The ‘war on terror’ and the disciplining of American Muslims | US & Canada

The ‘war on terror’ and the disciplining of American Muslims | US & Canada

Earlier this month, The New York Times Magazine revealed a characteristic article profiling a former FBI agent who was imprisoned by the US for exposing the rampant abuses in the authorities’s home “war on terror”. In the piece, Terry Albury recounted the FBI’s systematic harassment and intimidation of American Muslims, its spying on the neighborhood, and its prosecution of many of its members beneath the guise of combatting terrorism.

Upon becoming a member of the FBI shortly after the assaults of September 11, 2001, Albury recalled, “It was made very clear from day one that the enemy was not just a tiny group of disaffected Muslims. Islam itself was the enemy.” Its uniquely candid and self-reflective tone however, there was little on this account that might come as a shock to most American Muslims.

Twenty years on from the launch of a struggle that might place a complete minority inhabitants beneath a cloud of suspicion, it’s value inspecting how the lives of American Muslims have been irrevocably remodeled. As securitised topics, they’ve existed on one of the many entrance traces in the world struggle on terror, compelled to reassess their identification and core values in the identify of belonging.

Securitising Islam

Although anti-Muslim discrimination in the US has roots that lengthy predate 9/11, the world struggle on terror ushered in an unprecedented period of mass securitisation of American Muslims that manifested in untold methods. US regulation enforcement companies shortly set about to uncover “sleeper cells” hiding inside the neighborhood’s mosques and Islamic centres. By decreasing the actions of the 9/11 perpetrators all the way down to their spiritual beliefs, all Muslims had been successfully pathologised as potential terrorists.

The home struggle on terror would function as a dual-pronged assault on each Islam and Muslims. Led by an alarmist media and self-serving policymakers, the religion itself was repackaged as a harmful ideology. Not not like the depictions of communism at the peak of the Cold War, Islam was portrayed as lurking behind each nook and posing a rising risk to the American means of life, if left unchecked.

Islamic traditions, beliefs and practices had been sloppily anatomised by an emergent class of self-proclaimed “terrorism experts”, speaking heads with questionable {qualifications} who coined flashy buzzwords like “Islamofascism” and warned that Sharia was little greater than a pathway to Orwellian totalitarianism.

At the identical time, Muslims grew to become an more and more racialised class subjected to varieties of discrimination that parallelled the remedy of focused minorities all through US historical past. More than 80,000 Muslim immigrants had been referred to as in for questioning by federal brokers and required to enrol in a nationwide registry. Tens of 1000’s extra had been searched and interrogated at airports and prevented from journey by means of the use of no-fly lists. Simply carrying a scarf or rising a beard made one a suspect in the eyes of an ever-vigilant police power and a hypersensitive public.

Despite the indisputable fact that the sleeper cells by no means materialised, the home struggle on terror proceeded unchecked, due partly to the Patriot Act, a regulation handed overwhelmingly by Congress in October 2001 that vastly expanded the authorities’s investigative powers at the expense of civil liberties. Against the nationwide backdrop of worry and suspicion, American Muslims had been systematically focused in a number of waves. In the preliminary section authorities singled out outstanding neighborhood leaders and establishments.

Shortly after 9/11, the authorities forged a large internet by spying on neighborhood leaders. As recordsdata leaked to the Intercept later revealed, in a single occasion the authorities focused a lawyer, a political lobbyist, an educational, and the heads of two of the most outstanding American Muslim civic organisations. Those focused for surveillance confronted the risk of felony prosecution for exercising their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and affiliation.

In 2004, the Department of Justice introduced terrorism costs in opposition to the largest Muslim charity in the US, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), and arrested 5 members of its employees. Following a retrial in 2008 after prosecutors initially didn’t convict the males, all of whom had been Palestinian-American, the HLF officers and workers had been sentenced to as much as 65 years in jail, regardless of the authorities by no means offering any proof that the charitable donations had any connection to violence.

The fallout from the HLF case continued effectively past the trial. In an unorthodox transfer, prosecutors launched the names of 246 unindicted co-conspirators in the case, a listing that might usually be stored nameless resulting from the indisputable fact that uncharged entities haven’t any means of defending themselves in opposition to severe accusations like supporting terrorism. The checklist included a number of of the most outstanding American Muslim organisations, from the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The intent behind the leak was clear: to forged a cloud of suspicion over all American Muslim establishments, thereby paralysing their capacity to serve their communities and play any significant position in civic life.

Similarly, in 2005 the authorities focused Ali al-Tamimi, a Virginia-based imam. He was charged with conspiring in opposition to the United States and was sentenced to life in jail for allegedly offering a fatwa to neighborhood members about “jihad” days after 9/11. These high-profile terrorism trials contributed vastly to the chilling impact amongst American Muslims, as imams and neighborhood leaders throughout the nation feared their phrases might be used to place them in jail.

At a time when the US had launched large-scale navy invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, whereas waging lethal covert operations in dozens of different Muslim-majority nations, the authorities was seemingly decided to neutralise political opposition and silence dissenting views at residence.

Fake plots, actual penalties

More than a decade after 9/11, the FBI had greater than doubled the quantity of brokers dedicated to investigating terrorism, tripled its total price range, with $3.3bn devoted to combatting terrorism alone, and a permissive authorized surroundings inside which to function. It was additionally turning up no precise terrorist cells.

