A group of about 50 students discussed racial profiling and discrimination in the U.S. fight against terrorism at a panel discussion titled “Public Enemy #1: Terrorism, Civil Liberties or Islam?”
Tuesday night’s discussion, which lasted two hours, was attended by around 50 people. William Eskridge, a deputy dean of the Law School, moderated the three-person panel.
Mohammad Fadel, an attorney and Islamic scholar said in his opening comments that his objective was to see that the audience understood that Islamic law was irrelevant to the Sept. 11 attacks and the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.
“Islamic law has been dead as a legal craft for the past 150 years. However, it is still very important and relevant as a theological system,” Fadel said.
Fadel went on to say that Osama bin Laden and his followers reject the very concept of the modern nation-state and that they believed that apart from them, everyone else is living in a state of lawlessness.
“Modern Islamic scholars have ironically not taken up the problem of adapting modern realities with Islamic law,” Fadel said.
The other speakers focused on racial profiling before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.
King Downing, national coordinator of the ACLU’s Campaign Against Racial Profiling, said that after Sept. 11, Muslims and Arab-Americans have joined blacks and Latinos in being subject to racial profiling.
Downing pulled out an envelope with “DWB [Driving While Black] Survival Kit” written in bold across it.
“We will now have to expand DWB so that it includes people of Middle Eastern or Pakistani origin,” he said.
Downing accused U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft of unfairly withholding information from the families of detained immigrants.
“Race and ethnicity have always been used as a short cut” Downing said. “The difference is that now [racial profiling] is being applied across the board — it doesn’t work, and it builds resentment in the community.”
The last panelist to speak was Kareem Shora, an attorney for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who agreed Arab-Americans are now often seen as outsiders.
“Post 9/11, everybody wants to have a them versus us,” Shora said.
Shora said that while racial profiling by airlines and employment discrimination have increased significantly after Sept. 11, the Federal Aviation Administration has warned airlines that this kind of racial profiling is illegal and immoral.
Shora said that the definition of terrorism and the clause for guilt by association as defined by the USA Patriot Act, an anti-terrorist bill passed by Congress this fall, could lead to serious problems of innocent people being classified as terrorists.
The panel speeches were followed by questions from the audience.
In response to a question on how to roll back racial profiling, Fadel said the government should work on building trust with the Arab-American community.
Fadel said Arabs feel that the United States views Muslim countries as a threat and that this makes American foreign policy very biased against Arabs.
Adam Freed LAW ’02 asked the panel what the government was supposed to do, given the realities of the case. He said that the government had few clues to follow and had to search a large number of people.
Fadel said that the approach used to find suspects could be changed. He said that the government could use data such as criminal records and suspicious activity as grounds for watching people.
Fadel said that 11 of the 19 people involved in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 were on the FBI watch list prior to the event. He said the FBI was incompetent for not apprehending these individuals before they caused harm.
Reiterating the need to stop suspecting people based on their nationality and religion, Downing said that President George W. Bush and other high officials were saying that the fight was not about race or Islam.
“Nevertheless, at the lower levels of the administration the reality seems quite different” Downing said. “We are seeing talk — we’re not seeing walk,” he said.