Columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. recently quoted a former New York cop who called for mass surveillance of mosques, saying: “Let’s stop worrying about people’s rights.” Pitts; response: “Here’s a better idea. Let’s start.”
A letter writer proclaimed in the same issue: “Muslims are here to take over and enforce their false religion on us. These savages have no place in our country.”
More than 100 years ago, the tsars of Russia had similar thoughts. To decrease the number of Jews, they mandated that Jews serve 25 years in the army, hoping to separate them from their Jewish roots and convert them to Christianity.
My grandfather, Joseph Birnman, was one of those Jewish soldiers who slipped through the cracks. Had he not deserted and sailed for America, I not would have been blessed with citizenship in a country that proclaims, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
No wonder my head spins as I hear crowds cheer upon hearing a candidate suggest that all Muslims in the United States be registered in databases and that mosques should be under surveillance.
My grandfather would never understand why, having risked his life to reach these shores, his descendants would one day witness politicians unabashedly calling for restrictions on personal freedom.