islamophobia

Islamophobia continues to course through U.S. society, twelve years after 9/11. Credit: veteranstoday.com.

February this year seems to be the month of revelations – not just heartfelt wows of love on Valentine’s Day, but something much more sinister and worrying. Four news reports with sometimes conflicting messages have been released this month from various sources, all discussing the perceived threat (or the lack thereof) of homegrown terrorism by Muslim Americans.

What’s interesting about all four publications this month is that twelve years after 9/11 the stereotype of the Muslim terrorist is no weaker than it was right after the horrific attacks that rocked our nation. We may have become more politically correct than before, or even more educated and aware about “the other”, but underneath it all we still nurse the wounds of 9/11 and identify with a collective enemy: the Muslim American.

Very early in February came “Muslim American Terrorism: Declining Further”, a publication by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Experts at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill have been tracking terrorist plots within the country for the last several years, and some noteworthy facts emerge this year in their fourth annual report. According to the report, 2012 saw the lowest number of terrorist plots by Muslim Americans, with only 14 Muslims indicted in plots last year, as opposed to 21 the year before and more than 200 since 9/11. Perhaps most thought-provoking is the fact that all the incidents in 2012 came to the attention of law enforcement at an early stage, rather than at the last possible moment of an actual attack as in previous years. Which begs the question, are the police and FBI doing a better job than ever before?

The answer to that question is a study in contradictions, as two news stories this month highlight. A video on Huffington Post showed exactly how the FBI is tracking would-be terrorists. More than 15,000 documents in 34 states across the nation show racial profiling of several suspect communities based on stereotypes and perceptions. I may be stating the obvious, but assuming that everyone who holds a certain religious belief or emigrates from certain countries is “bad” is never a good idea. Another news article by AP similarly shows civil rights lawyers filing a protest with the U.S. District Court in Manhattan against NYPD’s routine surveillance of Muslims in “restaurants, bookstores and mosques”. According to most experts, this is hardly constitutional and in fact leads the way to discrimination and bias in all walks of life.

Perhaps secret surveillance may be the reason that 2012 showed the lowest number of terrorist threats by Muslim Americans. Or perhaps credit goes to the highest ever number of FBI informants who infiltrate Muslim American communities under the guise of friendship. A paper by Sahar Aziz of the Texas Wesleyan School of Law, entitled “Policing Terrorists in the Community” was published last week with some startling information. Aziz says that there are now more than 15,000 FBI-paid informants in the country, whose tasks are largely driven by religious profiling. She highlights that “community policing developed in the 1990s to combat violent crime in inner city communities is being adopted as a means of collaborating with Muslim communities and local police to combat Islamist homegrown terrorism.”

FBI informants may be helpful in some instances, but their job description often requires entrapment rather than prevention of crime. According to the Triangle Center report, a conflicted young man, after being told by his Imam that jihad did not mean violence, sought the advice of a friend who just happened to be an undercover FBI agent. While a true friend would have confirmed the Imam’s teachings and told him not to move forward with any terrorist activity, the FBI agent instead urged him to follow his heart and continue. The result was entrapment at its finest.

In light of these reports, I fail to see the big picture benefit. With every such publication or news story, Muslim Americans are feeling more insecure. We no longer know who is watching us at school, work, or even at our place of worship. We don’t know if our friend is really a friend or an undercover agent. Life is bound to become full of fear, suspicion and stress. Add to that the current wave of vandalism and outcry against the building of mosques in our communities, and we find ourselves raising an entire generation of people who fear their own government, as well as each other. How is that conducive to a peaceful, prosperous nation?

Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith liaison for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, and editor of the Interfaith Houston blog. She is actively involved in interfaith coalition building in the Greater Houston community. Most recently she has led a cultural sensitivity training for the Houston Police Department and continues to offer Islam in America presentations at local academic and religious institutions. In addition to her own blog, she writes for the Houston Community Newspapers, Altmuslimah and Religious Freedom USA.


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