Extreme Threats to Liberty
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An Essay by Diane Roberts
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.
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.
"Could some of us be trying to limit the definition of 'American' as
mostly white, mostly Christian, and certainly conformist?"
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
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.
Diane Roberts' Web site at the University of Alabama.