The ‘war on terror’ and the disciplining of American Muslims

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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 within 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 group, and its prosecution of a lot 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 may come as a shock to most American Muslims.

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Twenty years on from the launch of a warfare that may place a whole 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 many many entrance strains within the international warfare on terror, pressured to reassess their id and core values within the identify of belonging.

Securitising Islam

Although anti-Muslim discrimination within the US has roots that lengthy predate 9/11, the worldwide warfare on terror ushered in an unprecedented period of mass securitisation of American Muslims that manifested in untold methods. US regulation enforcement companies rapidly set about to uncover “sleeper cells” hiding throughout the group’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.

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The home warfare 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 in contrast to the depictions of communism on the peak of the Cold War, Islam was portrayed as lurking behind each nook and posing a rising risk to the American lifestyle, 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.

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At the identical time, Muslims turned an more and more racialised class subjected to types of discrimination that parallelled the therapy of focused minorities all through US historical past. More than 80,000 Muslim immigrants had been known 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 travel by using no-fly lists. Simply carrying a headband or rising a beard made one a suspect within the eyes of an ever-vigilant police pressure and a hypersensitive public.

Despite the truth that the sleeper cells by no means materialised, the home warfare on terror proceeded unchecked, due partially to the Patriot Act, a regulation handed overwhelmingly by Congress in October 2001 that drastically expanded the federal government’s investigative powers on the expense of civil liberties. Against the nationwide backdrop of fear and suspicion, American Muslims had been systematically focused in a number of waves. In the preliminary section authorities singled out outstanding group leaders and establishments.

Shortly after 9/11, the federal government solid a large internet by spying on group leaders. As information leaked to the Intercept later revealed, in a single occasion the federal government focused a lawyer, a political lobbyist, an educational, and the heads of two of essentially the most outstanding American Muslim civic organisations. Those focused for surveillance confronted the specter of felony prosecution for exercising their constitutionally protected rights to free speech and association.

In 2004, the Department of Justice introduced terrorism costs towards the biggest Muslim charity within 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 did not convict the lads, 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 federal government by no means offering any proof that the charitable donations had any connection to violence.

The fallout from the HLF case continued nicely past the trial. In an unorthodox move, prosecutors launched the names of 246 unindicted co-conspirators within the case, a listing that may usually be saved nameless resulting from the truth that uncharged entities haven’t any technique of defending themselves towards critical accusations like supporting terrorism. The checklist included a number of of essentially 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 solid a cloud of suspicion over all American Muslim establishments, thereby paralysing their skill to serve their communities and play any significant function in civic life.

Similarly, in 2005 the federal government focused Ali al-Tamimi, a Virginia-based imam. He was charged with conspiring towards the United States and was sentenced to life in jail for allegedly offering a fatwa to group members about “jihad” days after 9/11. These high-profile terrorism trials contributed drastically to the chilling impact amongst American Muslims, as imams and group leaders throughout the nation feared their phrases may very well 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 international locations, the federal government was seemingly decided to neutralise political opposition and silence dissenting views at home.

Fake plots, actual penalties

More than a decade after 9/11, the FBI had greater than doubled the variety of brokers dedicated to investigating terrorism, tripled its general finances, 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 warfare on terror, the FBI determined to take issues into its personal palms and expanded a apply 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 using paid informants who had been often liable for concocting the plot in collusion with their FBI handlers.

Sensationalistic media protection of essentially the most high-profile circumstances hardly ever if ever made point out of the truth 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 group’s management, coupled with a gentle rise in Islamophobic sentiments throughout the broader American society, created a pervasive sense of isolation, significantly amongst youthful American Muslims who had come of age within the post-9/11 actuality.

With no less than 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 group areas. As the entrapment circumstances unfolded with alarming regularity, it turned painfully clear that the warfare on terror’s newest victims had been typically the group’s most susceptible members, affected by poverty, psychological well being points, and different difficulties that made them straightforward prey for undercover brokers.

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

A group remodeled

As the mass securitisation of American Muslims turned a everlasting fixture of day by day life, one needed to marvel how any religion group may proceed to fulfill its fundamental wants beneath such situations. In time, American Muslim communal id turned virtually inseparable from the warfare on terror’s rhetorical equipment. In his 2005 guide Good Muslim, Bad Muslim, Mahmood Mamdani argued that US imperial energy distilled everything 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 warfare on terror’s third section was marked largely by enlisting the group’s assist to police itself.

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

Instead, many group organisations refashioned their agendas to accommodate the federal government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme. Millions of {dollars} in funding went towards enlisting American Muslim teams in among the home warfare 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 warfare on terror would really function a pretext to demonise and goal a whole religion and its adherents whereas pursuing US imperial goals can be met with derision and vociferous denials. Two many years later, the proof in that regard is so overwhelming that to say so now can be to state the apparent.

Yet American Muslim establishments have hardly acknowledged the transformations inside their group 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 group 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 possible as every other religion group to precise the assumption 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 towards structural racism and anti-immigrant hostility amongst communities of color.

More not too long ago, they’ve additionally latched onto the reason for Palestine solidarity throughout the broader progressive motion – paradoxically a problem that was traditionally on the core of American Muslim political mobilisation till it turned one of many home warfare on terror’s quite a few casualties.

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

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


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