"I came here to drink milk and kick ass. And I've just finished my milk." - Moss, The IT Crowd

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Radicalization

I've been avoiding writing about the Congressional hearings on "extent of radicalization" in the U.S. Muslim community because the whole thing makes me so mad I want to spit, and it's difficult for me to write about it with a semblance of rationality. But I'm going to do my best.

Do I think there are some Muslims in the U.S. who have developed radical views, who may be egged on by religious or social leaders who advocate or condone violence? Sure. I also think that there are some white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, Tea Partiers, and conspiracy theorists (from both the far left and far right wings) who are susceptible to being egged on by religious and social leaders who advocate or condone violence.

You know what I DON'T think? That everyone who plasters a Confederate flag on their car, wears a cross around their neck, advocates abolishing the income tax, or believes that 9/11 was an inside job is a threat to my or my country's safety and well-being. And I don't think that people are automatically suspect as any kind of threat to me or my country because they choose to practice Islam, either.

Pete King, shame on you for singling out Muslim Americans for this kind of treatment. How can you feign surprise at the reluctance of many in the Muslim community to speak openly with law enforcement when they've experienced this? And this? And this? And this? And this? As Spencer Ackerman puts it, "Treat entire communities like an undifferentiated threat and they’ll react accordingly."

Mr. King, you say that you do not want it on your conscience if another attack happens. If that's truly your goal, I have news for you: you're doing it wrong. One of the biggest pitfalls in security is to expend your energy guarding against the attack that already happened rather than figuring out what the next attack is likely to be in the future. You state: “There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation.” Incorrect. Homegrown terrorism is quite as deadly as any other kind, and you are looking backwards rather than considering how the seeds of future violence are sown.

Concentrating your energies indiscriminately on one large category of people which you believe contains a small subset of secret terrorists means that you are reducing the resources available to investigate individuals in other categories who are actually known to have threatened violence. If you want to find people who openly advocate insurrection and waging war on other Americans, go to the white supremacist site Stormfront.org and spend 10 minutes reading through the forums there. Instead, you're busy creating more ill-will and distrust among the U.S. Muslims who have done nothing wrong and yet find themselves being surveilled and treated as second-class citizens.

My other objection to the whole notion of these hearings is that, rather than focusing on actual terrorists who are conspiring to commit violent crimes, they focus on what are essentially thought crimes. These hearings, so far as I can make out, are focused on words and attitudes that our government finds "threatening," rather than on actual crimes or the conspiracy to commit such crimes. Wouldn't it make more sense to focus our law enforcement resources on individuals who appear to be, you know, actually implicated in planning and committing real crimes, as opposed to surveilling every fool who flaps his gums about hating Americans or the U.S. government? Let alone people who simply happen to worship at the same place as said fools. Not only is this kind of indiscriminate surveillance unacceptable in any society that claims to value freedom, it's also profoundly wasteful and ineffective.

We are better than this. Americans do not have to compound the horrifying tragedy of 9/11 by living in a frenzy of paranoia and xenophobia. And we do not have to continue electing the politicians who would benefit by promoting fear, division, and mutual distrust among us. This hearing is an exercise in McCarthyist showmanship of the worst kind, and it makes me ill to think about the fact that U.S. taxpayers are funding it.

ETA 3/12/11: This Houston defense lawyer's blog has a compelling argument for why Muslim Americans in particular should always have their own counsel present when speaking with the FBI.

ETA 3/12/11: Salon has an excellent interview with Faiza Patel, the co-director of the Liberty & National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, concerning problems with the "conveyor belt" theory of radicalization that sees devout Islam as a kind of gateway drug to terrorism. 

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