Posted by on June 29, 2011 in Blog

By Ed Gaier
edward.gaier@gmail.com
Ed Gaier is an Arab American Institute summer intern working with TSD Communications.

Aziz Huq, assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago, recently wrote an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times in which he argued that defending Muslims from discrimination does not only preserve basic civil liberties, civil rights and the rule of law, but also carries significant national security advantages. Huq’s writing comes in the wake of the a number of worrying signs of growing Islamophobia, including the sharia ban voted into the Oklahoma constitution, the second round of Peter King’s McCarthy-style congressional hearings, rising popular discrimination of Muslims, and the detestable anti-Muslim rhetoric on display at the Republican presidential debates in New Hampshire.

Huq argues that institutionalized discrimination against American Muslims is not only “discriminatory and pointless,” but also poses “a significant threat to national security” by decreasing the willingness of Muslim Americans to cooperate with law enforcement officials. “In such an environment, it would be fair for Muslims to pause before, say, passing on a lead to the police, worrying about whether the police would then look at them with suspicion as well.” During a time of heightened concern for domestic terrorism, policies and government relations with the American Muslim community should focus on building trust and cooperation rather than distrust and suspicion.

Though Huq’s argument itself is nothing new, the need for a serious conversation on civil liberties has never been greater. Muslim and Arab Americans have been struggling to preserve equal protection under the law and demonstrate our contributions to local communities, even while the general public increasingly supports limiting the freedoms of certain “target communities.” Huq’s piece stands out in its framing and appeal to a wider American audience. While “these bans increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens,” some Americans engaged in the discourse might favor sacrificing liberties of a subgroup to ensure safety or security. It comes as no surprise that other Americans do not share certain solidarities and concerns with members of the Muslim American and Arab American communities. The discrepancy of issue priority (civil liberties versus national security) has become entrenched in the national discourse. The value of Huq’s analysis is the seamless melding of the two often disparate streams into a single, cohesive argument.

Rather than simply rehashing the same tired arguments, Huq’s piece exemplifies how to appeal to the other side’s concerns while still striving towards the same policy ends. Overall, Huq’s timely analysis demonstrates the need to use a frame relevant to the concerns of conventionally opposing groups rather than to continue relying solely on values of tolerance, liberties, and rights. Preserving our founding principles is not only the right thing to do; it’s also the smart thing to do.

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