North Potomac resident Rashid Makhdoom is nervous about the state of civil liberties in post 9/11 America.
“It seems to us that whatever we do we are being watched,” he said.
Makhdoom was one of more than 50 in attendance at the meeting of the Maryland Arab American Committee at the Potomac Community Center last week. The year-old group was formed to give Arab-Americans a voice in the political process.
The main theme of the evening was the erosion of civil liberties in the name of national security, particularly among the Arab-American community. Several members of the Maryland House of Delegates and Ike Leggett, chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party we in attendance. Presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was expected to attend, but was unable to as a result of a late vote on the house floor.
The Keynote speaker, Del. Kumar Barve (D-17), majority leader of the Maryland house, brought up the issue of racial profiling.
To date, one of the major issues in racial profiling has been “driving while black,” describing the way in which African-American motorists are more likely to be pulled over by police in some jurisdictions.
“Now the problem is flying while brown,” Barve said. Barve, who is Indian in ethnicity, stated that he had not personally experienced problems, however, “any young Muslim or Hindu man who tried to get on an airplane was looked at two or three times,” he said.
Others present had experienced the close scrutiny first hand. Bilal Ayyub, a Potomac resident and a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland, is currently working on a project for the U.S. Navy. When he and three colleagues went to a naval base in the course of their work, he was the only one asked for proof of citizenship, he said. Two of the other three were African-American and the third was probably Irish, Ayyub said.
“This is not acceptable to us,” Ayyub said. “The threat posed to our community from [U.S. Attorney General John] Ashcroft, to me, is greater than what they are trying to protect us from.”
“I think it’s horrible what’s happening,” said Del. Susan Lee (D-16), who represents Bethesda and parts of Potomac. “Some of these people have escaped dictatorships to come here.”
“This should be a concern for all Americans, not just Arab-Americans,” said Del. Brian Feldman (D-15).
Feldman says that a balance must be struck between liberties and security. “I have concern that the pendulum has gone too far.”