Friday, December 20, 2002

On Eriposte, another summary of exactly what went on with the INS arrests. Most of the posting is from the L.A. Times (a site I don't yet a username for), so those who have read the L.A. Times will be familiar with most of this. Still, a few highlights:

INS ads on local Persian radio stations and in other ethnic media led many to expect a routine procedure. Instead, the registration quickly became the subject of fear as word spread that large numbers of men were being arrested. Lawyers reported crowded cells with some clients forced to rest standing up, some shackled and moved to other locations in the night, frigid conditions in jail cells — all for men with no known criminal histories....Some, he said, were hosed down with cold water before finding places to sleep on the concrete floors of cells. Lucas Guttentag, who heads the West Coast office of the American Civil Liberties Union's immigrant rights project, fears the wave of arrests is 'a prelude to much more widespread arrests and deportations.'
I don't remember who it was (maybe Foucault?) who said that a society can be judged by how it treats its prisoners. A few days ago, I would have thought that this reflected well on the United States for the most part. Times have changed.

The arrests have generated widespread publicity, mostly unfavorable, in the Middle East, said Khaled Dawoud, a correspondent for Al Ahram, one of Egypt's largest dailies. He questioned State Department official Charlotte Beers about the detentions Wednesday after a presentation she made at the National Press Club in Washington. Egyptians are not included in the registration requirement.

Beers, undersecretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs, was presenting examples of a U.S. outreach campaign for the Middle East, which includes images of Muslims leading happy lives here. Dawoud asked how that image squared with the "humiliating" arrests in recent days. 'I don't think there is any question that the change in visa policy is going to be seen by some as difficult and, indeed — what was the word you used? — humiliating,' Beers said. But, she added, President Bush has said repeatedly that he considers 'his No. 1 ... job to be the protection of the American people.'...
Actually, Mr. President, (and I use this only because the word "asshat" might be misinterpreted) the oath you swore was to uphold the constitution, both it's spirit and its letter. The whole argument that non-citizens don't have any rights is a dodgy one in terms of the letter of the Constitution (at least in my opinion), but only the most xenophobic would argue that the spirit of the country and its founding allows the United States government the right to treat harmless quasi-illegal immigrants like this.

Honestly, however, that's not the real issue here, outrageous at it would seem. This piece from the author of the eriposte article sums it up:

There are many progressive moderate Middle-Easterners in the U.S. who could play a major role in convincing the rest of the world that there is a moderate and democratic Islam practiced in places like the U.S., that there are places like the U.S. where freedom and rights mean something. If you look at the article above you will see that Iranian Jews and Muslims are a significant contingent amongst those arrested. Why is this important to point out? Progressive Iranians are revolting against the fundamentalist mullahs in Iran, for freedom and liberty, and have been mentioned in positive light in the U.S. on many occasions. (Is there also not talk about Iraqis who might be willing to overthrow Saddam? - we need their help too). We need the support of moderates to remove the fanatics in the Middle-East! We need as many voices of Muslims to sound moderate and supportive of the U.S. internationally, to help bring about changes at a lower psychological and monetary cost to us, because we cannot spend hundreds of billions of dollars fighting battles all the time, when it financially costs much less to win umpteen times the good will constant war will generate.
People, this sort of thing plays into Osama's hands. In fact, it doesn't just play into Osama's hands, it does his job for him. Kindly remember that the entire point of Osama's quest is to convince Muslims that they need to reject the west and its embodiment, the United States, as a corrupt and evil influence. He wants to start a war between the west and Islam, and (I'm sure) is hoping that the United States will start it for him, so Muslims around the world will believe that they are next; that they are targets no matter how moderate, peaceful, and westernized they are. By doing this, the United States is reinforcing that belief. By arresting Iranians, the United States is showing that this is not limited to the Arab world and never was, and is ensuring that the clerics have a powerful weapon to keep the population in line and supporting their government- fear of the United States. Indeed, people that might not have been bothered or offended by attempts to keep terrorism in line will be forced to be suspicious, because the United States government has proven through this action that it doesn't matter who you are or where you live... as long as you come from the wrong country, you're a suspect.

(Yes, it hasn't extended to citizens. Yet. That we know about. Do *you* know which citizens that new mega-database and the new wiretapping and surveillence powers are geared towards tracking? I get the feeling it ain't caucasians. Well, at least ones that aren't critical of the government.)

The problem isn't just that these people are being arrested. The problem is that everybody outside the United States is going to know that they've been arrested, why they've been arrested, why it's a scam, and what it says about the respect the United States government has for the human rights of those it thinks may at some point threaten its security. And no amount of spin doctoring from bloggers, the punditry, the administration, or God Himself is going to make a whit of difference. They're going to know, and they're going to understand, and it's quite possible they're going to do something about it. And if they think that they're targets, not all the American pop culture in Hollywood is going to make a lick of difference.

Somewhere in Pakistan, Osama Bin Laden is smiling.

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