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America's big mistake on indefinite detention of terror suspects

The approval of indefinite detention of terror suspects by Congress and Obama maintains the premise that because of exigent circumstances, civil rights and civil liberties must be curbed. This is much like the argument used for decades from Cairo to Damascus.

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This in part is due to the desire – at least among liberals – to believe these violations ceased when Obama was elected president. They have in fact expanded.

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We have thus perhaps falsely presumed that counter-terror efforts here at home have been costless and errorless. Or when these costs and errors are mentioned – renditions, disappearances, dubious law enforcement practices, and questionable legal process – they are not entered into the collective American consciousness in full emotional detail, layer, and context. They are not processed as part of the collective American experience of the post 9/11 decade. It is almost as if acknowledging these costs would diminish and slight the suffering and loss of life that occurred on that September morning.

This leaves unchallenged the insinuation that this sort of collateral damage is borne by a collectively guilty “them” and not an exceptional and innocent “us.” As Americans, we have failed to understand that the victims in these civil liberties abuses are also us.

For legislators and Americans who are not alarmed by the NDAA and its ilk, it is likely because they envision these procedures being applied not to the Timothy McVeigh types – for whom regular criminal prosecution was deemed acceptable and just – but rather to Arab, Muslim, South Asian, and/or Middle Eastern folks. These people belong to communities that are persistently perceived as not really American.

After all, a part of America can’t even stomach the TLC reality show “All-American Muslim.” The retailer Lowe’s, for instance, pulled its ads from the show. The problem that some have is not that it’s reality TV, but that it highlights the unfathomable idea that Muslims and Arabs can be familiar – and American.

The anniversary of 9/11 and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq presented an opportunity for a more honest reckoning than they proved to be.

Had the commemorations instead been more robust and inclusive – had they examined outsourced torture, FBI agent-provacateurs in American mosques, or escalating Islamophobia – perhaps America’s elected leaders would not be so eager today to support further restrictions on liberties, nor would there be a lack of public outcry, which is often mistaken for support.

For a president who once swathed himself in the sentiments of hope and change and prided himself on being in step with the aspirations of those across the planet who would seek a life of dignity, his actions appear fraudulent.

Yet these global movements for freedom are not waiting for President Obama or anyone else to “get it.” They’ve ceased to be faceless, ceased to be voiceless, and ceased to be violated.

And that was just 2011.

Alia Malek is the author of “A Country Called Amreeka: US History Re-Told Through Arab American Lives” and the editor of “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post 9/11 Injustices.” Follow Alia on Twitter @AliaMalek.


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