A Bush Appointee Brings up Concentration Camps for American Muslims
The comments of Peter Kirsanow, a Bush appointee to the US Civil Rights commission, in Detroit over the past weekend are beyond belief. He openly brought up the possibility that if there were another big al-Qaida strike on the US, Muslim Americans could be put in camps. He was quick to say he did not favor such a move, only that the public would certainly demand it. “If there’s a future terrorist attack in America “and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights,” he said.
In a hearing in which Arab Americans from Dearborn complained about infractions against their civil rights since September 11, Kirsanow was openly dismissive of these concerns.
The Bush administration was quick to distance itself from Kirsanow. It should distance itself even further by firing the man. No one is so naive as to believe he wasn’t deliberately raising the camps issue as a way of putting it on the public agenda. The world has changed since World War II and so has the United States. The public values of this country do not allow us at this point in the Republic’s history to impose collective punishment on a whole population because of the deeds of a handful of persons. Muslim Americans are extremely diverse, and there are probably 3 million of them. They are from Malaysia and Morocco, India and Egypt. They are Sunnis and Shiites and Ismailis. The vast majority of them would feel no kinship with radical fundamentalists like Bin Laden and Muhammad Atta. US authorities have estimated that there are no more than 100 persons in the United States who have sworn allegiance to al-Qaida, and no more than 5,000 sympathizers. In a population of three million, this is a tiny, tiny fringe. Most of the al-Qaida operatives we know about have come recently from Europe or the Middle East and only a handful have been American citizens.
Kirsanow should not have brought this nightmarish issue up. As a member of the Civil Rights Commission, he should be defending human rights, not dismissing them. Bin Laden has openly said that he desired to steal Americans’ freedom from them. He wants them to know what it is like to live in the authoritarian Middle East. Kirsanow appears to have fallen for Bin Laden’s trap. The rest of us should not.