“What he wants is the technological equivalent of putting a Star of David on clothing to tell who was a Jew in Nazi Germany,” said Seeme Hasan of Muslims for America.
Hasan’s comments echo the blistering reaction to Newsradio 850 KOA’s conservative talk show host Robert “Gunny Bob” Newman’s remarks on his May 8 broadcast that “Every Muslim immigrant to America who holds a green card, a visa, or who is a naturalized citizen will be required by law to wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times.”
Colorado Media Matters exposed Newman’s over-heated rhetoric in response to news reports that six foreign-born Muslim men allegedly planned to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey. Later in the program, Newman suggested that all Muslim immigrants should be deported if they do not agree to government wiretapping and monitoring of their activities.
So where do reasonable people draw the line between hate speech and free expression?Hasan co-founded Muslims for America with her son as a nonpartisan organization to promote better engagement in the democratic process by young people. “Our parents come from dictatorships so we don’t know how to get politically involved, we don’t know about our rights,” she said.
While Hasan was born in Pakistan, her family is originally from Afghanistan. Both countries figure prominently in the president’s War on Terror as coalition member and occupied country, respectively. The Pueblo Republican, who became a naturalized citizen in 1979, is also a staunch supporter of President Bush. She and her husband have contributed nearly $700,000 to conservative GOP candidates and causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Newman’s usual tactic to dismiss his detractors as loony liberals, simply won’t wash in this case.
In her eyes, this “cheap shot at getting ratings” harms the democratic process by creating fear in the Muslim community. She also questioned Newman’s own patriotism. “We live in a globalized world. When this message goes out that Americans believe in ethnic cleansing, it ties President Bush’s hands in the Muslim world.”
Bruce DeBosky, the regional director of the Mountain States chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, blasted Newman by invoking a previous dark cloud in American history that also stripped Constitutional rights from law-abiding citizens.
“His comments are reminiscent of those used for Japanese internment during World War II,” he warned. “These kinds of stereotypes about any group are harmful, hateful and divisive. They don’t lead to any productive solutions that our country faces.”
Defenders of Newman’s statement claim that he is within his free speech rights to voice such an opinion. Cathryn Hazouri, executive director of the ACLU of Colorado and expert in civil liberties and constitutional law, holds a very different interpretation.
“What Gunny Bob said is not only bigoted, it’s totally ignorant of the U.S. Constitution,” declared Hazouri. “His statement suggests that the government should single out people of a certain religion and treat them differently. That violates the First Amendment.”
Locally and nationally the ACLU is well known for taking on cases to protect civil rights and civil liberties even though the causes and the individual clients themselves may be politically unpalatable. Hazouri acknowledges though that there are responsibilities that come with free speech rights.
“We are way overdue on that conversation,” she agreed. “What we see today is an elevation of the trivial and a devaluing of what is important.” While the ACLU will not advocate to have Newman taken off the air for his remarks, as repugnant as they are to many people, Hazouri prefers that KOA’s parent company Clear Channel have a more reasoned and rational conversation about controversial issues, like this one.
Hazouri’s concerns are echoed by Reverend Dr. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, a national nonpartisan organization that represents 150,000 members and 75 faith traditions.
“Hate is neither a religious nor an American value,” said Dr. Gaddy in an exclusive statement to Colorado Confidential. “The sacred scriptures of many different faith traditions speak with dramatic unanimity in vehemently condemning hate. If we aspire to be true to the prophetic core of our religions and our American values, we cannot sanction this type of language on our airwaves. This statement is corrosive to religious tolerance as well as to democracy itself, as it demonstrates a lack of concern for basic constitutional freedoms.”
That tide against hate speech turned most recently on former CBS shock jock radio host Don Imus when he ridiculed African American women on the Rutgers University basketball team with racial and sexist slurs on his radio broadcast last month. Imus and his producer’s on-air remarks drew fire because they ignored social and cultural shifts that make these types of racist statements taboo – especially when aimed at a group of young women striving for success academically and athletically.
What Newman and other conservative talk radio hosts appear to be banking on is that, since the 9-11 terrorist attacks, Muslims continue to be fair game to malign.
Nelson Bock of The Interfaith Alliance of Colorado decries Newman’s statements with a taste of his own caustic medicine. “We deplore all suggestions to curtail the civil liberties of any group of people based on their religion, ethnicity, or national origin. It is not only unconstitutional but immoral. For all the white, Christian males who have been guilty of mass murder in this country, no one has suggested that they all be rounded up and deported or put in concentration camps.
However, Hasan takes Bock’s comment a step further by making a very telling point about Newman’s ignorant co-mingling of Islam with Middle Eastern nationality and the War on Terror.
“Not all Muslims are Arab and not all Arabs are Muslim,” she said. In America, forty percent are from India and Southeast Asia. Thirty percent are Arabs. Some are black Americans too. Some are military veterans who have proven their loyalty to this country.
Which ones does he want to slap a GPS bracelet on?”