The Anti-Terrorist Sweep and Civil Rights

Let's talk about the reception given to the publisher of the Sacramento Bee when she gave the commencement speech at Sacramento State University.

She got booed off the stage by the students, who were actually listening to her speech instead of taking the opportunity to fall asleep, which is the time-honored approach to these things.

Janis Besler Heaphy wanted to say that Americans should be careful in their fight against international terrorism so that the civil rights of the country's citizens are not trampled.

In the old days, the students might have agreed with her — the old view being that war is wrong and that whatever governments do is wrong.

But no more. Now the students are taking this terrorism personally, so personally that they booed her off the stage.

Did the publisher of the Sacramento Bee learn anything from her experience? Yes. She learned to keep her mouth shut in public, and to tell her reporters and editors to write stories from her point of view.

The Sacramento Bee's Washington bureau filed a story about how Attorney General John Ashcroft is keeping Middle Eastern suspects in detention, and keeping secret from the public how many people he's locked up and who they are.

The story goes on to cover some familiar ground, and finally quotes Americans of Middle Eastern descent.

This particular quote from Elias Shamieh, a San Francisco attorney representing clients under Justice Department scrutiny:

"I think it's an attack on an entire law-abiding community. It's a violation of our constitution and the civil liberties we've fought to protect."

Nasser Beydoun, head of the Arab-American Chamber of Commerce in Dearborn, Mich., had this to say:

"I think Ashcroft has run amok, and because of the hysteria surrounding Sept. 11th, he doesn't have any checks and balances. We're basically rolling back our liberties here."

All in all, the story was about the liberties Ashcroft has taken with the law and the Constitution to ensure the safety of all Americans — to make certain, if there are terrorists among us, that they are feeling the heat of the Feds.

Do the Feds sweep into the net complete with innocents? Yes, and Americans are sorry about that.

The basic potential of unfairness has been a reality of the anti-terrorist sweep since Sept. 12th. We get it. We've accepted it. We hope it doesn't have to go on too long.

My point? If you're a publisher of a newspaper, getting booed off the stage for your out-of-mainstream views is only a momentary setback. You can always just put those same views right into the newspaper, and go home, well out of range of the booing.

The students in Sacramento could have saved their breath. She didn't listen.

That's My Word.

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