You'd think racial profiling was a thing of the past, but recently the Obama administration re-affirmed the right to profile by race and religion at airports, border crossings and immigration checkpoints. It's not just disappointing -- it's part of a long-standing surrender to fear.
After all, if terrorism is the use of fear and violence to influence and change societies, then all of the rules after 9/11 that allowed and encouraged racial profiling are a validation of Al Qaeda's evil tactics. The continued policy of racial profiling isn't just disrespectful to Arab Americans, African Americans, Latinos and Muslims, it's also a slap in the face to veterans who fought for our freedoms and those who have died in the War On Terrorism. We should never change ourselves or our belief in human equality out of fear. We should never let Al Qaeda or any other group turn Americans against each other. By treating Arabs and Muslims different we are also giving aid and comfort to extremist viewpoints that America is at war with Islam, rather than just with the radical groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS.
One of the lessons I learned growing up as a young gay man in the Midwest is that you don't give in to bullies. You don't change yourself or go back into the closet or hide who you are. The people who do violence and who are disrespectful are wrong, not the victims. Our laws since 9/11 have been changed so fundamentally, and the Patriot Act continues to be such a fortress of paranoia, that it begs the question whether America is still committed to carrying the torch of freedom and democracy.
Many of the groups the United States targets for extra scrutiny are also our biggest allies in the War on Terrorism. The United States has had so much success getting help from Muslim and Arab Americans that the CIA is one of the biggest sponsors of Dearborn's Arab International Festival. Not to mention, Muslim Americans have been at the forefront of the intellectual battle within Islam that has bolstered moderates in the Middle East. Just recently, community leaders held a rally condemning ISIS that was woefully under-reported by mainstream media.
On a personal level, I've learned how respectful, kind and generous Muslim people are. While I grew up facing beatings and disrespect from some Christian religious communities, not once in my life have I heard a Muslim utter a disrespectful word to me. Respect for others is part and parcel with the American Islamic community.
As a political activist, I've found a similar level of open-mindedness. This year I worked at the local Arab American community center, ACCESS, and was treated like a valued member of the team. Everyone knew I was gay and that I wrote for the Huffington Post's "Gay Voices" blog on the side. It didn't matter to them. While my college schedule made it difficult to keep up with the work, I still look back fondly at the time I spent at ACCESS.
Just recently, at the Arab American Civil Rights League dinner the president of the Dearborn Democratic club and his wife pulled me aside just to tell me how they wanted me to know that they valued what I did in the community and that I was supported no matter who I loved. They're both Arab American and Muslims. In a small community of activists, writers and politicos, these things matter. But I have to ask - who would I be if I didn't support them, too? Who would I be if I didn't turn around and support other minorities in my community?
The fact is, we need to get over the Post-9/11 fear of Arabs and Muslims. It's not just about doing the right thing - although it certainly is about doing the right thing. Racial profiling is a surrender to terrorism, but we can choose to fight back. The only way to win in the War on Terrorism is to never give in -- to fight for justice and equality, side-by-side, with our fellow Americans.