Saturday, May 12, 2007

Backlash Fear

The worry is back for millions of American Muslims. Describing the six suspects of the Fort Dix plot as "Islamic militants," U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said at a news conference, "The philosophy that supports and encourages jihad around the world against Americans came to live here in New Jersey and threaten the lives of our citizens through these defendants."
No further explanation was given about the nature of that "philosophy," yet the defendants were branded as "Islamic." A whole religion and its adherents are included in that generalized term to describe the alleged actions of a few. There lies the cause of worry for Muslims in post-9/11 America. Like all other Americans, they are concerned about terrorism. But whenever an act of violence is perpetrated by any Muslim, they have to be doubly concerned about their own safety and security. "What we're all afraid of is a new backlash," said Hesham Mahmoud, a spokesperson of Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee's New Jersey chapter.
The Washington-based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has reported almost 2,000 cases of discrimination and civil-rights violations against American Muslims in 2005, a 30 percent increase from the previous year. Also, surveys done by CAIR revealed that one-fourth of Americans consistently believe stereotypes such as: "Muslims value life less than other people" and "The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred." Similar polls by the Washington Post and ABC News found that one in four Americans "admitted to harboring prejudice toward Muslims."
Unfortunately, the widespread use of the term "Islamic militants" by the media, to describe the alleged Fort Dix plotters, has the potential of increasing that prejudice against Muslims. Many blogs and discussion boards are teeming with anti-Muslim slurs.
The irony is that there have been similar high-profile events of so-called "Islamic militancy" in recent years that finally proved to be overblown cases. In 2003, federal authorities charged 11 Muslim men in Virginia with participating in paramilitary training. In 2004, two Muslim men were indicted in Albany, N.Y., for allegedly conspiring to launder money and promote terrorism. In 2005, a group of Muslims in Lodi, Calif., were indicted on terror charges. But all of these cases resulted in prosecutions that failed to live up to the initial hype. Also, most of these cases involved the use of paid FBI informants who sometimes instigated the perpetrators to act on the alleged crimes. Even though the use of paid informants is legitimate and may have resulted in some symbolic victories under the paradigm of "early intervention," overuse of this tactic may indicate zealous actions by law enforcement agencies and prosecutors under pressure from the authorities.
The fight against terrorism has to be fought by all Americans, including Muslims. And it should be fought without political agenda or prosecutorial zeal. Terrorism is a real threat that affects all people. American Muslims have consistently condemned the acts of terrorism plotted or perpetrated by any of their coreligionists. They have repeatedly expressed their willingness to work with law enforcement agencies to combat terrorism. And they have voiced their displeasure at equating the criminal acts to their religion. Indiscriminate and vague use of terms, such as "Islamic" or "Muslim," to identify the actions of a handful of criminals has the effect of alienating a section of A
merican population that can be of crucial help in the fight against terrorism.

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