Fellow Countrymen

Mr. Viet DinhThere’s a special if perhaps unfair sense of shame that I feel for knowing that the USA Patriot Act was authored by a fellow Vietnamese immigrant. When I first saw Viet Dinh speaking about this legislation in 2002, a shock and a deep, hot flush came over me, and since then I’ve mostly tried to put it out of my mind, only periodically recalling the private embarrassment of my highly tentative and peripheral connection to this landmark abridgment of civil liberties. Anyway, for a beginner’s primer on Mr. Dinh’s position on the USA Patriot Act, you can have a look at the rather facile interview he recently gave to Wired.

One of the things that I dislike most about his views on the matter — and in this, I also fault Wired for not really challenging him — is his assertion that criticism of the legislation is based predominantly on rumors and misunderstanding, rather than established or demonstrable facts; that the government has, as of yet, not abused its newfound, legally granted powers, and that those powers have been granted purely as a matter of vigilance. It’s actually a pretty disrespectful way to cast aspersions on the groundswell of public protest against the Patriot Act, and it works on the premise that, just because these laws give government the power to abuse civil liberties, it doesn’t mean that they will. This is always the way rights are eroded — at first respectfully, and soon with greater mendacity.