Washington, DC — Twenty years ago today, the Patriot Act was signed into law after being rushed through Congress with near unanimous support. Soon after, Muslim Advocates was formed to provide more expert representation for American Muslims and to promote freedom and justice for all.
The following is a statement from Muslim Advocates’ founding board members and Interim Co-Executive Directors Farah Brelvi and Asifa Quraishi-Landes:
“When the Patriot Act became law 20 years ago, we objected to this radical expansion of government authority. More than just an anti-terrorism law, or even a surveillance law, the Patriot Act stands as a veritable wishlist of expanded powers for federal, state and local law enforcement. Today, much of that government overreach has become normalized. Things like government surveillance, aggressive border control and militarized law enforcement are now just the background hum of everyday life in a country perpetually at war with terror.
By now, the American public is aware that thousands of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and others have been surveilled, interrogated, imprisoned and even assaulted and deported because of the Patriot Act and related laws. However, we also must acknowledge that these authorities have also been used by law enforcement to expand the racist drug war, surveil Black Lives Matter protestors, kickoff skyrocketing rates of deportations of Mexican and other immigrants and enable mass government surveillance of library patrons and cellphone users. Today, as we watch police officers continue to face virtually no consequences for harassing and killing Black and brown people and round up and terrorize immigrants, we see the wide-ranging and lasting impact of the Patriot Act.
Honest observers of American history acknowledge, however, that while the Patriot Act and other 9/11-era policies significantly escalated the security state’s powers to threaten Americans and their rights, they did not invent government overreach in the name of security. Violent crackdowns on unions in the 19th and 20th centuries, World War II-era internment camps and FBI surveillance of civil rights activists are just a few egregious examples of dangerous and abusive policies enacted supposedly to protect the public. For decades, many have united in asking: ‘whose freedom is being sacrificed for whose security?’
With centuries of hindsight as our guide, we Americans could learn from our past and work harder to figure out how to have public safety without ceding civil liberties of those with less power. On this sobering 20th anniversary, we must acknowledge that the Patriot Act isn’t the only problem. We also must reckon with the sentiment that motivated its passage in the first place: fear. To live in a truly free and safe society, we must not allow ourselves to be pitted against our neighbors by the same political interests stoking the same fears.”
Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.