SIGNALS FROM THE NEW ATTORNEY-GENERAL
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
Now that John Ashcroft is the Attorney General of the United States, it is incumbent on Muslims to watch closely the signals he gives as to the direction he intends to take on the issues that are pressing to us: secret evidence, immigration policy, equal justice under the law, and religious freedom. Neither his conduct during the nomination process, nor his pronouncement since taking office bode well for Muslims.
The failure of Muslims to join the bandwagon that sought to stop his nomination may have grave consequences. Among Ashcroft's strongest critics were African-American activists who have been strong allies of Muslims on our issues. The testimony of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White of Ashcroft's obsessive efforts to prevent him from obtaining his appointment to the Federal bench should be a matter of grave import to Muslims. While there is no evidence that Ashcroft himself is a racist, his less than meticulous actions in opposing Judge White's appointment as well as his appearances at the explicitly racist Bob Jones University suggest that he will not go out of his way to prevent the racism of other from helping him to achieve his goals. The decisions that he makes now on the death penalty for Terry McVeigh will set a precedent for his actions on cases involving not only African-Americans, but Muslims of all races and national origins who may be prosecuted under the "Counter-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act."
In part, Muslims chose to stay out of the confirmation fray because the Muslim leadership feared that opposition might jeopardize the good will purchased from the new administration through its endorsement of candidate Bush during the election. In part it was because of assurances given the Muslim community by sympathetic Republicans. I was present when Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, assured a room filled with Muslim leaders that Mr. Ashcroft had personally told him that he was opposed to secret evidence. Alas, Mr. Ashcroft's public record is not so reassuring.
When he was a U.S. Senator, John Ashcroft voted in favor of S. 735, the Counter-Terrorism Act that put secret evidence in place. Thus he was certainly not against secret evidence when he was in a position to do something about it.
Of course, people can grow, can come to understand issues better and change their minds. Is that the case with Ashcroft? Again, the record is discouraging. During the hearings on his nomination, Ashcroft was asked by Senator Edward Kennedy whether he shared Bush's opposition to secret evidence. He specifically asked whether Ashcroft would support the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of which candidate George W. Bush had spoken favorably. Ashcroft's response was neither clear nor emphatic. "I am troubled by some of the stories I have heard about the use of secret evidence and believe that such uses must be reconciled with Due Process. While I cannot comment on specific legislation, I look forward to working with you to find a way, consistent with national security, to protect the rights of citizens and aspiring citizens coming to our nation" (Vise, 2001).
This is, of course, gobbledy-gook. Ashcroft shows no signs of having changed his mind on the Draconian legislation that he helped pass into law. Privately telling Republicans who have the trust of the Muslim community one thing while saying another in open hearings before Congress confirms the uneasiness that is engendered by testimony of Judge Ronnie White and others. Now that he is in office he has made a declaration that seems to imply that he will continue to enforce this unconstitutional law. At his first press conference Ashcroft declared: "I think my conservative view is that I should enforce the law as it is written. I think one of the elements of conservatism is to take the law as it is and to work to enforce it, not to supersede the law with your judgment."
What does it mean to be a religious man? For some it is to allow God's will, as they have understood it, to shape their lives. For others, it is to shape the lives of other people by their own religious opinions. The former is the definition of a muslim (small "m" intended), the latter is the definition of a religious fanatic. Muslim-Americans cannot take it for granted that the Janet-Reno-like persecutions have come to an end under her less-than-candid successor. Having failed to demonstrate political muscle by being that one last shoulder at the wheel that might have stopped the Ashcroft nomination, Muslims must work extra hard to make sure that Bush ends secret evidence despite his attorney-general's reluctance to publicly condemn it. "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
David A. Vise 2001. "Ashcroft Faces Tough Choices Early," Washington Post (2/20/01) A21.
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