In the subsequent section of the home struggle on terror, the FBI determined to take issues into its personal palms and expanded a follow it had launched quickly after 9/11. It stepped up sending paid informants into communities to entrap unsuspecting Muslim youth into terrorist conspiracies that FBI brokers would then foil.

A 2015 examine revealed that since 9/11, greater than half of all terrorism prosecutions concerned the use of paid informants who had been normally liable for concocting the plot in collusion with their FBI handlers.

Sensationalistic media protection of the most high-profile circumstances hardly ever if ever made point out of the indisputable fact that these conspiracies had been the work of FBI informants. Instead, tales of foiled terror plots like these of the Newburgh Four or the Fort Dix Five supplied fodder for the continued stigmatisation of American Muslims.

The vacuum left by the assault on the neighborhood’s management, coupled with a gentle rise in Islamophobic sentiments throughout the wider American society, created a pervasive sense of isolation, significantly amongst youthful American Muslims who had come of age in the post-9/11 actuality.

With a minimum of 15,000 informants at its disposal, the FBI’s rampant infiltration of mosques and Islamic centres stripped Muslims of any sense of safety or sanctity of their neighborhood areas. As the entrapment circumstances unfolded with alarming regularity, it grew to become painfully clear that the struggle on terror’s newest victims had been typically the neighborhood’s most susceptible members, affected by poverty, psychological well being points, and different difficulties that made them simple prey for undercover brokers.

Even these younger American Muslims who averted being ensnared by informants had been nonetheless subjected to mass surveillance programmes, akin to the one pursued by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the CIA. Exposed by the Associated Press in 2011, the secret programme “mapped, monitored and analyzed American Muslim daily life”, going so far as to infiltrate Muslim pupil teams at varied universities in the New York metropolitan space.

A neighborhood remodeled

As the mass securitisation of American Muslims grew to become a everlasting fixture of day by day life, one needed to marvel how any religion neighborhood may proceed to satisfy its fundamental wants beneath such circumstances. In time, American Muslim communal identification grew to become virtually inseparable from the struggle on terror’s rhetorical equipment. In his 2005 e-book Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Mahmood Mamdani argued that US imperial energy distilled the entirety of the Islamic religion into these binary classes “to cultivate the former and target the latter”.

Consequently, an Islam redefined largely in response to systemic Islamophobia compelled some American Muslims to reframe their moral commitments to go well with the calls for of formal acceptance. After having silenced its management, weakened its establishments, and focused its most susceptible, the home struggle on terror’s third section was marked largely by enlisting the neighborhood’s assist to police itself.

Years of demanding that American Muslims “do more” to sentence violence dedicated by any Muslim anyplace in the world had visibly reshaped the neighborhood’s priorities. Not solely had been American Muslim establishments pressed to stay silent in the face of abuses dedicated in opposition to their very own neighborhood, however they had been additionally constrained from providing critiques of an American imperial venture that was devastating a lot of the world, for worry of being labelled terrorist sympathisers.

Instead, many neighborhood organisations refashioned their agendas to accommodate the authorities’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme. Millions of {dollars} in funding went towards enlisting American Muslim teams in some of the home struggle on terror’s most egregious practices.

These CVE initiatives included surveillance and mapping of communities and counter-radicalisation initiatives that pathologised Muslims as predisposed to violence by labelling fundamental Muslim ritual practices as suspicious.

As extra communities welcomed FBI brokers into their areas, an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union in 2011 revealed that federal brokers used so-called “community outreach forums” to spy on American Muslims.

In the early days after 9/11, to recommend that the struggle on terror would really function a pretext to demonise and goal a complete religion and its adherents whereas pursuing US imperial goals could be met with derision and vociferous denials. Two many years later, the proof in that regard is so overwhelming that to say so now could be to state the apparent.

Yet American Muslim establishments have hardly acknowledged the transformations inside their neighborhood or the practices that introduced them about. Such has been the disciplining impact that no matter critiques they provide are restricted to societal Islamophobia or the excesses of the Trump presidency.

Few efforts have been made to determine and problem structural Islamophobia and the imperial practices it helps. If something, the neighborhood has witnessed an alarming rise of internalised Islamophobia, as indicated by a 2018 survey which revealed that American Muslims had been greater than twice as probably as some other religion neighborhood to precise the perception that Muslims are “prone to negative behavior”.

What hope exists to problem this prevailing narrative stems from a rising youth motion that has voiced poignant critiques of older generations of American Muslim professionals they view as complicit in their very own securitisation. These younger activists have drawn energy from forming linkages with broader struggles in opposition to structural racism and anti-immigrant hostility amongst communities of color.

More not too long ago, they’ve additionally latched onto the trigger of Palestine solidarity inside the broader progressive motion – mockingly a problem that was traditionally at the core of American Muslim political mobilisation till it grew to become one of the home struggle on terror’s quite a few casualties.

As American Muslims replicate upon the ache and loss endured over the previous 20 years, it’s important that the classes of these experiences not be forgotten nor ignored. Indeed, their survival as a religion neighborhood relies upon on it.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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