Reinvent McCarthy’s wheel?

The U.S. government is now profiling Somali-Americans.

by Hadley Gustin

It was 60 years ago last week that Sen. Joseph McCarthy forever changed his political career by giving a speech about communists in America. McCarthy captivated mainstream audiences by capitalizing on an issue that was both timely and terrifying. Nobody was safe when it came to McCarthyâÄôs fervor for hunting and charging communists. First, government employees âÄî namely, those who worked for the State Department âÄî were attacked. Then, U.S. servicemen were placed under the watchful eyes of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Later, McCarthy and his allies shifted their focus to specific communities of citizens who were on the periphery of society, such as certain Hollywood elites and gays. Although the era of McCarthyism was short-lived and many were opposed to the Senate hearings that destroyed the lives, careers and reputations of thousands of Americans, fear and suspicion among the general public allowed McCarthyâÄôs anti-communist zeal to reign supreme. Fellow politicians may have despised him, but no one stood directly in his way to force a stop to the humiliation and dishonor his opportunistic paranoia brought to so many Americans. While the United States is consistently touted as the land of the free, I beg to differ when it comes to cases like McCarthyism, Japanese-American internment, black slavery and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The dark recesses of our history can be easy to overlook, especially when they condemn or contradict some of our greatest institutions and ideals. Nonetheless, even after receiving textbook education on these prejudicial and unlawful acts, the federal government and much of the citizenry defend the right to target marginalized groups of civilians who fit the profiles of our modern-day enemies, most notably those of the Muslim faith and Arab descent. As many in the Twin Cities area are already aware, Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to the largest Somali-American community in the United States. Many of these are immigrants who fled war-torn Somalia. In recent years, this particular community has fallen under closer examination by the FBI and other government agencies in light of terrorist connections between the United States and Somalia. According to Alex Kingsbury of U.S. News and World Report, âÄúShirwa Ahmed, a Somali-American from Minneapolis, earned the distinction of being the first known U.S. citizen to become a suicide bomber. Ahmed blew himself up [in the fall of 2008], killing about 30 other people in a truck bombing outside Mogadishu.âÄù Last fall, a similar instance occurred after âÄúmore than 20 Somali-Americans [disappeared from their homes in Minneapolis] to join Al Shabab, a local group in Somalia linked to al-Qaida, [in its fanatical pursuits],âÄù in the words of Gordon Lubold, a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor. For months now, the Minneapolis division of the FBI has considerably stepped up its efforts to investigate why these young, American-born citizens are running toward the conflict and unrest their parents fled nearly 20 years ago. However, âÄúthe climate of suspicion has stigmatized the whole community,âÄù said Muhamed Husein, a Somali-American writer from Minneapolis. Others like Husein have also felt the pangs of ethnic profiling. Take Zainab Hassan, a 30-year Somali immigrant, who said, âÄúWhen you turn on the radio and thereâÄôs something bad about the community on, it kind of hurts.âÄù When it comes down to it, the reality is that terrorists generally blend in with the rest of society and are irregular, volunteer pugilists. Therefore, it is not logical to employ McCarthyâÄôs approach and subject an entire population of people to ridicule and contempt for the purpose of catching extremists who are few and far between. Instead, our government should look at the source of angst for these militants to formulate solutions based on that identifiable cause of anger and leave the rest of the Somali-American community to live their lives free from undue public scorn and scrutiny. Hadley Gustin welcomes comments at [email protected]