During the presidential campaign last year, a woman told Sen. John McCain at a town hall meeting that she couldn’t trust then Sen. Barack Obama because she had read that he was an Arab. McCain replied that while he had disagreements with Obama, she shouldn’t be afraid of him, because he was a citizen and decent family man, and not an Arab. McCain left the implication that Arabs could not be citizens or decent family men pass unquestioned. It’s often unquestioned in our society.
Now The Hill reports that several Republican members of Congress are accusing the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) of “trying to infiltrate the offices of members of Congress by placing interns in the offices.” concern that the group might be trying to change or get rid of the Patriot Act. Howard Coble (R-NC) even hinted that it might be a good idea to intern Arab Americans the way we did the Japanese in WWII (an action for which Ronald Reagan formally apologized) saying that some Japanese Americans “probably were intent on doing harm to us, just as some of these Arab Americans are probably intent on doing harm to us.” As Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) said, “Look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country.”
What CAIR is doing—placing interns in Congress and attempting to influence legislation—is called lobbying. As Glenn Greenwald points out, we don’t call it “infiltration” when American citizens participate in their own government—never mind that there are many reasons why loyal Americans might want to amend or repeal the Patriot Act. Andrew Sullivan adds that it is particularly ridiculous to worry about the influence of Muslim interns. The fact is that what CAIR is doing would seem perfectly innocuous if anyone else were doing it. As Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman, said to The Hill, “God forbid American Muslims take part in the political process and exercise their rights.”
The danger we face, of course, comes from a particular group of Islamic extremists. When we treat all Muslims or all Arabs as the enemy—rather than taking them each as individual people—we are using the same sick tribal logic that Osama bin Laden used to justify targeting everyone who happened to be in the World Trade Center on September 11. It’s a logic that mainstream Islam has traditionally rejected. CAIR itself made this point in a fatwa several years ago:
Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism. Targeting civilians’ life and property through suicide bombings or any other method is haram or forbidden—and those who commit these barbaric acts are criminals, not martyrs.
As a group, Arab Americans are as loyal and patriotic as any of us; and it is both paranoid and wrong to assume there is some fifth column of Arab Americans living among us.