25 - 31 July 2002
Issue No. 596
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Recommend this page

'Forget about civil rights'

Arab-Americans have felt their share of collective blame for the September 2001 attacks on the United States. Death threats, dismissals from work, and physical abuse are merely the most tangible examples; a general feeling of being looked upon as "potentially guilty" or "suspicious" has probably been far worse, and affected a much wider swathe of the Arab-American population.

This week things got really bad, when Peter Kirsanow, who sits on the US Commission on Civil Rights, said, "Not too many people will be crying in their beer if there are more detentions, more stops and more profiling" for Arab Americans.

To make matters worse, Kirsanow also said he could foresee a scenario in which the public would demand internment camps for Arab-Americans if Arab terrorists strike the US again. If "they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Centre", Kirsanow said, "you can forget about civil rights".

Kirsanow's highly inflammatory comments inspired the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) to ask President George W Bush for his removal from the commission. "These remarks," wrote ADC President Ziad Asali, "are among the most dangerous and irresponsible, not to mention intolerant, comments uttered by any noted public figure since the 11 September attacks. He appears to be condoning collective guilt and seems open to the idea of the mass internment of an entire community. No individual with such views has any place on the US Civil Rights Commission. It is a disgrace, and makes a mockery of the commission's vitally important role, which should be to defend and not attack civil rights."

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a large umbrella organisation with over 50 million Americans as members, also called for Kirsanow's removal.

Kirsanow, a conservative who was appointed to the commission by President Bush, and who is championed by conservatives who were long looking to counterbalance the commission's liberal leanings, immediately indicated that he had not meant anything offensive by his comments.

"Under no circumstances did I ever say, nor do I believe in, detention camps or that the government should consider such detention camps," Kirsanow said Monday. "I am adamantly opposed to the concept. I was trying to emphasise that an effective war on terrorism and preserving civil liberties are not mutually exclusive."

Civil rights groups, nonetheless, want Bush "to repudiate and disavow these remarks" and remove Kirsanow from the Civil Rights Commission.

"Unlike you, Mr President, Mr Kirsanow appears to be condoning collective guilt and seems open to the idea of the mass internment of an entire community," the ADC's letter said.

Courtesy of www.shrinkingglobe.com

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