For years Portland has stood as a beacon for progressives and others who believe that our collective rights and freedoms should not be sacrificed to the cheap and corrosive mantle of political expedience.
Since the days of my youth, I have enjoyed the warm welcome of your community on my occasional trips to visit lifelong friends from the East who found refuge in this city of hope and vision. Here they found a true sense of community, one that not only welcomed diversity, independence and creativity, but provided a safe haven from the storm of divisive and angry rhetoric and fear that historically has targeted the most vulnerable among us.
With the recent broadside upon the Muslim community in Portland by the so-called Joint Terrorism Task Force, cheered on by some in your local media and other self-professed 'terrorism experts,' Portland has finally come of age, or should I say aged, but without much grace, dignity or understanding.
Long before the aftermath of Sept. 11, Muslims were targeted throughout the United States not for what they had done but because of who they were. In New York, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Chicago, South Florida, Texas and elsewhere, we have seen a systematic attack upon an entire community by law enforcement and others who have sought to exploit uncertainty and unease both at home and abroad to further their own political and economic agendas. To say that Muslims have been targeted because of their association, speech and beliefs is a given that most of us recognize, although few will admit.
Although not unprecedented, in the last decade we have seen not just a dramatic proliferation in grand jury abuse throughout the nation but a frightening rise in the use of secret evidence and clandestine tribunals directed against Muslims, always of course in the name of national security. Illegal surveillance of Muslim communities has become commonplace, and law enforcement has shown no hesitancy in its nationwide strategy to infiltrate mosques and to disseminate half-truths and outright lies about respected imams and Islamic activists throughout the United States.
Many in the media have become all too willing to serve as mere puppets in this readily transparent campaign of public disinformation, and, in doing so, have grown all too comfortable with using unofficial and unnamed sources. Muslims of diverse beliefs and of all ages and ethnicity have been victimized in their workplaces, homes, schools and elsewhere through a relentless campaign by law enforcement and their political and media handlers.
That campaign has now arrived full steam in Portland, where in the last year or so federal agents have fanned out across the Muslim community in what can only be described as a frenzy. Lamentably, intimidation, harassment, surveillance and disinformation have become not just routine but acceptable to many in the broader community.
If nothing else, history has taught us that to survive as a people worthy of survival, much more is required of us than flag-waving and empty nationalist platitudes. It requires vigilance. It requires that we reject the temptation to seek from others sacrifices that we ourselves are unwilling to make. It demands that we repudiate the call for collective punishment. Indeed, just ask people of Jewish and Japanese-American heritage about the collective punishment they were forced to withstand during the Palmer and McCarthy eras of the 20th century and the concentration camps of the West Coast during World War II so that others might sleep safely at night.
That we recognize and renounce the invitation of those demagogues among us who seek to criminalize an entire people because it may serve the goals of those who preach on high is not enough. Nor should we look to the courts alone as the ultimate arbiters of justice in times of crisis, lest we forget that American Indians, African- Americans and women have all felt the sting of constitutionally endorsed genocide, slavery and disenfranchisement.
Have individuals who happen to be Muslim committed offenses both here and overseas? Of course. But no more and, if the truth be faced, far less than those who may pray once a week in their respective churches or synagogues.
Portland, stop! Take a deep breath Ñ and as you do so, forget the fear and divisive rhetoric that others are so quick to employ and to promote. Remember your strength, your independence, your tradition. Rejoice over the presence of Muslims in your community. They are a true blessing. They work hard; they raise loving, supportive families; they build and do not destroy. They bring to your mosaic an age-old tradition and belief and a practice of brotherhood and sisterhood that many may speak of but few practice.
Muslims ask nothing more from Portland than to be treated as all others: as individuals accorded not just the dignity and respect they are due as women and men but the full panoply of due process and equal protection that their neighbors enjoy in the City of Roses.
Attorney Stanley Cohen represents
Portland Sheik Mohamed Abdiraman Kariye and other Muslims being
investigated as possible terrorists.
He lives in New York City.