by Affad Shaikh
The RAND Corporation is a think tank that recently released a paper entitled “Would-Be Warriors – Incidents of Jihadist Terrorist Radicalization in the United States since September 11, 2001.”
For the past five years I have had the opportunity to watch law enforcement develop counter terrorism strategies, specifically in how it affects the Muslim community. While I do not consider myself an expert, I firmly believe after having watched the trial and error approach to counter terrorism strategies, that the civil liberties and rights of Muslims have been undermined. But far worse is the collateral damage our community has faced with broken trust and disunity. The strategy itself is a direct response to developing real life cases and issues, as well as analyzing past failed attempts to prevent terrorist acts.
Since 9/11 there has been a vacuum in understanding the American Muslim community, as well as Islam’s philosophy. In this vacuum there has developed a literal “virtual industry” of “Islamic experts” on terrorism, radicalization, Islam and Muslims. These experts include the infamous Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and the likes of Bridgett Gabriel. Fear and ignorance further fuel the bigotry and Islamophobia of these online experts, actually giving their ideas stature and influence in law enforcement circles via policy papers. The Rand Institute is amongst the group of think tanks that generates policy papers and analytical reports that influence government agencies and politicians. The recent Rand study presents a disturbing development in counter terrorism efforts, which requires a serious pause of reflection by all American Muslim communities.
To understand the Rand report there needs to be context of two prior efforts by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Both groups criminalized Islamic religious practices and approached the community as suspects.1 The efforts were an undermining of the first and fourteenth amendment rights of American Muslim communities and indicated the disturbing counter terrorism practices that were being instituted within law enforcement.
To understand the implications of these efforts one only needs to look toward the shift in draconian measures post-9/11 America. Law enforcement, policy experts and politicians faced by the immensity of terrorism, along with the fear and ignorance that swept the intelligence collapse in preventing the 9/11 terrorists, enacted the Patriot Act I and II. Essentially the law shifted police efforts toward preventive efforts – or counter-terrorism. Simply put, they want to catch a terrorist before an act of terrorism takes place, rather than apprehend a terrorist or associate after an attack. However, rather than work within a criminal investigative framework, preventive efforts required significant power and expansive ability to collect intelligence domestically, all of which have limited oversight, vast discretion to individual officers and little due process. No one wants another terrorist attack, and Muslims must be part of the effort to prevent any such attack from taking place, yet no one should stand the prospect of losing the rights and liberties that we are trying to protect.
What the Rand report now suggests is the successful coupling of counter terrorism efforts – information gathering in all its dubious shades from informants to watch lists, FBI voluntary interviews to suspicious activities’ reports, bank transaction reports to phone and electronic surveillance – in conjunction with community outreach and partnership efforts. Rand identifies that the best strategy for counter terrorism is to partner with the Muslim community and investigate it at the same time!
“These efforts must entail working with the [Muslim] community actively and consistently to address issues of crime, fears of crime, the suspicions of authorities, and other community concerns” while law enforcement works to “gather information through intelligence operations” to prevent “dramatic terrorist actions.”
What is fascinating about the report is that during the 1970’s the United States saw greater terrorist violence then in our past decade. Apparently, today’s terrorists do not have any particular characteristic. When looking at the 46 publicly reported cases of domestic “radicalization and recruitment” in the US (which the Rand report suggests were largely based on the use of informants), further reading identifies “possible abuses in the employment of confidential informants, especially given… the difficulty of determining intent, [and] since one of the characteristics of many terrorist perpetrators is their malleability… informants are also likely… to display undiluted zeal in order to gain credibility among jihadist zealots.” Thus, the informants can easily become agents provocateurs’, subtly coaxing radicalized but hesitant individuals into action.”
Here in Southern California we have had our fare share of agent provocateurs. However, a serious question is raised for all Muslim community leaders about the necessity to partner with law enforcements. If law enforcement efforts toward community policing are for the sake of identifying and investigating our community, does it facilitate their efforts of protection to further destroy our community’s cohesive bonds, trust and does it undermine our own community’s civil rights and liberties?
I ask that question first and foremost to myself because I work as a Civil Rights advocate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Southern California, but I hope to inform that decision by community input, because at the end of the day I represent the community interest.
I have presented to you a brief analysis of the recent Rand report and the background that raises concerns about our continued efforts with law enforcement given the mindset that counter terrorism has embedded into law enforcement. I ask what form, if at all any, should partnerships with law enforcement look like?
- The NYPD report on Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism presented the conflation of faith with terrorism and criminal behavior; the LAPD initiated a ‘Muslim Mapping project that empowered the LAPD’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) to reach out and develop community policing partnerships in which LAPD would map out Los Angeles’ Muslim ethnicities, social status, education, political views and the religious ideologies. ↩