Saturday, September 23, 2006

"...U.S. prisons may be a particularly fertile breeding ground for Islamic radicalism."

This report from CFR suggests the threat of terrorist extremists may be greater from within the country than from abroad.

Richard A. Falkenrath, New York City’s deputy police commissioner for counterterrorism, recently warned Congress, “The possibility of a ‘homegrown’ terrorist attack against New York City or any other American city is real and is worsening with time” (PDF). He is just one of many experts in recent months to warn about the danger of homegrown terrorism in the United States. In a discussion at a recent CFR symposium, counterterrorism expert R.P. Eddy said America’s next attackers will likely be “a lot closer to the Columbine killers,” than traditional jihadis.

Though it has produced relatively few terrorists to date, much discussion over the homegrown threat focuses on the American Muslim community. As a new
Backgrounder explains, this group of Americans is one of the country’s greatest assets for foiling homegrown Islamist terrorists. The diversity of this group, a fact not widely understood outside Muslim-American circles, also plays a role. Arab-Americans, for instance, may hail from Morocco or Iraq, Egypt or the West Bank. Muslims could come from further afield - India to Indonesia, Tanzania to Trinidad. These factors help prevent the segregation of Muslim communities in America typical of European cities, and thus the homegrown attacks that hit Madrid in 2003 and London in 2004. Peter Skerry, a Brookings Institution senior fellow, credits
American society’s more thorough assimilation of Muslims as essential to making them
less prone to radicalism than their European counterparts.

But CFR Senior Fellow Steven Simon warns this could soon change. He recently told Congress that an increasing sense of alienation among American Muslims “could produce a ‘
rejectionist generation.’” Media stereotyping of Arabs as "terrorists" regularly brings complaints from watchdog groups, whether in Disney's animated movie Alladin or the popular television series 24. A new report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations notes that incidents of anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States rose 30 percent from 2004 to 2005 (PDF). In a tirade against “Islam-haters,” New York Post columnist Ralph Peters writes, “Bigotry is bigotry—even when disguised as patriotism.”

While American Muslims generally exhibit a willingness to come forward and report suspicious behavior, experts familiar with the community say that willingness could diminish if the suspects they single out receive unfair treatment. The Justice Department has already taken criticism for its handling of some domestic terror cases, including that of Hamid Hayat, a U.S.-born Pakistani who currently awaits sentencing after conviction on what the Los Angeles Times portrays as
trumped up charges. In the “Detroit sleeper cell” case, the conviction on terror charges of a group of Detroit Muslims was quickly overturned after the revelation that prosecutors withheld evidence and gave misleading testimony (WashPost). Even Iyman Faris, the Ohio truck driver who confessed to plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge, attempted to rescind his plea on the grounds that he was the target of warrantless wiretaps (CNN).

Studies suggest U.S. prisons may be a particularly fertile breeding ground for Islamic radicalism. A special report from the George Washington University and the University of Virginia found a shortage of Muslim religious leaders to serve the demands of U.S. inmates, which allows extremist Muslims to more effectively
recruit among the vulnerable prison population (PDF). One of the authors of the report, Frank J. Cilluffo, told a recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security that prisons worldwide often lead to the radicalization of future terrorists (PDF), including such well-known figures as shoe-bomber Richard Reid and the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The interesting part is that when it happens -- the next instance of terrorism in America -- more energy and attention will be paid to who was to blame than how to remedy the problem. If the last five years illustrates nothing else, that much is clear.

It is easier to look back than to look ahead. When we examine forensic evidence we are dealing with evidence we can see, even if we cannot understand why it is there. It is clearly more challenging to look to the future and argue about this or than policy because expediency gets in the way. Besides, part of the remedy to this threat will involve constructive and meaningful engagement of American Muslims. Few people are willing in today's social climate to be seen as "soft" on terrorism. And the words terrorist and Muslim have become almost synonymous in the vocabulary of many, if not most Americans.

Those who seek dialogue with Muslims are becoming the new nigger-lovers. That's a term I haven't heard used or quoted for long time because the N-word has become so volatile that no one dare use it, even to make a point that would argue in the right direction. When we point the finger of hypocracy at inflamed, insulted Muslims it would be prudent to first examine hypersensitivity to blind spots of our own.

Anyone who doesn't think that language can have an inflammatory effect on ordinary people is simply in denial about the everyday use of language. Whether or not we admit it, we are bound by language constraints all the time. We watch movies and hear entertainers use abusive language all the time and conclude that because of that we are all free from the devastating impact of language on one another. We point with satisfaction to abusive talk-show hosts and politicians who push the envelope in speeches and congratulate ourselves that we believe in "free speech." We hear profanity and worse used in public and preen at how tolerant we have become in our modern thinking. The lyrics of rap music are a case in point.

The next time someone gets in your way at work, say "Get your fat butt out of the way, you pig, and quit looking at me like a moron." There may be places where such language is considered playful, but with the right timing and tone of voice those words will get you fired, quickly in most organizations. Anyone looked lately at the concept of "hostile work environment" and measured that exquisite standard against the everyday casual bigotry of the public square? Not since I heard reference to Blacks needing to "know their place" have I heard such a proliferation of prejudiced language against a targeted group.

I hear regularly the use of the phrase "religion of peace" as a sarcastic reversal. It is considered cute to make a joke about "Call me violent one more time and I'll punch you in the nose." And of course that vile neologism Islamofascist has become so much a part of the language that even the president uses it. I would like to think he is trying to make a point, but since the same point has been made in so many other ways I have to conclude that when he sinks to that level he is instead appealing to the lowest common political, moral and social common denominator. Such corruptions of the language set the bar of principle lower, not higher.

Rather than focus on a common goal, growing numbers of people are marching in lock-step to an ever-widening polarization that plays directly into the hands of those who would use terrorist tactics to divide and conquer. A bedrock population of patriotic Conservatives with roots reaching all the way back to Goldwater days and before can read their marching orders from places like Discover the Network. Not to be outdone, another growing group who are at best well-meaning in their ignorance, are collecting at the other end of the political and social spedtrum at places such as Right Web, encouraged and blessed by a growing list of notables.

Such broad-brush approaches to politics and social institutions do nothing but inflame their constituencies. I see the same trends in churches, believe it or not. I am in the camp that sees this new movie Jesus Camp as frightening and my wife is among friends who might very well find the movie inspirational....And here is the kicker: neither of us has even seen the film yet! How much closer to home can this trend come?

Getting back to the CFR reports, I have not drilled into the links as I should. I'm sure there are informative and important points to be found there, but I don't want to miss the importance of the biggest point of all, that before we climb into the nose-bleed reaches of high-level policy, we all need to get real about broad-brush extremism in our everyday life.

No comments: