by Ayesha Alam (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 4, Rajab, 1434)
America is becoming a militarized police state with increased surveillance and repressive laws imposed on people.
The NYPD’s website is emblazoned with the blue and white color scheme of the famed police force, with its shield and logo, New York’s Finest. Since the Boston bombing, the US is heading toward 24-hour, 360 degree surveillance, targeting Muslims as a hostile population within a virtual garrison. As many civil liberties groups have noted with concern, traditional barriers and checks and balances within US law enforcement have dissolved — local, national, and international agencies are blending into George Orwell’s dystopian Big Brother.
The NYPD is a case in point — since 9/11, New York City’s police force has transformed into a global “anti-terror” organization. According to the website AlterNet, the NYPD has expanded into a massive operation with “surveillance and military capabilities unparalleled in the history of US law enforcement.” It has 34,000 police officers trolling New York’s streets and bankrolls 51,000 employees in total, manpower that is greater than the FBI’s. The article reports that its proposed budget for 2013 alone is $4.6 billion, a figure that represents over 15% of the entire city’s budget.
Since the April 2013 Boston bombing, the US has geared up to dramatically expand its surveillance through a draconian grid of spy technologies, extra-legal monitoring, undercover agents, media hysteria, and punitive legislation.
Once again, US Muslims have come under the magnifying glass: questioned, surveyed, tracked, profiled, and in the worst case scenario, slapped with lawsuits that juridically transform them into the demonic “other.” The NYPD is one of the leading organizations in this operation — it was revealed in 2011 that it has been profiling Muslims along the eastern seaboard from Boston to North Carolina, leading many Muslims to stop attending masjids or participating in university MSAs. In fact, the NYPD has been so zealous that it drew a rebuke from the FBI field office, where a top official charged “the department’s surveillance of Muslims in the state has hindered investigations and created ‘additional risks’ in counterterrorism.”
After the Boston bombing, mass hysteria is giving greater mandate for draconian surveillance and profiling of US Muslims. One of the subtexts of media coverage on the younger Tsarnaev brother is that he appeared to be fairly “Americanized” — his fair coloring ensured that he did not look foreign, and he seemed well-adjusted to high school and university life. In other words, the “new threat of Islam” is not the bearded, dark-skin foreign terrorists pelting into the United States on planes, but rather American Muslims, whose lives have been closely tied to the social fabric of the United States — who join team sports, occasionally smoke pot, attend university, get well-paying jobs and raise families.
The focus on targets has shifted — the sleepless, robotic eyes of US law enforcement has now turned toward young American Muslims converts, immigrants, and the second-generation children of immigrants, whose appearance and socio-economic achievements won them the sobriquet of “being American.” (The way a lighter skinned, assimilated second generation immigrant may be regarded as “more American” than an African American activist for race issues). If one’s “American-ness” ensured a certain degree of safety in post-9/11 decade, it has now become even more suspicious than the markers of race, ethnicity, and foreign nationality, which previously signified one as an alien. The next horizon of expansion for the national security state is within the ranks of Americana, probing and disciplining and punishing the population to wipe out even the bare traces of Islam.
Following Boston, the verdict is in — Americans favor more surveillance, in search of security that despite a national security apparatus on steroids, has become more elusive than El Dorado’s gold. According to a new poll led by Huffington Post and YouGov, 40% of Americans believe that we need more security cameras monitored by police in public places — only 12% believed that there were too many cameras, and that they had to be reduced. Disgraced NYT journalist and current Fox News analyst Judith Miller explicitly made the connection between the NYPD’s counterterrorism program and the Boston bombing, declaring: “[New York City] has developed a counterterror program that is a model of how to identify and stop killers like the Tsarnaev brothers before they strike. The 1,000 cops and analysts who work in the NYPD’s intelligence and counterterrorism divisions, for instance, would likely have flagged Tamerlan Tsarnaev for surveillance, given Police Commissioner Ray Kelly’s insistence on aggressively monitoring groups and individuals suspected of radicalization.”
At the cornerstone of the NYPD’s program is a 2007 document, evocatively titled Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat, which describes its mission statement in the following words, “If the post September 11th world has taught us anything… intention [is] an increasingly important factor in the formation of terrorist cells. This study is an attempt to look at how that intention forms, hardens, and leads to an attack or attempted attack using real world case studies.”
