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Extreme Threats to Liberty
An Essay by Diane Roberts

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Sept. 23, 2001 -- Americans will tell you we're prepared to sacrifice our lives for liberty, for individuality, for the right to say what we like. Americans have died for these things; it looks like Americans will die for them again.

And yet, some people think that protecting freedom means limiting freedom, shouting down dissent, distrusting difference.

"Could some of us be trying to limit the definition of 'American' as mostly white, mostly Christian, and certainly conformist?"

Diane Roberts

Small things are at risk: A media company which owns 1200 radio stations has sent around a list of "inappropriate" music. "Blowin' In the Wind," by Bob Dylan is on the list. And "Imagine," by John Lennon. And "Get Together" by the Youngbloods.

As if peace songs could ever be "inappropriate."

Bigger principles are at risk: A recent letter to The St. Petersburg Times bellowed that no one should criticize our political leaders. Similar letters show up in newspapers all around the country. So we are un-American if we challenge things our government does?

The Attorney General of the United States has suggested we have the ability to lock up foreigners who might be from the wrong part of the world or have the wrong politics, and deport them without presenting any evidence. A U.S. congressman from Louisiana named Cooksey talked of detaining, as he put it, "anybody wearing a diaper on his head."

Could some of us be trying to limit the definition of "American" as mostly white, mostly Christian, and certainly conformist?

President Bush has declared that we must not victimize followers of Islam or anyone else who might qualify as a member of a religious or ethnic minority. Yet some of us -- a minority of us -- have let rage and pain run amok.

In Illinois, a mob waving the American flag and chanting "USA! USA!" threatened a Pakistani woman in her own home. Mosques have been fired on and vandalized in Texas and New Jersey. A gas station owner in Arizona was shot dead last week. He was a Sikh, wearing the turban mandated by his faith.

It didn't matter that Balbir Singh Sodhi was of Indian, not Arab, descent. It didn't matter that Sikhism is not Islam. The man arrested for the shooting claimed he was a "patriot." He said, "I'm a damn American all the way."

No, he's a terrorist.

An America where terrorism can try to drape itself in patriotism is not America. An America where we must wear red, white and blue, sing "God Bless America," and wave the flag without ever questioning authority -- that is not America, at least not the America we say we'll fight and die for.

Diane Roberts teaches English at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

Other Resources:

Diane Roberts' Web site at the University of Alabama.