Stopping and incarcerating innocent people – most of whom have been Muslim or Muslim-Americans – on suspicion of having involvement with terrorism is unfortunate; but I don’t think it is going to stop anytime soon.

Everyone agrees that respect for civil liberties must balance any U. S. response to the acts of war perpetrated on Sept. 11. Admittedly this conflict is somehow fundamentally different from previous “wars” in terms of how it will be defined, fought and won – more than ever it will focus our energies on individuals who are already in the U.S. But the issue of balancing civil liberties with security in a time of crisis is not new. Throughout U.S. history, civil liberties have repeatedly found themselves murderously victimized by the necessities of security.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war was named Henry Stanton and on his desk sat a little brass bell. Stanton was fond of explaining to visitors, especially those with Southern relations, that all he need do was ring that little bell and Yankee guards would rush in and, at his direction, the visitor would be thrown in the stockade indefinitely. No judge, no jury, no trial, just ding ding ding and the unfortunate suspect might never be seen or heard from again. But after the crisis had passed and the war had been won, things went back to normal. The seemingly unjust acts of Henry Stanton did not damage this country irreparably; to the contrary, his vigilance helped win a war that was vital for the continued consolidation and development of this great nation and the civil liberties it has defined.

The second World War also provides such a precedent. On Feb. 19, 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed “Executive Order 9066.” This order provided the military with the authority to remove anyone from anywhere without trial or hearing. And thus the floodgates opened: Rather than risk the sabotage and trickery that would surely accompany a Japanese amphibious invasion, so the reasoning ran, Japanese Americans were relocated en masse to internment camps built far inland. Testifying before a House subcommittee, General John DeWitt, head of the Western Defense Command, perhaps summarized the extreme views of the nation: “A Jap’s a Jap. There is no way to determine their loyalty … This coast is too vulnerable. No Jap should come back to this coast except on a permit from my office.”

Such sentiment has been remembered most vividly in the form of the Japanese internment, but German-Americans did not escape unscathed either. The House Committee on Un-American Activities was originally established to investigate the American Nazi party. Almost every day, German dockworkers – especially those with accents – would be stopped in New York harbor and detained on account of suspicious behavior. Most were innocent; some were not.

The legislation being fiercely debated in Congress right now seems to have a faintly familiar odor: The talk this last week was about the power of federal authorities to detain foreign immigrants, without charge, for an indefinite period.

Tolerance, freedom of expression and media and all other civil liberties are some of the most important factors in our continued enrichment. To revoke these fundamental aspects of American strength – the very aspects that al-Qaeda objects to so fanatically – would be exactly what Osama bin Laden wants. Wanton, unjust jailing of Muslim people will only serve to drive a wedge between the West and the Middle East. Alienating the civil and liberal parts of the Islamic world is the thing we want to avoid most; we must keep such considerations firmly in mind without sacrificing any necessary vigilance in home protection.

I offer that our nation’s history presents something of a paradox: In pursuit of a war-time cause that we believe to be just, we have demonstrated a willingness to accept some degree of injustice with respect to the civil liberties of suspected groups. However, I believe that this injustice is not motivated out of hate, but out of mass paranoia; most Americans don’t hate uslim people with beards and covered heads, but many do, and for the present time, fear them.

Perhaps this duality of justice is hypocritical, but let only those nations who are free of sin cast the first stone. The record of quashing “dangerous elements” in the United States has, at least, always in response to direct and concrete threats. ost other members of the international community, including those who are vocally nervous about American actions, cannot claim that their hands are nearly so clean.

Terrorism is not fair to anyone; but other than for those who perished or lost loved ones, the attacks of Sept.11 are unfair to innocent Muslims in America. But until the propaganda machine, safe havens and financial support afforded to international terrorist groups can be destroyed, the threat of terrorism shall loom large enough to justify a certain degree of unfairness in security precautions. A famous American statesman once remarked that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they [read: Islamic terrorists] aren’t out to get you. The history of wartime civil liberties in this country is not pretty. Unfortunately, war and the sacrifices necessary to win a war are not pretty either.

Morgan Pietz is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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