While many Muslims (and people outside the faith for that matter) were heavily embedded in a debate over the controversy surrounding hardware store Lowe's and its recent decision to remove ads from TLC's reality show All American Muslim, a more detrimental attack against their future was all but finalized. Reversing an earlier decision to veto provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, President Obama made the disturbing announcement that he would sign this legislation into law and thereby solidify the ability of the military and other factions to indefinitely detain anyone they deem an enemy of the state. And on New Year's Eve, the President unfortunately made good on this promise with the stroke of his pen. At a time when the United States is grossly engaged in both active combat and covert drone campaigns in a multitude of Muslim nations, and when loosely defined terms like 'terrorist' can be arbitrarily thrown about, Muslims specifically -- and all of society generally -- shouldn't take this disturbing development lightly.
In post-9/11 America, many have sadly grown accustomed and tolerant to routine practices of racial profiling, bias and even attacks against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. But in addition to blatant violence, workplace discrimination and subliminal acts of racism, Muslims have also become aware of another nuance that other Americans may not even realize exists -- hesitation to give to charity. Because of fear that any charitable Muslim organization or mosque could suddenly be called out for links to a lone extremist faction (whether it's justified or not), many pulled their money and cut back on donations to the extent that long-established charities found it virtually impossible to survive. Usually without any valid reason, many stopped supporting Muslim aide groups for the simple notion that anyone, anywhere could at any moment single out that organization and in turn put all those who gave money out of goodwill at risk for associating with them. The victims in all this? The impoverished and destitute in many "third world" countries.
At the same time, tragically, other active Muslims who were entrenched in the community or worked in an organizing capacity (much like our president once did for the disenfranchised), ceased their activities over trepidation as to how their efforts towards equality could one day be misconstrued for something nefarious. The climate of society forced many followers of the Islamic faith to alter their involvement on a plethora of levels. Even today, as forces like the NYPD keep Muslims under intrusive surveillance and continued cases of FBI entrapment emerge, many have stopped attending mosques or interacting too much within the community out of sheer apprehension over unwarranted government action. It is an unfortunate reflection of how marginalized groups often times suffer under the radar without a representative voice in government and in the mainstream.
Throughout modern history, we've had other instances of outrageous fear mongering, bias and injustice against those whose patriotism we questioned. Though it is rarely covered in classrooms, the internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese and those of Japanese ancestry during WWII is a perfect example. Literally rounded up and "excluded" from living in the cities and towns they resided in, these "suspicious" individuals were interned in camps because their allegiance to the country "could not be determined."
In 1950, at the height of the great red scare, Congress passed the Internal Security Act which required the American Communist Party, affiliated organizations and all 'subversives' to get fingerprinted and officially register with the Attorney General. This draconian law was so outrageous that then-President Harry Truman even vetoed it (though Congress overruled his veto in the end). The truly tragic and troubling thing about today's NDAA is that President Obama isn't even attempting to veto it anymore; he is instead giving it his stamp of approval. Even though the president stated that he has "serious reservations" regarding the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists, and even though he emphasizes that his administration will not indefinitely militarily detain American citizens without trial, what happens after he is no longer in office? Future leaders of the free world, after all, have absolutely no obligation to honor Obama's signing statement, nor follow in his footsteps.
Yes, our first African American president has changed much of the vitriolic language used when covering the topic of terrorism, and yes he has taken great caution to ensure that Muslims and terror itself are not juxtaposed together. For that, he should be commended. But by finalizing the ability of any president to deem persons -- including U.S. citizens (if they so interpret this bill) -- an enemy that could then be indefinitely detained without charge or without trial, he sets into motion a frightening precedent. As a former constitutional law professor, President Obama should be inherently aware of the impending ramifications.
During the struggle for civil rights, many journalists, activists and those vocal citizens working alongside Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and other leaders suddenly found themselves targeted for their activities. Countless advocates became political prisoners and others saw their careers and lives ruined. Now at a time when we already have legislation like the Patriot Act renewed, and warrantless wiretapping is openly put into practice, this defense act not only indoctrinates AUMF (2001 Authorization for use of Military Force) and many activities that were previously in existence, but it also leaves open the possibility of silencing anyone on a level with which we never even imagined.
As American Muslims, we're happy that some are starting to ease the negative imaging and stereotyping against us, and are instead open to learning more about what the Islamic faith truly stands for. As a routinely alienated group, we're overly ecstatic when a program like All American Muslim actually portrays us in a light other than that of some extremist radical. But while we should embrace the boycott of Lowe's for its open bigotry, and praise folks like Russell Simmons for stepping up to the plate to purchase ads for the program, we should put just as much focus into the potential of someone like a Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum taking over the White House and having full reign to detain whomever he pleases. Just remember the Bush-era verbiage of "you're either with us or against us" and the atmosphere of intolerance that permeated under his presidency, and couple that with the ability of someone with his mentality being able to willfully determine any one of us a "traitor," lock us up and throw away the key.
If Muslims scaled back their activities in the community and their charitable donations out of paranoia over the unrealistic possibility of being tied to something suspicious, just imagine the fear that will ensue if anyone can be instantly and militarily detained over accusations where the burden of proof won't even be on the accuser. It is indeed an alarming scenario that can (and in all likelihood will) give new meaning to the term reality -- no TV required.