Response to Chicago Sun-Times’ “Telling it Like It Is”
Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) believes peace activists from Egypt should be greeted at O’Hare airport with a hefty doze of institutionalized discrimination.
Their offense? Being of the same age group and national origin as Mohamed Atta.
“I’m OK with discrimination against young Arab males from terrorist-producing states,” says Kirk.
A recent Suntimes Editorial (Telling it like it is) endorses this view.
It does not matter if you are a doctor from Jordan here to attend a neurological conference. It does not matter if you are an investment banker from Saudi Arabia here to create business opportunities. What does matter is where and when you were born; that is sufficient to render you suspect and qualify you for “intense scrutiny.”
The Princeton lexical reference system defines ‘discrimination’ as the “unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of prejudice”; this, of course, is consistent with the historical usage of the term in American public discourse and in lieu of our nation’s civil rights legacy.
It comes as no surprise then that congressman Kirk’s comments have spurred an outcry in Illinois.
A coalition of 27 prominent organizations that includes Muslim, Arab, Korean, Hispanic, Jewish, Catholic, Lutheran, and Filipino groups, as well constituents of Kirk’s 10th district, have joined voices to demand an apology and a meeting with Congressman Kirk. (congressman Kirk has yet to respond.)
Senator Barrack Obama (D-IL) has criticized Kirk’s remarks as indicative of “a cavalier attitude towards civil liberties, and a disservice to the public diplomacy process that’s required to win the war on terror.” Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) denounced them as “not only bad public policy,” but also as contrary “to the very foundation of our nation.”
So let’s tell it like it is. In this country, discrimination has only ever been an acceptable recourse for the unimaginative and the uninspired. Throughout our history, great American figures refused to let fear subdue their ability to reason with clarity and courage; they stood up or even sat down to protest discrimination. Today, circumstances call on us again to disavow discrimination as strictly un-American.
It is a shock to our system when a publicly elected official purports to legitimize it and advocate for it.
As we battle a ruthless and resolute enemy, we need to focus our national security measures on that which works: gathering enough hard intelligence to nab individual culprits. We should not adopt sloppy and desperate measures that implicate the entire class of people whose phenotype or passport a culprit happens to share.
[Published Version] Chicago Sun-Times 2005.