The 90-page document is an ethnography of young Muslims, mostly male, “between the ages of 15 and 35,” mapping out their potential for engaging in terrorist activity in Europe and the United States — clearly, the mandate of counter-terrorism has justified the NYPD in transforming from an urban police force into an intercontinental spy agency, far exceeding its original purposes for protection and defense of New York City. The document urges constant watchfulness against “jihadi-Salafi ideology” that infects young Muslim men, motivating them to engage in “autonomous jihad via terrorism against their host countries.” The explicit condemnation of Salafism in Radicalization in the West is also rather paradoxical, given how US support for Saudi Arabia continues to fuel the Kingdom’s prolific exporting of its Wahhabi ideology across the world.
The document outlines a four-step process through which any and every Muslim emerges at the end as a full-grown terrorist: pre-radicalization, self-identification, indoctrination, and jihadization. While the study cites several “experts” and “analysts,” particularly from the Pentagon-affiliated RAND Corporation to make this sound like the gospel of science, this process basically comes across as a Harry Potter spell through which even the most assimilated, uber-Americanized Muslim can get transformed into Lord Voldemort. All it takes is the “infection” of Islam to be present in tandem with the right combination of circumstances, and voila! the infection will germinate into terrorism. The report stresses that “[the] majority of the individuals involved in these plots began as “unremarkable” — they had “ordinary” jobs, had lived “ordinary” lives and had little, if any criminal history.” Insidiously, the report sees the normal changes of growth and religious searching as being the “catalyst” for embarking on this apocryphal four-step assembly line process. “The catalyst for this ‘religious seeking’ is a cognitive opening, or crisis, which shakes one’s certitude in previously held beliefs and opens an individual to be receptive to new worldviews,” warns the report. (Cue to ominous music in Hollywood films when the villain first appears on the scene.)
While the report identifies “Salafi-jihadi Islam” as being the problem, it is rather clear this is being used as an umbrella term to punitively identify any and all Muslims, potential Muslims, or people from Muslim majority countries. The NYPD has certainly not made any distinctions in trailing or profiling Muslims, whether sending undercover agents to MSA camping trips or inciting people to make comments that can be conveniently dredged up later for a show trial. Any kind of social expression of Islam comes under suspicion: “‘Group-think’ now becomes a force multiplier for radicalization and invariably paves the way for action,” ominously warns the Radicalization in the West report. “The NYPD’s actions are not acceptable,” responds Maliha Tariq, former MSA Vice President at Columbia University in an email to her campus newsletter. “It’s not about the police following leads or evidence; this is about them mapping communities and targeting people based on assumptions and ideas, not facts.”
After the Boston bombing, however, these assumptions and ideas have gained the status of “facts” — the punitive culpability of Muslims has been established as a mass perception, and American Muslims are at a loss for words as the language of civil rights collapses under the weight of trying to rescue Islam from being Enemy Number One of the US national security state. The NYPD report goes on to lay out the possible sites and locations where this covert war is being fought against certain types of bodies seen as embodying Islam — as it turns out, the report criminalizes every possible site tied to American Muslim identity, such as masjids, school organizations, charity groups, halal meat shops, Sunday schools, and more. Masjids in particular are described as being “an incubator” for terrorism, where “ordinary, unremarkable” Muslims can be transformed into al-Qaeda Manchurian soldiers.
This turn toward the “ordinary, unremarkable Muslim” is a significant shift in the discourse — it is a carte blanche to terrorize, isolate, and “discipline” American Islam. The report profiles interior designers, soccer players, former Marines, doctoral students, diplomats’ children, computer engineers, high school students, and more. While Christian and Jewish religious politics increasingly define the US political system, Radicalization in the West defines secularization as the signpost of a “well-adjusted” Muslim — for instance, in the profiles of the would-be terrorists, the NYPD’s report describes those Muslims who are drinking, dating, and going to parties as the “well adjusted” Americans. The fact that the US government’s archetype of the “ideal normal” Muslim is subject to scrutiny, means that every Muslim is, no matter his background, appearance, or beliefs.
As the national security apparatus metastasizes into a multi-billion dollar industry, America’s domestic war on Islam is now dovetailing with the international wars in the Muslim East, Afghanistan-Pakistan, and Africa. Using the specter of national emergency, the US encourages Saudi Arabia to petro-fund global, militarized Wahhabism in proxy wars across the globe, while criminalizing the normal, social expressions of American Islam at home. The militarization of the NYPD is merely a symptom, a tentacle of Pentagon Inc’s multi-national industry of death.