Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Don't shoot the messenger

No, this isn't a post about Dick "Shoot First, Dodge Questions Later" Cheney's birdshot incident, as tempting as that might be. (And why was he shooting at Dan Quayle to begin with?) Instead, this is about Al Gore's recent speech to the Jeddah Economic Forum, in which he addressed various and sundry incidents of abuse against Arabs in America following the 9/11 attacks. As has become predictable, the right-wing shouting class are all over Gore on this one -- not so much countering his remarks as attacking him personally as a traitor and a loon.

Let's look first at what the former VP said. Gore stated that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He said that Arabs in America had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges," and "held in conditions that were just unforgivable."

Like him or not (and most conservatives obviously don't), Big Al spoke the truth. The facts are that, in the weeks and months after 9/11, the U.S. government did round up thousands of people of Arab descent, often on spurious charges (and sometimes on no formal charges at all), and held them -- often without access to lawyers -- for days, weeks, even months at a time. Some of these Arab-Americans were subsequently released, some were sent back to their countries of origin on lightweight visa-related charges, but none were proved to be involved in terrorist-related activities. It was an Arab-flavored witchhunt, pure and simple, a series of incidents embarrassing at best, wholly disgraceful at worst. (I remember the story, told after the fact, of an Indiana man whisked away from his family in the dead of night, held without charges, his family not notified of where he was or why he was there; the man was just a simple merchant with the wrong kind of surname.)

While some right-wingnuts are disputing Gore's facts, most are attacking him personally. And viciously. His remarks have been called "inappropriate in a time of war," outrageous, repugnant, loathsome, ugly, insidious, even treasonous. Gore himself has been called confused, disloyal, shrill, "nutty," insane, and traitorous. He has been accused of bribery (making the remarks in return for Arab money) and of inciting Arab violence against the U.S. He has been labeled Osama bin Al, Al of Arabia, Sheikh al-Gore, and Al-Queda (with the emphasis on the "Al"). The nicest criticism I found labeled Gore as "just wrong;" the worst wished violence upon his person. One blogger even tried to make a Cheney-Gore connection, by joking that "while Cheney errantly shot off his shotgun, former Vice President Gore purposefully shot off his mouth." Another suggested that Gore must be "off his medication."

So much for reasoned, dispassionate political debate.

People, we need to debate the facts. Instead, conservatives insist on Rottweiller politics, always attacking the messenger in the attempt to draw attention away from the message. Al Gore's timing and choice of venue might be questionable, but his statements were truthful and should be debated. Just because he brings up difficult issues doesn't make him crazy or traitorous. Addressing our country's faults in an effort to improve the land where we live is the ultimate act of patriotism -- especially in the face of withering personal attacks. Is it any wonder why our best and brightest avoid public service? Don't shoot the messenger -- deal with the message.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

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