[Parvez Ahmed is a board member of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations, headquartered in Washington, D.C. CAIR is the country’s largest
Muslim civil-liberties advocacy group. E-mail: pahmed@cair-flor-ida.org]

Millions of Americans will tune in as John Kerry accepts his nomination to
be the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. It will be the most
anticipated speech of his lifetime, a life with a remarkable record of
courage, patriotism and service. Kerry the person has earned my respect.
Will Kerry the candidate earn my vote, too?

As we tune in, each one of us will like to hear about something that is
most dear to our hearts. For many voters like me it will be civil rights.
Early on during the Democratic primaries, Kerry voiced his displeasure
about the Patriot Act. However, since being the presumptive nominee, his
silence on this issue has been deafening.

Preserving our liberal democracy is perhaps the single-most-important issue
facing Americans this election, although polls suggest otherwise. Public
silence confirms an uncomfortable truth that since 9-11, the civil rights
of some Americans have been compromised while the majority remains
oblivious to the dangers that lurk around the corner.

Fighting terrorism is important. But this fight cannot take place at the
expense of civil liberties. At the end of the day, if we cannot protect the
very fabric that unites us as a nation, then what is it that we are
fighting for?

Right after the ill-fated day of Sept. 11, 2001, a majority of Americans,
despite the historical admonition of Ben Franklin to not do so, were
willing to give up a little bit of liberty for a little bit of security. A
vigorous debate on this issue might have yielded some answers as to exactly
which rights Americans were willing to give up to be a little bit more
secure. This did not happen and the Patriot Act was rushed through Congress
in record legislative time.

The onus of a severe curb on civil liberties fell largely on Muslims and
Arabs, many of whom were nonvoters. A voiceless and defenseless group of
people was soon to become the collateral damage of the war on terror.

Since 9-11, this group has been subjected to special interviews,
registrations, automatic detentions and deportations. Many have been tried
in secret, while others had no trials afforded to them. Some have been
detained based on their political opinions, others for their political
associations with disfavored groups. Some Muslim charities have been shut
down and many have been intimidated into silence.

American-Muslims now live with the dread of a knock at the door often at
wee hours of the night or early morning. Many are coping with the reality
of racial profiling at airports, discrimination at places of work, verbal
abuse in public and hate crimes at places of worship. A recent poll showed
nearly 88 percent of Muslims saying that they knew of at least one person
who suffered anti-Muslim bias or discrimination…


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