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"Your commentary tonight about surrendering our freedoms to fight terrorism reminds me that, as usual through our history, the Bill of Rights would not survive a popular vote. Our troops are not fighting to close our society but, rather, to keep it open. I worry nearly as much about John Ashcroft as I do about Osama Bin Laden." Talk back on the boards.

American flag
3.15.02
Politics and Economy:
Bill Moyers on the Domestic War Against Terrorism


It's easy to understand how Uzma's husband Anser Mehmood was swept up in that dragnet six months ago. Americans were scared. Don Quixote said, fear is sharp-sighted; fear sees things under ground and much more in the sky. Suddenly Americans were seeing terrorists everywhere, and breathed more easily when the FBI set out to round up people who looked the part.

View the Commentary
Bill Moyers
Bill Moyers
on the Domestic War on Terror

Anser Mehmood looked the part, and his papers weren't in order. There's no telling how many people are here without proper papers. Six, seven, eight million according to estimates &#!51; and only 2000 immigration officers to check up on the violations. Like most of those, Anser Mehmood would likely have gone undetected, except that after 9/11 he looked the part. Now, although not a terrorist, he languishes in jail because his papers weren't in order. His family, facing deportation, chose to go back to Pakistan. Fate, we say; a bad turn of fate; bad things happen to good people even when their affairs are in order. But why do I feel so uneasy; why do I sense we lost something when the door closed on this family? Is it because my inner Kafka says something like this could happen to any of us? I always break out in a sweat when the flashing lights of a patrol car appear in the rearview window, even if I know I wasn't speeding. Or is it because this sad little story of one unlucky family makes me think what my country loses if we fight the war on terrorism the wrong way.

I am old enough to remember England's finest hour. It was 60 years ago, and she stood alone. Bombs were turning London into a forest of fires. And across the channel the Nazi horde was poised to invade. Yet in the face of tyranny and the darkness of oblivion Winston Churchill insisted that democratic processes, the rights of the individual, would not shrivel or shrink, "even," as Ed Murrow reported, "when held so near the fire of total war."

Surely we must win our own war against the terrorism of theocracy. But if fighting that war means massive arrests, secret tribunals, a tolerance of torture, broad invasions of privacy, the silencing of dissent - if fighting terrorism means these things, Bin Laden, dead or alive, wins.

Tell us what you think.

A Family Divided: Anser Mehmood's Story

Civil Liberties After 9/11

Additional Essays:


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