Muslim Americans and US Law Enforcement: Not Enemies, but Vital Partners
Beutel, Alejandro J, The Christian Science Monitor
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
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
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
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