Muslim Americans and US Law Enforcement: Not Enemies, but Vital Partners

Article excerpt

But first, both Muslim Americans and law enforcement have to change the way they interact.

The stigma on Muslim Americans worsened in 2009. The latest events,

including arrests of the Newburgh Four in New York, Michael Finton in

Illinois, and Hossam Smadi in Texas; then the Fort Hood, Texas,

massacre by Nidal Malik Hasan; and most recently the arrest in

Pakistan of five young Muslim men from Virginia attempting to join a

militant group there have only added to difficulties.

Each of these events was unique. The first three involved the

questionable use of FBI informants, one case involved a man going on

a violent rampage, and another involved youth seeking violent

adventures abroad.

Yet, at a time when terrorism remains a challenge to US national

security, these events feed into the false and dangerous fear that

Muslim Americans cannot be trusted.

America can't afford that.

The US must identify and apprehend terrorists while avoiding the

alienation of its mainstream Muslim communities. And it is critical

that tactics used by law enforcement agencies to achieve the first

goal do not undermine the second, as it is not only contrary to the

values of a free and democratic society, it creates counterproductive

counterterrorism.

In the current climate of fear, it's difficult to gain trust. In

order to heal relations between Muslim American communities and law

enforcement, and create a more effective barrier against terrorists,

both sides need to revise their respective approaches to extremism

and violence.

Many Muslims Americans are concerned by news that paid FBI

informants, including ex-con men such as Craig Monteilh in southern

California and Shahed Hussain in New York, have been targeting

impressionable Muslim Americans to incite and then entrap them. The

Muslim community is also concerned by reports that law enforcement

agents are coercing Muslim Americans to serve as informants in

exchange for immigration ease.

This should matter to all Americans, because fearful communities are

less willing to talk to law enforcement - and we need all the help

we can get from Muslim Americans. After years of building trust with

local law enforcement, the Pakistani community in Lodi, Calif., is

trying repair relations that were tattered by the highly questionable

use of an FBI informant in a counterterrorism investigation just

after Sept. 11.

Muslims themselves have helped authorities in two recent cases. The

Virginia men in Pakistan were detained and the Detroit-bound airline

bomber was flagged because family members bravely stepped forward to

tell law enforcement about suspicious activity.

However, fear within communities can cut off the goodwill and

sources of information needed to prevent another attack.The Texas

arrest of Hosam Maher Husein Smadi, a 19-year-old charged with

attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, is a case in point.

Normally, individuals with extremist views would be identified by

local community members and religious leaders would intervene to

conduct an ideological detox. No such intervention took place because

those doing the intervention were worried that they, too, would

become subjects of an investigation.

Enforcement actions running afoul of the Constitution - such as

the surveillance of individuals without a legal standard of

"reasonable suspicion" and the questionable use of informants -

must be investigated and policies allowing it to occur must be

revised. …