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ACLU: “Radically Wrong: Misstated Threats – Terrorism isn’t an American-Muslim Problem”


An important report from the ACLU that underscores, once again, the very troubling methodology of the FBI when it comes to “counterterrorism” and the very exaggerated nature of the so-called “American Muslim terrorism problem.”

Radically Wrong: Misstated Threats – Terrorism isn’t an American-Muslim Problem

By Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:50pm

None. Zero. That’s the number of fatalities or injuries from terrorist acts by American Muslims over the last two years, according to a recent report from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Here are some other numbers from the report worth noting: In the United States in 2012, there were nine “terrorist plots” by American Muslims—only one of which led to violence. Of those nine plots, only 14 suspects were indicted. Separately, six suspects were indicted for support of terrorism.

Terrorism is not a “Muslim” phenomenon. Indeed, last year, the author of the report called terrorism by American Muslims “a minuscule threat to public safety.” Yet far too many policymakers assume the opposite is true, and too many policies are predicated on the false and bigoted assumption that Muslims are more likely to engage in terrorism than other Americans. The numbers above show how false the premise is. So why are we willing to undermine civil liberties, target an entire religious community, and devote countless resources to this “minuscule threat?”

The answer: a widely debunked “theory” on describing the “process” that drives people to become terrorists. This “theory” is based on the mistaken notion that adopting “radical” ideas (which, under the theory, includes religious beliefs) is a dangerous first step toward committing terrorist acts. Countering terrorism, the thinking goes, begins with countering “radicalization.”

Although it’s been refuted, the “theory” continues to drive policy. Recent Congressional Research Service reports cite it, and the White House issued a plan to counter violent extremism based on it. While the White House deserves some credit for using more careful language and for emphasizing the need for community engagement, it still perpetuates the notion that “how individuals are radicalized to violence” is something we can and should study and understand. And the number of agencies, task forces, working groups, and committees across government that are engaged in the White House’s plan is, well, staggeringly high.

Not surprisingly, when flawed theory drives policy, implementation of the policy is flawed too. If counterterrorism officials believe that adopting radical beliefs is a necessary first stage to terrorism, they will obviously target religious communities and political activists with their enforcement measures.

Take for example, the practice of “preventive policing” by which law enforcement doesn’t focus on crime, but rather tracks legal activities. It has a real and negative impact on individuals: the FBI conducts “assessments” or uses informants, conducts interviews, and surveils people based on their ideas or religious beliefs, or whether they are a certain religion, race, or ethnicity rather than information suggesting they might be involved in criminal activity. Preventive policing also affects entire communities. Through “domain management,” the FBI monitors and tracks entire religious, ethnic, and racial communities based on false stereotypes that ascribe certain types of crimes to entire minority communities. Targeted groups include Muslim- and Arab-Americans in Michigan, and also African-Americans in Georgia, Chinese- and Russian-Americans in California, and broad swaths of Latino-American communities in multiple states.

The FBI has increasingly relied on another tactic based on this flawed theory: the agent provocateur. Remarkably, most of the nine terrorist plots carried out by American Muslims uncovered in 2012 involved informants and undercover agents. According to a recent investigation, undercover agents and informants have targeted “Muslims who espouse radical beliefs, are vocal about their disapproval of American foreign policy, or have expressed sympathy for international terrorist groups”—otherwise known as First Amendment-protected activity. The investigation shows that these targets are fairly unsophisticated and “clearly pose little real threat” on their own. With all essential materials (like money and weapons) coming from government agents and informants, these plots are more manufactured by the government than interdicted.

It’s also clear that preventive policing won’t be tied to an empirical analysis of where significant violence occurs. According to West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, violent acts by far-right extremists significantly outnumber those by American Muslims, but have been virtually ignored by policy makers (though the report has its own problems). While there have been multiple congressional hearings on so-called radicalization of Muslims, there have been none on political violence emanating from the Far Right.

When we implement law enforcement practices that say those who hold “radical” political ideas or religious beliefs, for instance, are dangerous, we could all be in danger. What’s a “radical” idea or belief? It’s one that “reject[s] the status quo.” It’s not hard to imagine that almost all of us hold some “radical” beliefs, which is why it’s not surprising that so many groups come under government suspicion. Anti-government militiamen, misfit anarchistsPETA, Greenpeace, and the Catholic Worker have already been targeted. Who’s to say the group you belong to won’t be next.

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  • I like your comparison of northern English Muslims to the denizens of America’s black ghettos (in the sense that both were victims of deindustrialization).

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    I don’t dispute it (though I can’t confirm it either) that there are more such plots by Muslims in Europe. Recalling several previous articles here though (granted from 2011), it highlighted that Muslim terrorist incidents were quite few and the threat over exaggerated.

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Sorry I didn’t thank you earlier for this. Every time I went to check what was written, disqus would act wonky and I was unable to read it.

  • “I’ve sometimes likened Muslims in Europe to Hispanics in the United States.”

    It’s not a bad comparison, at least in some instances. Both have very large populations that have gotten into the U.S. (though unlike Europe, the fret isn’t over welfare, but legality of their presence), distinct identities that some see never going away, the insistence they “don’t actually want to be Americans [Europeans].” Also rearing its head is the notion that if they contribute to anything, it’s just crime. Of course – at least in the U.K., do these Middle Eastern immigrants typically take lower paying jobs? – no one ever acknowledges that these people do things many Americans, or at least those really complaining about them, don’t want to do.

