Taking a stand
After the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, Mohammed Irshaid and many other people in this country were arrested and thrown into prison cells for no other reason than they were of Arab descent.
Irshaid is a middle-aged man with a wife and three young children.
After the attacks, bumper stickers appeared on many vehicles with the phrase "We stand united."
And for the briefest moment of time after the attacks, the entire world stood as one.
I know. I took it upon myself to email the embassies and consulates of more than 100 countries to thank them for their support for the United States. Call it personal diplomacy. Call it quixotic. Call it what you will. To me it seemed like the right thing to do, like writing thank you notes to those who signed the guest book at a family member's funeral. And almost all of the people in the United States seemed united for the briefest of time too. (With the exception of the American haters like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and their ilk.)
I traveled to NYC two weeks after the attack. The New York Times had written an editorial saying if people wanted to help, what New York needed was tourists. That the city's waiters, hotel housekeepers, retailers, etc. were facing layoffs because of the dearth of the city's tourist trade.
So I went. I've mentioned before how much I loved New York City from afar and how Ms. Carnacki and I had spent our honeymoon there.
I looked up an old friend to see her for myself even though I knew she was OK. I went to the Jekyll & Hyde Club and tipped too much and bought T-shirts for the kids and spent more than I could afford because when something bad happened to one of us, it happened to all of us.
United we stand.
And you saw it with the regular New Yorkers. I walked every where and New Yorkers were friendlier than ever, people on a crowded Chinatown street corner applauded the police arresting a man and people opened doors for one another.
Of course, some of that fades naturally with time after any event.
And the government began locking up innocent people like Mohammed Irshaid.
And we saw how George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and others saw the event as an opportunity for partisan political gain.
We saw their use of the fear felt by many to push their agenda that had nothing to do with making America safer, but everything to do with enriching themselves, their friends and their consolidation of power.
We saw how they played up the irrational fears of terrorists so that a nation that once knew the only thing it had to fear was fear itself was told to fear everything.
And we saw "We stand united" bumper stickers appear on vehicles every where and we heard if we didn't stand by the president we stood with the terrorists.
And although I had tried to enlist in the military after Sept. 11th only to be told I was too old, I shook my head at this line of thinking in disgust.
We were still America, but we were being told to watch what we say. I had tried to enlist because it seemed like the right thing to do not because I ever thought al-Quaeda could defeat our nation. But the thinking and words I saw coming from the White House back then, that worried me. The only nation that could defeat America was America.
The "We stand united" stickers now make sense to me.
And it's a litmus test that separates the right from the left in this country.
To those on the left, "United we stand" means when something terrible happens to one of us, it happens to all of us be it the illegal detention of an Arab, an unjust invasion of Iraq, or a failure to help those trapped by the floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina.
To the Bush supporters, "We stand united" is a requirement for everyone. They want us all to march in lockstep with them. And they want to be part of a united crowd because they are fearful of those on the outside -- be they Arabs, Mexicans, gays, people of different cultural values. They fear the future.
They are frightened children willing to surrender all that America once claimed to stand for in order to save themselves from threats that exist only in their imaginations.
The Bush supporters want us to stand behind an imperial presidency. They want us to stand aside to allow the trampling of the Constitution. They want us to stand silent at the illegal detention of Mohammed Irshaid and others.
I don't stand for that and I never will.