Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Game On

Two more reasons to fear for your First Amendment rights:

Leonard Pitt describes a confrontation at a library in Bethesda, MD, in which two Department of Homeland Security employees tried to challenge a man's Internet use. The whole scene is straight out of Orwell: a quiet day in a tony suburb suddenly disturbed by government agents crashing in, declaring moral law, and snatching up a supposed offender. Fortunately, in this instance, a librarian intervened.

Just as scary, the Australian government is investigating a man (Henry Rollins---a musician and television celebrity---although his fame is irrelevant to the point) for reading a controversial book on a flight. Some fellow passengers got nervous when they saw Rollins reading Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia.

First, the book discusses militant Islam; it doesn't promote it. The author is a respected journalist, and the book has received rave reviews in the major press.

Second, let's stop and think logically for a moment. Terrorists aren't dumb. They are misguided, but they aren't dumb. The terrorists who attacked on Sept. 11 blended into U.S. society for quite a while (more than a year, I think, but don't quote me). They shaved their beards, donned Western clothes, and partook in typical U.S. activities. You aren't going to find a terrorist sitting on a plane reading "The Idiot's Guide to Violence and Mahem" or "Hijaking for Dummies."

Third, even thought this happened in Australia, it could happen here. I had lunch with my friend C this weekend, and she remarked on some signs she had seen at her local library---signs about the "Patriot" Act. Signs that inform patrons that the U.S. government is privy to your library records without having to show just cause. Big Brother is watching. And there really isn't a whole lot preventing Big Brother from doing a database search of everyone who's ever taken out a book on explosives. Or Eastern religions. Or civil dissent. Or social change. They can then use that information to decide that you are a terrorist threat.

Chances are, you and I probably won't be targeted. I feel fairly safe in stating that most people reading this blog are White, other either European or Hispanic descent. Most of us fall within the Judeo-Christian spectrum. Most of us wouldn't raise any red flags with the books we read or the Internet sites we visit because we have personal moral codes that disapprove of pornography and violence. We may have a few dark corners to our soul, but for the most part, we live comfortably within the norms of our society.

But what about the Middle Eastern teenager who takes out a book on explosives so he can build a volcano for his science fair project? Or the Southeast Asian man who wants to learn more about the terrorist groups that are using his homeland as a training ground? They very well could become targets for nothing more than having an exotic last name and an intellectual curiousity.

And if it could be one of them, it could also be a White woman who protests against the war, writes letters to the editor that criticize the current administration, posts antiwar and anti-Administration screeds on her Web site, and reads a wide range of books.

This is scary stuff.


At 9:26 AM , Blogger LostInTX said...

Agreed. Although I have to say that personally, I prefer that people don't look at porn at the public library. This guy started "doing" his thing while looking at porn online at the community college library one day. I almost died. He was right next to me.

You know freedom does have a price. Sometimes I feel like we should do all we can to stop people but where does it end? We don't know someone is a theif until they've stolen. On the same token if an online sexual predator isn't stopped a child could be seriously hurt. Researching Jihad and militant Islamic thought or research isn't bad. I think we need to know. That's the problem, we don't know! But we shouldn't be punished for seeking the knowledge. I hate to say it but I don't think we can live our lives trying to insanely protect this country. I fear the government will lose sight of the real threat and ignore an obvious threat because they've lost their focus. Something else will happen eventually. It's history and it's inevitable. We just have to be ready to deal with it.

At 9:26 AM , Blogger LostInTX said...

and I'd like to add that I used to love Henry Rollins. :)

At 9:52 AM , Blogger Lisa said...

I agree on the porn---not appropriate in a public library. BUT---how do you determine what is and isn't porn? Who gets to make that decision?

At one place I worked, we had a Net Nanny-type program that would send an alert to HR if you went to a site that was considered off-limits. I generated a half dozen alerts in a single day---about my second or third week of work---while verifying Web site addresses for an article on sex education.

Obviously, if someone is masturbating in a public place, that's against the law, it has always been against the law, and the guy should have been escorted from the building.

Although, really, what is with you and men touching themselves?

At 10:06 AM , Blogger LostInTX said...

I know... disgusting

I think that guy was mentally challenged a little. I got up and went to the desk and asked them to address it.

I also agree that we have a difficult defining what is and isn't porn.

At 12:46 PM , Blogger Liz said...

If we see someone looking at porn in the library, we won't do anything unless it's kiddie porn (illegal) or they are also being physically or verbally inappropriate. Librarians are supposed to safeguard the free and open exchange of information (even when that "information" is pictures I'd rather not look at). It definitely creates a tense situation though, and it's hard to understand why people want to look at it in a library, of all places. (I mean besides the free Internet access...sigh)

At 1:12 PM , Blogger Bearette24 said...

there is a guy at my library that always comes in, grabs a table and talks to himself. they are generally genial conversations, and the librarians just ignore him.


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