    “Some of the biggest problems with integration in England are in the so-called “mill and mosque towns” of Lancashire and Yorkshire…”

    There’s another parallel you can draw with the United States in this regard: our African-American population. Before the ’40s, many blacks still lived in a good part of the South as share croppers living on plots of land still owned by whites. After the post-WWII boom, many went north to find factory jobs. When the economy began to buckle in the ’60s and finally fell apart in the ’70s, the cycle of poverty that they’d tried so hard to escape – and briefly managed to – came back in full force. Poverty is a generational and cyclical thing; just as wealth tends to stay in the hands of a select few, so too does being poor.

    “And the racist paranoia about Western civilization submerged under a tsunami of Third World immigrants isn’t really anti-Islamic per se…”

    Of course not. Sorry if I gave that impression. I read a discussion once where someone mentioned that every generation has its Know-Nothings. This is completely true. There will always be groups of people the majority fears will overtake their familiar, comforting world and so react against that. But Hegelian dialectics always comes into play: from both of them will rise a third way (likely making neither party happy) but life will continue on.

  • There have been far more terrorist plots by European Muslims than by American Muslims. And even the 9/11 hijackers (though they were born in the Middle East) were radicalized in Europe.

    Islamophobia in Europe: Mohammad Atta and Multiculturalism

    Another question — was the partition of British India a mistake, given that India has suffered several terrorist attacks perpetrated by Pakistanis, but none perpetrated by Indian Muslims?

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Actually, today’s New York Times highlights Danish Muslims’ anti-terror position:

    Danish Opponent of Islam Is Attacked, and Muslims Defend His Right to Speak
    “… When the news broke on Feb. 5 that Mr. Hedegaard had narrowly escaped an attack on his life, recalled Imran Shah of Copenhagen’s Islamic Society, ‘we knew that this was something people would try to blame on us. We knew we had to be in the forefront and make clear that political and religious violence is totally unacceptable.’”

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch

    Do they pose as a “terrorism problem?”

  • Tanveer Khan

    I think i nearly did. The sensationalism in it was just staggering. They are like modern day media Kharijites

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    You will go blind reading the Daily Star .
    Also you need to learn to read between the lines 😉
    Special Branch and MI5 dont bug people at random as it costs too much. They target people based on what others say . These idiots caused trouble all over the place , spent time in Pakistan/afganistan encouraged others to travel overseas etc etc
    Sir David

  • Tanveer Khan

    Lol. I read on the Daily Star whilst waiting for my haircut yesterday that they had also planned to apply poison on doorhandles and also to add spikes onto their hubcaps ‘to mow down innocent brits’. I didnt know several muslims went to the police. If they had included that in the news articles i read then people wouldnt get an excuse to renew attacks of muslims (they dont really need incidents like this because they carry on regardless but it does give them ‘justification’ i guess)

  • Leftwing_Muslim_Alliance

    fortunetly they were an inept bunch of loosers instead of learning from an islamic scholar they went on the internet .They defrauded muslims ,then lost money gambling on the money markets, all the while MI5 were bugging them they were sooo obvious several different muslims tipped the police off .
    I think MI5 had them arrested because they were bored of listening to their idiotic plans .
    Sir David

  • I’ve sometimes likened Muslims in Europe to Hispanics in the United States.

    Some of the biggest problems with integration in England are in the so-called “mill and mosque towns” of Lancashire and Yorkshire — the (mostly-Pakistani) was invited in as cheap labour for the textile mills, but the mills ended up closing down anyway. Even a Pakistani immigrant in England is far more expensive than a Chinese or Indian worker in his/her own country. 🙁

    And the racist paranoia about Western civilization submerged under a tsunami of Third World immigrants isn’t really anti-Islamic per se — in Jean Raspail’s Camp of the Saints (one of the first examples of this kind of racist propaganda), the immigrants were mostly Hindu Indians…

  • There’s at least some method to Islamophobes’ madness here. Europe tends to attract poorer immigrants (and with that poverty, sadly, means crime). Disregarding debates about welfare, some of these first generation immigrants struggle to assimilate, or their children struggle to, which can create problems for their new homes. This is mostly because, of course, Europe is a hell of a lot closer to, say, Libya, etc. than the United States is, an ocean away. I’m not quite sure how strict laws are throughout the E.U. for immigration, but I’d hazard a guess that they’re much more lax (or slightly more lax) than their American counterparts.

    The American immigration process is a well known nightmare to get through. It can take up to, if I recall right, up to 20 years to get citizenship even after receiving a green card. Because of this, immigrants who’re Muslim tend to, though not always, be upper or middle class and don’t subscribe to a lot of the hardcore conservatism – in some instances – that paints a lot of the immigrants to Europe in a bad light. We sometimes get home grown nutters, but for the most part, it’s not the same level of “the boys at Langley are always watching you” as it would be elsewhere.

    There is also, of course, the paranoia that because those immigrants are poor, the Muslim women (always chained to stoves in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant) will have something like 8 kids each and drown the continent in swarthy peoples. Think a cup of coffee with some cream stirred in…or something.

  • Tanveer Khan

    Have you read about that Birmingham terror plot? I’ve read a little. Apparently thet were trying to rival 9/11

  • Agreed, that’s exactly what the government should be doing.

  • mindy1

    Point being-don’t focus on Muslims, but on everyone who could be a threat

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