Fremont, California – The arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a
30-year-old US citizen of Pakistani descent and the alleged driver of the
vehicle used in the failed New York Times Square bombing a few weeks ago,
represents an opportunity to respond effectively to a potential act of terrorism
instead of reacting with fear and hysteria that will inevitably be manipulated
by extremist elements.
As of Tuesday morning, details are slowly emerging
regarding the potential motives of the suspect, Shahzad, who was arrested at JFK
airport in New York as he planned to fly to Dubai. And in the meantime, the
Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for this amateurish and failed
Their eagerness speaks volumes about their desperation to instil
fear in the hearts of the American public by an act of terrorism on the US
Similar moments of tension – though isolated – have in the
past been used to sow dissension and enmity through polarising statements in the
media by bigoted ideological pundits in both non-Muslim American and global
Muslim communities. We saw this tendency recently when Army major Nidal Hassan
Malik opened fire and killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas and when Nigerian
student Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab tried to ignite himself on an airplane on
Christmas Day in 2009 despite having been previously flagged.
incidents serve as fuel for right-wing commentators to promote a dangerously
inaccurate image of an Islamic monolith with all Muslims having a homicidal
aversion to “our freedoms”. Verbal attacks will, no doubt, be made on US
President Barack Obama’s efforts at conciliation and partnership with Muslim
communities, efforts such as his Al-Arabiya interview, his historic speech to
Muslims in Cairo last June and his outreach to Muslim American organisations and
Some media pundits argue passionately on the cable network Fox
News to “profile away” evil-doers – in effect advocating racial profiling of
ethnic minorities, especially of Middle Easterners and South Asians.
Anticipating public anxiety, Obama reacted to calls for “greater security”
following the failed Christmas Day bombing in 2009 by implementing catch-all
measures – recently amended – to extend special pat-downs and heightened
profiling to individuals returning from 14, mostly Muslim-majority,
Racial profiling and the erosion of civil liberties and due
process are counterproductive in fighting terrorism. Still, I worry that fear
and divisive rhetoric will be lead to such techniques being implemented,
undermining the mutual trust and cooperation that has been painstakingly built
over the past two years between Muslim Americans and law enforcement agencies.
Right-wing demagogues who proclaim the virtues of the West and argue
that terrorism is unique to the “Muslim world” should be reminded of the recent
arrest of nine members of the terrorist group, the Hutarees, for conspiring to
kill police officers and wage war on the United States government. The group has
been labelled an anomaly by Christians and Christian groups.
suicide flight of disgruntled Joseph Stack into the IRS building in Texas, which
killed an innocent public employee, has been overlooked by many media pundits
even as anger at federal government institutions has been allowed to fester in
loud and angry public protests.
To be sure, radicalised Muslim elements
manipulate incidents, such as the satirical cartoon depictions of the Prophet,
as categorical proof that the “imperialist” West is perpetuating a war on Islam
and all Muslims. Recent violence and threats against those cartoonists who have
depicted the Prophet in a disrespectful manner do not emerge in a vacuum, but
rather they are symptomatic of a sustained belief in a skewed and simplistic
narrative of the “war-mongering West” that finds its evidence in the Iraq war,
US support for Israel, civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and cozy
US relations with Arab dictatorships.
It is these elements that
ultimately bear the greatest blame for betraying the legacy and spirit of the
Prophet, who urged moderation and civility.
In the face of the threat
from extremists, the greatest mistake Americans could make would be to revisit
the “us versus them” rhetoric and invasive security policies of the previous
administration, such as the US PATRIOT Act, which made it easier for government
agencies to access private information, detain immigrants and search homes and
businesses. These policies proved to be disastrous in curbing global terrorism
but highly successful in eroding US standing in world opinion, and damaged
cooperation with Muslim communities worldwide.
Ultimately, the best
defence is holding onto the very same values of freedom, liberty and democracy
Americans – both Muslim and non-Muslim – wish to defend and protect.
sad reality of modern, globalised 21st century existence is that the threat of
terrorism and violence is a constant aspect of daily life. But reactionary
posturing, rampant ethnic stereotyping, scapegoating of minorities and provoking
mistrust of Muslim Americans and allies have only ever exacerbated the risks.
Recent history has shown that a reasoned and moderate perspective, along with
sound security measures, vigilant policing, protection of civil liberties and
mutual aid are our best hope.
As more evidence in the Times Square
attempted bombing case emerges in coming days, let us hope this reasoned and
moderate perspective prevails.
This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service
(CGNews) with permission from the author.