Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Criminalizing the American Arab and Muslim Communities: Dressing Up Guilt by Association as "Terror Networks"

The Biases and prejudices Guiding American National Security Research

Questioning the" National Security" Research and the Researchers?

Who is advising the US Government on the "War on Terror"? What is the logic behind the measures that have been inflicted on our community: massive wiretapping, delays in processing citizenship and other immigration applications, a massive "watch list," a large contingent of informers and agent provocateurs and the obsession with mosques and vocal activists and imams? The answer is usually given that the government is going by "guilt by association." Letters are written to the President and the Congress hoping to change this ugly reality. Community -law enforcement meetings are held to discuss the challenges/constitutional violations that law enforcement work is inflicting on Arab and Muslim Americans.

The Architects of the Guilt by Association: National Security Policies Drafters are the Domestic Policy Version of the Torture Memo Drafters

There is much truth to the summarizing of the problem we are facing as guilt by association. The blame is often placed on Congress and the President for the laws that enable law enforcement to engage in practices that civil libertarians correctly believe are anathema to the Constitutional rights of all American citizens. Blame is also often put on law enforcement agencies. While not exonerating law enforcement, there is a lot of blame that is not placed where it rightfully belongs- on the scholars that are engaged in national security research- research that is mostly done in secret thus escaping the vital peer review. The drafters of the national security research that criminalizes the whole Arab and Muslim American communities are as guilty as the drafters of the infamous torture memos that have resulted in lower level government agents engaging in torture such as waterboarding.

Underlying Theme of the National Security Research: Arab and Muslim Americans as Subjects and not as Citizens
Israel and Dictatorships as Models to Emulate

The architects of the law enforcement policies are to blame. Many of these architects are consultants and advisers who do research and then offer training seminars to law enforcement- this training allows the researchers to have great influence on how citizens experience the US government. These architects of national security policies are not the Congress, the President or law enforcement agencies. Much of the blame and the responsibility for the hardships inflicted on the Arab and Muslim communities should be placed on the national security researchers who have been treating Arab and Muslim Americans as subjects and not as citizens and copying law enforcement tactics from human rights violators such as Israel (as to its Arab citizens and the occupied Palestinians) and other authoritarian regimes.

Marc Sageman's Understanding Terror Networks: Old Wine in New Bottles- Classic Authoritarian Regime Methods Dressed up and fancied Up for Use on Arab and Muslim Americans

An example of the troubling research that criminalizes the whole American Arab and Muslim communities is Understanding Terror Networks by Marc Sageman. Mr. Sageman describes himself as "a former foreign service officer who was based in Islamabad from 1987 to 1989 where he worked closely with Afghanistan's mujahedin. He has advised various branches of the U.S. government in the war on terror." Mr. Sageman's advice has been described as ground breaking in its approach. Many of us in the Arab and Muslim communities have experienced the logic and methods that Mr. Sageman presents and I have heard many times American Muslims and Arabs complain that the US government is acting like Israel or some other authoritarian homeland they have left.. Sageman's logic and methods have been practiced by Israel and by authoritarian regimes in the whole world- regimes that do not have a constitution like the US has- a constitution that guarantees civil rights and civil liberties to all the country's citizens.
Mr. Sageman argues that the government should not go after the individual terrorist only but after a large circle of friends and aquaintances- he states: the "social bonds predated ideological commitment- it was these social networks that inspired alienated young Muslims to join the Jihad.” " Mounting an effective defense against future attacks is a thorough understanding of the networks that allow the new terrorism to proliferate." He adds:
"Social bonds play a more important role in the emergence of the global salafi Jihad than ideology. Friends and relatives of identified terrorists need to be pursued and investigated wherever they reside. Especially important are those who were friends of the terrorist just before he started acts in the furtherance of the Jihad, such as traveling to Afghanistan for training. These friends helped transform him from an alienated Muslim, into a dedicated global Salafi mujahid…Relatives,. Including in-laws, especially of converts, should not be overlooked in the process."
It's not only friends and relatives that come into the circle of suspicion that leads to investigation and monitoring, in order to criminalize the whole community, even acquaintances are thrown in the mix by Mr. Sageman:

"Peripheral social acquaintances were crucial to the process of joining the Jihad. These need to be identified and investigated as well, as they were the ones who made the introduction without these bridges, potential candidates would not have been able to join the jihad. These individuals will be more difficult to identify because they were part of the dense networks of the cliques. However, they are probably where the members of the clique found them, namely around the mosques that traditionally send potential candidates to Afghan training camps. These few mosques need to be closely monitored or shut down."

The Imam as an Informer

One imam complained to me about law enforcement always asking to meet with him to ask him about his congregants- this came to my mind when I read Sageman stating: "Imams of conservative or fundamentalist mosques who reject terrorism could be excellent sources of information on their congregants. They know which members of their congregations re relatives or former friends of suspected terrorists. Such persons can become intermediary agents who can probe the terrorist." The Imam who complained to me heads a masjid that is perceived as the farthest from being a "conservative or fundamentalist mosque."

Exposing the National Security Researchers: Biases, Prejudices, Premises, Assumptions and Conclusions

To fight back against the law enforcement policies that are abridging our civil rights and liberties it is not enough to lobby the three branches or governments, to educate the media or to have law enforcement agencies- community meetings. We need to pay attention to the architects of the discriminatory policies. Their research is done in secret but there is enough information publicly available about these scholars and their research agendas, and their consulting for law enforcement to question them. Only by challenging the premises and the conclusions, and exposing the biases and prejudices of these researchers, do we have a real hope of changing the reality we are dealt.