After a frigid, early-morning bike ride around Lake Monona, I stopped into my favorite Madison cafe to read the paper and slurp some hot, black coffee. At 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning, there were few students – mostly older, permanent residents of the town, who munched on danishes as they caught up with today’s news or fiddled with their laptops.
In this cozy space, I leaned back into my chair and flipped open The New York Times, liesurely paging through as the world’s drama unfolded in the text. I normally read about half-way through most articles – enough to understand an issue or event on surface level; but it seems almost every day recently, there is at least one piece that will force me to put the paper down and shudder, usually muttering an expletive to myself as the horror of some tragedy sinks in. Today was no different.
The Maher Arar case is one that has been well-publicized – even satirized by the Canadian show This Hour has 22 Minutes – and his innocence is now well-known. Though Canada has officially apologized to Arar and awarded him reparations, the lesson of his harrowing experience still seems lost on the Bush administration:
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, have told Canadian officials that Mr. Arar is still on the watch list because of independent information about him obtained independently by law enforcement agencies in the United States.
After reviewing a confidential file concerning Mr. Arar, however, Stockwell Day, Canada’s public safety minister, said that it contained “nothing new” that justified blocking Mr. Arar from entering the United States.
This week, David H. Wilkins, the United States ambassador to Canada, publicly rebuked Mr. Day. “It’s a little presumptuous for him to say who the United States can and cannot allow into our country,” Mr. Wilkins said at a news conference in Edmonton, Alberta. (NYTimes)
In liberal college towns like Madison, students rail daily – mostly verbally and intellectually, but sometimes in the streets – against the sweeping infringements on our civil liberties, worried about the phone-tapping or mail-opening. This fear is warranted, but perhaps it is not the majority of university students we should be looking out for, but the minority. Arar’s case is merely one example – albeit a terrifying one – of how Arabs have been singled out in our country. Others, such as the recent beating of three Palestinians in N.C., amplify the fear among Arab-American communities that they will be unjustly targeted.
Our vigilance in protecting liberty should be focused on the communities whose rights are at the highest risk; the white, middle-class university student who vocalizes his dissent is unlikely (yet) to feel the heavy hand of a paranoid government – our citizens who pray at the Mosque or choose to cover their hair are more in danger of facing such prejudice.