It was standing-room only in 150 Hutchins Hall last night.
“Our rights are being stolen and there’s no end in sight,” Kary Moss, executive director of the Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the crowd in a panel presentation about the eroding status of civil liberties post-Sept. 11.
Many of the more than 200 students attending the lecture wore “DIVEST FROM ISRAELI APARTHEID” shirts and spoke of this weekend’s Second National Student Conference on the Palestine Solidarity Movement sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.
Suspended University of South Florida Prof. Sami Al-Arian, a proponent of Palestinian statehood, spoke of immense scrutiny after his controversial “O’Reilly Factor” appearance. Al-Arian said the University of South Florida put him on paid leave with a stated attempt to fire him.
He said he was told by Fox News that they wanted him on the show because he lived in Florida, where many of the Sept. 11 hijackers lived. He said he realized, “With a five minute interview, you’re not going to be able to say much … but I was not expecting the death threats and what would follow.”
He added that the president of the Holocaust Association even accused him of being a member of the advisory board of al-Qaida.
Al-Arian said, “The whole thing is about changing the subject, so they won’t have to answer the burning questions about whatever the subject might be.”
Law student and co-president of the Muslim Law Student Association Ali Ahmad said that Al-Arian’s “views have been exaggerated” and that “that makes him an easy target for the media.”
“How sorry I am for the horrible tragedy of Sept. 11 … but, the Muslims of this country had to endure not only the tragedy, but also the backlash.” Al-Arian added.
“Since Sept. 11, our nation has been at war – not just with the ugly face of terrorism – but with the ugly face of intolerance … as if Sept. 11 has given a green light to trample on other people’s rights,” he said.
“Today our nation is being challenged. … In fact, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are being challenged. Ironically, this challenge is being called the Patriot Act.”
“What remains of the Swiss cheese protections of the fourth amendment is now being eroded,” Moss said, also criticizing the Patriot Act – a law passed by 99 percent of the Senate that gives the government increased power in investigating possible terrorism-related leads, which Moss said infringes on individuals’ right to privacy. “The Attorney General is disregarding the rule of law,” she added.
“We must not confuse patriotism with nationalism,” Al-Arian said. “To be patriotic is to challenge the Patriot Act.”
“In December of 2005, (the government) will have to vote on it again, so that gives us about three years to mobilize,” he added.
Moss discussed recent alleged government breaches of the Bill of Rights, including the use of “sneak-and-peak” warrants, which do not require law enforcement officials to notify subjects of searches in advance, and increased government scrutiny of formerly protected records – such as credit card and public library records.
Moss recalled, “The last time I came to speak about the erosion of civil liberties about 10 students showed up. What happened?
“We have lost the right to be free from government surveillance,” she said. “The John Ashcroft administration has shown a rugged determination to eliminate many of the protections in the Bill of Rights,” including increasing the power of the executive branch of government and decreasing the role of the judiciary, she added.
Moss claimed that elected officials cannot be trusted to challenge the majority opinion in government and that “unless we continue to raise hell,” our civil liberties will slowly disappear.
“Despite the difficulties before us … I am not pessimistic. I have faith in the checks and balances in our system.” Moss said. “I am urging you, if you are not already active, become active.”
During a question and answer session with Moss and Al-Arian following the discussion, Wayne State student Shemon Salam expressed his anger at the lack of a heated discussion.
“We have to say, ‘Minorities are getting fucked.’ Instead, we’re bringing out boxes of Kleenex and crying for ourselves,” Salam said. “We scared these kids into thinking, ‘If I do something, I’m gonna get my ass kicked.”
Al-Arian replied, “I think you missed the point because I said, ‘organize, mobilize and act.'” He also stressed that education was the key to getting the message across.