Really keeping America free

Oct 3, 2001 at 12:00 am

“One guy was reading that Muslim bible. I mean, if that ain’t suspicious, I don’t know what is.”

—Royal Oak Jiffy Lube employee

Fortunately, our Jiffy Lube patriot didn’t blow poor Javed Ahmed away last Friday. He knew, however, his patriotism was being put to the test. Not only was one of the swarthy pair reading a Quran, they were in a truck with New York license plates. Worse, they had maps.

Maps of Michigan, New York, other states between ’em! All America, or at least 13 Mile and Rochester Road, was in grave danger. “We were scared and called the police. Just doing our duty,” he modestly said.

In a flash, Royal Oak’s finest, possibly a bit bored since Jack Kevorkian quit dispatching patrons on Main Street, swooped in. The Politzei contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which swiftly sent an FBI man to interview their employer while Royal Oak grilled the two suspects in the cop shop.

Soon, they spat out the truth. They had gone to Jiffy Lube for the explicit purpose of … changing the oil in their boss’ truck. They had come here with him, as a matter of fact, to work at the “Sale of the Century” at the State Fairgrounds.

Remarkably, when the police let them go, Ahmed, a peaceful Pakistani who came here to make a living in 1995, was philosophical.

“Everyone’s scared,” he told the Oakland Press. “This is our security; they (the cops) are just doing their jobs and keeping us safe.”

Frankly, I felt he was too nice about it. There are 6 million or so Muslims in this nation, and the vast majority are as much or more American than I am, especially those who endured hardships to get here. Many of those I know would be happier than we would to see Osama bin Laden dead.

What happened Sept. 11 is truly scary. As I have said here before, the people connected to it are, to borrow Christopher Hitchens’ eloquent term, Islamic fascists. So are the Taliban. They — and bin Laden — are every bit as bad as the Nazis, and civilization simply cannot tolerate their continued existence, any more than we could have left Hitler in power. If you doubt that, watch the superb CNN documentary “Beneath the Veil.”

But there is something far scarier than Osama bin Laden, worse even than the sight of the twin towers collapsing. That is the threat that we might forget what being an American is all about. Namely, freedom.

Especially freedom to say what is unpopular. Even now. Especially now. If America is to win this “new war,” that means we have to support anyone’s right to say, for example, that President Bush is a fool or even that we ought to try to give Osama bin Laden what he wants.

We also have to fight — as hard or harder than we fight the terrorists — to prevent ourselves from becoming narrow-minded bigots. Last week, I had dinner with Ahmed Chebbani, a highly successful Dearborn accountant who fled the violence in his native Lebanon and came here as a boy.

Among other things, he publishes Arabica magazine, and heads the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce. Chebbani, a U.S. citizen now, and an active Democrat, told me horror stories of Arab-Americans being asked by employers if they were Muslim and then suddenly being dismissed.

I had no doubt they were true, though practices like that are both illegal and as totally un-American as anything our enemies could imagine.

So was the chilling, totally out-of-line comment by Ari Fleischer, Bush’s press secretary, who warned reporters that in times like these, “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.”

Mussolini couldn’t have put it better.

Incidentally, there is, I think, one group that stands for and represents the finest American traditions: the American Civil Liberties Union. Kary Moss, the ACLU’s executive director, has been working overtime since Sept. 11 to help stand vigilant and protect everyone’s civil rights.

Nothing could be more American — and anti-terrorist — than ALPACT (Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust) a group she helped put together to ensure “that all people are safe and secure and are treated with dignity and respect during these difficult times.” ALPACT includes everyone from the NAACP to the Detroit Police Department to the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Nothing could be more American — and a better way of giving the finger to Osama — than the meeting Moss and Chebbani had recently to discuss some of the incidents of discrimination against Muslims and to try and figure out what to do about it. Chebbani, by the way, is a Muslim. Moss, a Jew. And that wasn’t relevant at all.

Nothing could be more truly American than that — except perhaps for this. Chebbani has big problems with Ariel Sharon and doesn’t always like the way U.S. policy has tilted towards Israel. But last November he voted for the ticket that ran Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, for vice president, because he thought the Democrats would be better for the country.

As long as Americans think like that, the terrorists have failed. Incidentally, the administration has been attempting to rush through a package of anti-terrorism laws that would allow more secret searches and the indefinite detention of non-citizen “suspects” without judicial review.

That’s neither good, nor necessary. For details — and for what you can do to help stop it — check out While you’re at it, print out the ACLU’s 10-point statement, “In Defense of Freedom At A Time of Crisis.” And if you decide you want to put that, instead of a newsprint flag in your front window, I’d have to say, well, I think you understand.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]