Expert Witness: Keeping what's best about us

By Michael G. Brock

A few years back when I was still married and we took vacations as a family, we decided to spend one Christmas on Sanibel Island near Fort Meyers Florida. We had a nice time there; had good weather; found a restaurant that served fresh shrimp by the basket; and played beach volleyball. I remember rereading Thomas Wolfe’s novel, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”

One day I tuned in to NPR and they were having a holiday special of listeners discussing what the holidays meant to them. One person did a thing called, “Perform or Conform.” The gist of it seemed to be that you either have to be exceptionally good at what you do, or else go along with the herd to be accepted. Somehow he tied it in with the holidays. I think it was, “How do we treat those who do neither? Who don’t fit in, but don’t do anything exceptionally well so that their eccentricities would be acceptable?”

It was a good decompression period, and the only problem we had was that our flight back was delayed for reasons that were never explained. Boarding the plane, however, I was aware of the fact that a man who appeared to be of South Asian ethnicity (Indian or Pakistani) had been pulled out of line and was being scanned with a metal detector. I’m not sure why they picked him. He certainly didn’t look like a terrorist; judging by his clothes and demeanor he looked more like a middle-aged professional, possibly a doctor.

As we passed by to board the plane I looked over at him and we briefly made eye contact. It was unsettling. I could see the fear in his eyes, and without a word I immediately understood that the fear was from coming under suspicion merely because of his ethnicity. He’d already been through airport security; what other reason was there to pull him out of line for closer scrutiny?

My daughter teaches and attends graduate school in New York, and last Christmas season I visited her there. It occurred to me that I would be flying on Christmas Eve and this would be an opportune time for a terrorist attack. Air traffic would also be heavy and security would be tight. There was a good chance I would not get to where I was going when I expected to get there. I had sat on the runway at LaGuardia for a couple of hours before, or had flights cancelled because of windy weather and had to make my way over to Newark to get back in time to see clients. Still, it was a chance to spend the holiday with my kid and I would chance it.

As it turned out, there was a failed terrorist attempt on Christmas Eve at Metro, as the world knows, and when I landed I heard all about it. OK, we dodged a bullet. And for all our money and inconvenience spent on increased security, the attempt failed because of faulty equipment, not because of everything we did to prevent it.

Since then, many people have questioned why we spend so much time and money scanning everyone instead of focusing more on the population who presents a threat — Muslims. Especially since the new security measures are even more invasive than the old, more time consuming, and consume more of the financial resources we don’t have. They have a point. You could target the segment of the population that is most likely to cause you problems.

But who wins if we do that? Wouldn’t Bin Laden just love to see us quarantine Muslims during this war the way we did Japanese Americans during WWII? And I know we are not talking about measures this extreme, but it seems to me dangerous and disconcerting to single out a population for any reason. Hitler didn’t start by exterminating Jews; he began by setting them apart and denigrating them, and then moved on to interning them and taking their property, refusing to let them emigrate, and finally extermination.

To begin a policy of identifying any group of Americans for “special treatment” has to be a terrifying prospect for those people, as well as for any American who might once fall into a category deemed “undesirable” by the majority. We may wind up doing that if the far right has its way, but to institute a policy of discrimination based on religion, race and/or ethnicity is about as far as we could get from keeping what is best about America.

Michael G. Brock, MA, LLP, LMSW, is a forensic mental health professional in private practice at Counseling and Evaluation Services in Wyandotte, Michigan. He has worked in the mental health field since 1974, and has been in full-time private practice since 1985. The majority of his practice in recent years relates to custody issues and allegations of child abuse. He may be contacted at Michael G. Brock, Counseling and Evaluation Services, 2514 Biddle, Wyandotte, 48192; (313) 802-0863, fax/phone (734) 692-1082; e-mail: michaelgbrock@