The hysteria of war is as pervasive as it is outrageous. War has the ability to warp and fracture relations on all levels, from individual associations to intra-state contracts to regional affairs. Some of the greatest transformations have occurred following war and some of the most despicable internal grievances have been committed in wartime policy.
Such has been the case even in the United States, where constitution and law form a relatively tight bind of state policy. In World War I, for example, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which forbid domestic defiance to the U.S. role in the war. Hundreds were imprisoned for opposing entry into the war. And when Eugene Debs, founder of the Socialist Party of America, eloquently defended his opposition in front of a jury, he was given a 10-year sentence for sedition. More deplorably, in World War II, innocent Japanese citizens suffered internment in desolate camps all over the Southwestern United States. The vast majority were wrenched from their homes on the Western seaboard and indiscriminately trooped off to confinement. They were detained for years and offered little in recompense at the war’s end.
More recently, during the Vietnam War, a host of racial slurs were used to describe Vietnamese and East Asians at large. In addition, dissenters faced imprisonment, FBI surveillance and abuse by police.
Now that we consider ourselves at war again, such hysteria appears in infant stages, but grows quickly. Only, this time, the stigmatized are our Middle Eastern guests. And this time we are not balking at war fright in history texts. Worse, now it is happening directly in front of us.
Less than a month ago, Attorney General Ashcroft ordered that police officials around the nation interrogate 5,000 mostly Middle Eastern immigrants. As part of an “anti-terrorism”, or more appropriately, “pro-stigmatization” campaign, Ashcroft ordered that interrogations be conducted hurriedly by local authorities.
Such an act makes permanent suspects of a numerous lot of Middle Eastern immigrants. The list of 5,000 calls for interrogations of visa-holders with no criminal record or merit of mistrust. Ashcroft’s order falls into the “guilt by national association” rule that led us to the calamity of Japanese internment during WWII.
According to articles in the Oregonian, the majority of the list come from countries that have been identified as containing “terrorist cells.” And as part of the national probe, Ashcroft mandated that local police grill 200 Middle Eastern visitors in Portland.
Admirably, however, the Portland police have refused to carry out the investigation, parts of which violate state statutes. According to the Oregonian,
Mayor Vera Katz supported Portland police chief Mark Kroeker in refusing the order. “I don’t want to send a signal that when things are expedient, its OK to break the law …,” Kroeker stated in the Oregonian.
For such an inspiring defense of innocent visitors and state law, the Portland police department and Mark Kroeker deserve more than one drink tilted in their behalf.
At Portland State, we have a Middle Eastern population on campus. Fellow classmates could very well be among those targeted for investigation. Thus is brought proximity to the issue at hand, and thus are we complicit in all acts in violation of right.
Further, if we allow this stigmatization and “suspectization” to continue unopposed, we will be defaulting on our duty as educated citizens to raise questions for all to consider. And failing this, we will have the prickly task of explaining to posterity how we could overlook injustice complacently.