I am a part of the minority. It is sometimes difficult to express everything I feel or be an individual without people assuming that my actions depict those of my entire group. If I stand up in the middle of the dining hall and create a scene and people view my actions as stupid or consider me ignorant, I reflect my entire race and not just myself. Though this does not directly relate to the profiling of Arab Americans, it allows me to understand what it feels like to be judged based on one’s appearance or ethnicity.
Waldron’s point is valid; if liberties must decrease, they must decrease for everyone. It is unfair for the liberties of certain groups to be sacrificed because of the belief that it will be an increase in security for the majority. The decrease in civil liberties after 9/11 has not personally affected me. Such measures like the Patriot Act, make immigrants deportable for virtually any associational support that they offer to a “terrorist organization,” irrespective of whether the alien’s support has any connection to violence, much less terrorism.
These types of changes in civil liberties, are aimed at those who are suspected perpetrators and most Americans assume that these people will look different from themselves. I had the opportunity to speak with a police officer about the new training New York City police officers have to undergo to identify terrorists. She was extremely upset and explained to me they specifically order them not to profile but then the criteria for identifying terrorists is essentially profiling.
Recently, the United States government enforced a new law under the Patriot Act, which allows police officers to stop any commuter on New York City buses or trains and search their bags or packages. The problem lies with what criteria determines who is stopped and searched. Many Americans, including myself, are oblivious to the Patriot Act because, for the most part, if they do not fit a certain profile the Patriot Act does not affect their lives. A balance between security and liberty for all people, disregarding race, ethnicity, appearance, or religious affiliation, must be reached.
Waldron states, “Reducing liberty may prevent an action taking place which would otherwise pose a risk of harm. But it necessarily also increases the power of the state, and there is a corresponding risk that this enhanced power may also be used to cause harm” (207). I agree with this statement, but I cannot imagine what more the government can do to ensure our safety. Many Americans scrutinize this aspect of the government’s policies, but no one, including people I have spoken and the authors of different articles, seems to have any suggestions.
That being said, I also have to state that by no means do I agree with the American government’s entire handling of the situation after September 11th. The attacks on September 11th threatened American’s security and many felt the need to retaliate. This is of course human nature, if someone attacks you; often you feel a need to take revenge out on that person. However, the problem lies when you cannot identify your attacker and you still have a need for revenge. Waldron writes: “When they are attacked, people lash out, or they want their government to lash out and inflict reprisals.
To put it a little more kindly, people want to feel that something is being done, in response to the attacks and in response to the continuing threat – preferable something very violent (like the bombing of Afghanistan), or something new and drastic like the setting up of new forms of detention camp or new types of tribunal. People are less interested in the effectiveness of these devices than in the sense that something striking and unusual is being done. ” (Waldron 209) After September 11th, the American government approached the situation exactly in this manner.
Waldron explains that now our country is less secure because of it. We gain because we need a sense of fulfillment because of our loss of liberty, but what we need to think about is whether this fulfillment is just. This approach is likely to be counter-productive. “Lashing out” and employing some policies in the patriot act, we are likely to alienate the communities that we need most to fight the war on terrorism. After the events of September 11th, I felt the need to lash out. But now 4 years later, I agree with Waldron and see that America is not only punishing the perpetrators of the attacks on September 11th.
America is punishing Arab Americans here by taking violent action against those who may have family in Iraq, as well as alienating Arab Americans in this country. Mark Slouka in his essay, “A Year Later: Notes on America’s Intimations of Mortality,” explains how, many Americans were willing to give up certain liberties because they felt they were undeserving of the attack on 9/11. I remember students in school, asked “what did we do to them? ” Americans feel a separation from those who are different from those who speak a different language or look different.
This attitude correlates with why it was so easy for many Americans to accept that only a certain group of people is targeted when limiting liberties. I cannot even imagine the outrage that Americans would display if people of American descent experienced such negative profiling that their liberties became limited while abroad. Slouka describes how three days after September 11th, many began scapegoating Muslim Americans everywhere. He describes a discussion with a friend who claimed that records from the New Jersey Board of Education showed “they had kept their children out of school the morning of September 11th.
Hard to believe? Sure. But records don’t lie. And a nearly 100% absence rate allowed for only one conclusion. They all had known. All of them” (36). He questions why anyone would believe this absurd claim. If thousands of Muslims knew, how was it that the government lacked this knowledge? Also, if they knew the attack was going to occur in New York City, why did they keep their children from attending in New Jersey. This is not the first time that America has responded to fear by targeting immigrants and treating them as suspect because of their group identities rather than their individual conduct.
Slouka agrees with Waldron’s claim that people who look or speak like the perpetrators are likely to face greater levels of suspicion. Shortly following the 9/11 attacks, I shamefully admit that on my way home from school, I saw an Arab in the same subway car and my heart skipped a beat. I was fearful that he was a terrorist and stared at him to see whether he was doing something peculiar. This fear is natural and it is sometimes impossible for people not to generalize but that still does not make it right.
The American government should not enforce laws that target specific groups, because our country was built on the idea of “liberty and justice for all. ” Justice Louis Brandeis wrote the framers of our Constitution knew “that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; and that hate menaces stable government. ” More simply put, maintaining our liberty is essential to maintaining our security and a threat to our liberty is a threat to our security. As Waldron outlines in his essay, the measure of increased security are unlikely to make us more secure.
If the American government punishes even nonviolent and anti-terrorist groups, we will “waste valuable resources tracking innocent political activity, drive other activity underground, encourage extremists, and make the communities that will inevitably be targeted by such measures far less likely to cooperate with law enforcement. “1And by conducting law enforcement in secret, and changing procedures designed to protect the innocent and contradicting the amendments that this country stands on and promoting racial, ethnic, religious or any type of stereotyping or profiling, America will encourage people to fear the worst about our government.