JURIST >> OPINION >> Forum >> Mocking the Myth... 


Professor Ali Khan
Washburn University School of Law
JURIST Contributing Editor

Look how everyone is free in America! The entire world chanted that there is only one country--America--where the people have real rights and liberties. For a while, after the fall of the Soviet Union, America was on the top of the world. 釘ut I can稚 believe what is happening in America now.

This is how a lawyer in Karachi, who had studied at Harvard, began to express his displeasure to me during a recent visit I made to Pakistan, where I grew up. He was concerned about real and rumored difficulties that Muslims are now facing in the United States. 的n the late 90s," he continued, "I sent two sons to America--one to Stanford, the other to Chicago. Disgusted, one son has now transferred to Canada. The stories coming from America are horrid, he told me, just like the ones the world used to hear about the KGB. They say the FBI is spying on all Muslims. It ambushed Muslim medical students on the Florida highway just because a lady in a restaurant reported that the boys were laughing about the World Trade Center. What about the First Amendment? Does it permit laughing? And what about secret detentions? Are they permitted now? And why are they bugging the mosques in America? Such excesses we thought happened only in the Soviet Union, not in America. 的 am telling you, Ashcroft has shattered the goodwill of America洋ore so than has Rumsfeld, the warlord.

As I listened to such outbursts of anger, I was shocked to observe the depth of indignation that ordinary, not overtly radical Pakistanis are displaying against the domestic and foreign policies of the United States. President Bush痴 threats of war are ridiculed in the media, but stories about the abusive treatment of Pakistani immigrants are narrated in private conversations with hair-raising detail. Most stories highlight the innocence of the victims, discounting any violations of law. Some emphasize the cruelty behind arrests, searches, and deportations. Almost all mock the 杜yth of freedom that the world has associated with America, its laws, and the Constitution.

The narratives cover the entire spectrum. Yes, the FBI searched him and his son for hours, but found nothing. They were visiting America to sell leather jackets, something they have done for years. Prison guards are instructed to harass, curse, kick and punch Muslim detainees. Here and there, passionate stories about shackled Pakistanis languishing in detention centers are exaggerated and sometimes even facts are manufactured to decorate the narratives. In fact, the manufactured narratives more clearly express an emerging sense in Pakistan that the Bush administration is bamboozled, paranoid, intolerant, and abusive.

Adding to the dossier of darkness, I myself had a story to tell. During the month of Ramadhan, a Sudanese-American was arrested for a minor offense. In the county jail, he was served pork and beans. He refused to eat, telling guards that the Quran forbids Muslims from eating anything cooked with pork. The guards picked out pork bits from the beans. The detainee still refused and when he did not eat for a day or so, the warden declared him suicidal and forced him to take off all of his clothing. It was not the cold floor of the cell but the shame of sitting naked in the holy month of Ramadhan that tore my soul, said the tearful detainee. .

On hearing this story, a well-informed practicing attorney in Lahore, who had studied law at NYU, wondered how the American justice system could break so fast and abandon basic rights. The American Constitution had pioneered respect for human dignity. But now, he ventured, Ashcroft is determined to undermine all rights -- the right to attorney, the attorney-client privilege and privacy, the right to evidence, the right to a fair and public trial. He has subverted the presumption of innocence. Most disturbing of all, even the American courts are throwing away these rights in the name of security. A law-based nation such as the United States must act with grace in times of national stress, he said.

But it all fits. Another critic, who once served as an economist for the US AID agency, but now has little good to say about America, told me that this is one more chapter in the United States' history of persecution. Think of a country founded on the genocide of Indians, a legal system that practiced slavery for four hundred years, a liberal government that interned Japanese-Americans, a supreme court that sanctioned segregation in the name of equality, a ruling elite that looked down upon the Irish, the Greeks, the Italians, and then they all got together to persecute the Africans and the Mexicans. It is no surprise, he concluded, that these people have now turned against Muslims.

I told my interlocutor that I saw his point, but that no country's history is morally clean. As I pressed further to argue that the picture in America is far from bleak, I was interrupted and stopped. And why is the FBI arresting Pakistanis in Pakistan, he demanded to know. What business do they have to come and arrest our doctors and surgeons here in our own country? They abduct our citizens and take them to America, and execute them. This, he concluded, is blatant imperialism. Everybody in the room agreed.

As I was leaving Pakistan to come home to Kansas, I heard a local version of a story first reported in the Washington Post. In the scalding heat of this past July, the story goes, a Portuguese jet chartered by the United States landed near Islamabad, carrying more than a hundred Pakistani nationals detained under Ashcroft痴 Absconder Apprehension Initiative. The secret airlift was arranged with the help of the Musharraf government. During the entire flight that lasted twenty-four hours, the deportees were chained to the seats. No detainee had been found to have any terror links, though most were arrested for immigration violations. Many deportees had lived in the United States for years and many were married to Americans and had children. These detainees did not want to leave their families. Some cried before boarding the plane in the US. All wept after kissing the tarmac in Pakistan. They were thanking God that finally they were free.

All along I致e tried to make sense of the narratives. It appears that Pakistanis feel betrayed. Pakistan has been repeatedly 砥sed as an ally to protect and promote United States interests in the region, often at the expense of its own social order. These days, Pakistan must support the US troops stationed in its soil to contain Afghanistan and Iran; it must allow the FBI to conduct searches and arrests in its towns and cities; and at the same time, it must also accept deportations of its workers and students from the US. By all counts, these burdens are heavy to bear. How long will it be before Pakistani nationals and other Muslims are spared from unnecessary assaults on their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?

Ali Khan is a professor at Washburn University School of Law in Kansas, and is the author of A Theory of Universal Democracy: Beyond the End of History (Kluwer, 2003).

January 24, 2003


JURIST Contributing Editor Ali Khan is Professor of Law at Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas. A law graduate of Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan, he also holds LL.M. and S.J.D. degrees from New York University, where he was the Robert Marshall Fellow in Civil Liberties and the Judge Jacob D. Fuchsberg Fellow in Criminal Law. At Washburn he teaches international law and human rights. He has published numerous articles on international law. His latest book, A Theory of Universal Democracy: Beyond the End of History has just been published by Kluwer.

Professor Khan is a member of the New York Bar.