Posted by on November 08, 2012 in Blog
With the election finally behind us, the dangers that many associated with a Romney presidency have passed. Romney’s positions on immigration, detention, and the war on terror, and his simplistic proclamations about the Arab world were in many ways misguided and dangerous. His reliance on Bush-era foreign policy advisors, his disregard for the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, and his expressed willingness to curtail civil liberties in the name of national security, would likely have produced a toxic political environment for the Arab American community, which has unduly suffered from both domestic and foreign policy choices for well over a decade already.
However, even though supporters of civil liberties, immigration reform, and global peace largely supported Obama, there is no guarantee that these issues will be addressed properly, if at all. Based on the past four years under the Obama administration, we can probably expect much of the same: an erosion of our civil liberties, an escalation of military operations, and a lack of political will to tackle problems of discrimination, profiling, and bigotry by our own intelligence and police services.
Even though Obama’s re-election is a small victory for advocates of civil liberties and global peace, these ideals are far from assured. What we won yesterday is little more than the possibility of future success, the hope that cool heads in the second Obama administration will be able and willing to see past the mistakes of the first. With that in mind, we must all work as a community to address the following lingering issues:
Indefinite Detention, Warrantless Wiretapping, and Targeted Assassination
The Obama administration has escalated the executive branch’s power to unprecedented levels, using national security as a pretext to curtail civil liberties, attack whistleblowers, and grant a small group of people with the ability to observe, imprison, and even kill American citizens without warrant, oversight, or transparency. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, the FISA Amendments Act, and administration’s new “disposition matrix” are only the most flagrant examples of these excesses, and little is being doing to rein them in. In the years ahead, we must push to limit executive power to within its constitutional boundaries, establish systems of oversight and accountability, and create safeguards to protect the civil liberties of American citizens, and anyone targeted by US counterterrorism efforts.
Racial Profiling and Training Materials
In the past year, the press has revealed a shocking level of ineptitude, bigotry, and wasted resources in “community policing” attempts by intelligence and police agencies across the country. The most glaring, including the NYPD’s ineffective and offensive racial profiling program, and the FBI’s racist training materials on American Muslims, have gone largely unaddressed by the Obama administration. The NYPD program has failed to produce a single counterterrorism lead, and has deeply damaged the department’s relationship with the Arab American and American Muslim communities, but few politicians have been willing to tackle this issue head-on. As for the FBI training materials, the Bureau claims to have revised and improved their materials, but is still unwilling to open their new training process to public scrutiny, or to retrain agents who were exposed to the previous material.
NSEERS, the DREAM Act, and Comprehensive Immigration Reform
There has been very little traction on immigration-related issues in the past two years, after the most comprehensive attempt at passing the DREAM Act failed in the House. President Obama promised to make immigration reform a top priority in his coming term, and this will almost certainly include a path to citizenship for certain undocumented minors, but truly comprehensive reform must also tackle the residual issues around the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS). The program was shuttered in April 2011 for inappropriately profiling Muslim countries and failing to materially contribute to national security, but thousands of law-abiding residents remain trapped in NSEERS limbo, facing imminent deportation for scurrilous reasons. We must push for an immediate end to these discriminatory programs, promoting an immigration policy that encourages the world’s best and brightest to immigrate.
Syria, Bahrain, and the Arab Awakening
The Obama administration’s response to the Arab Awakening has been inconsistent and largely reactionary. It supported the democratic uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt only when the outcomes were already bygone conclusions. Its commitment to the rights and dignity of the Syrian people has been belied by a near-silence toward continuing repression against protestors, journalists, and medical professionals in Bahrain. Obama has also failed to acknowledge that his ever-expanding drone program, military involvements in Yemen, Mali, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are themselves a source of this violence and instability. The president and Congress have time and again stated their solidarity with democratic aspirations in the Middle East and North Africa, and we must ensure that they keep those principles in mind when formulating new policies and initiatives in the region.
These issues are not the narrow concern of a niche constituency; they are existential issues that may very well define the future of our country’s relationship with civil liberties and racial plurality, and its relationship with the rest of the world. Obama has expressed a more responsible position on most of these issues, but he still falls far short of where he needs to be. It’s up to us to get him there.
Though these problems often seem insurmountable, the Arab American community’s mobilization in Paterson, its effectiveness in winding down NSEERS, and its central role in 2012 election demonstrate that we have the political power to make these changes. This week’s election may not have solved our problems, but when I see all that we’ve accomplished, I’m confident that our true victory is within reach.