What’s the Number of Terrorists We’ll Accept from a U.S. Mosque Before We Start Asking Questions?
In an age of religious terror, of course you need surveillance to monitor religious sites.
BY Shireen Qudosi · @ShireenQudosi | August 19, 2016
In the aftermath of one of Islamism’s bloodiest summers, Western countries are stepping up efforts to filter for potential threats. Germany has held raids targeting Islamist preachers suspected of recruiting ISIS supporters. Belgium launched a police hunt for an imam’s son who walked down the street loudly praying to Allah for the annihilation of all Christians. And France recently banned the “burkini” – the Muslim adaptation of a swimsuit. At this point, it’s a bandage on a gaping wound. More aggressive and strategic measures need to be taken to target the environment where Islamic supremacism flourishes, rather than just the behavior it produces. One place is in U.S. mosques.
For the last year, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has rallied for greater U.S. mosque surveillance. He’s introduced a series of ideas that are both shocking and bold in a climate where one more serious domestic terrorist attack could very likely escalate the situation beyond our control.
Principal among them, Giuliani proposed electronic monitoring tags and bracelets for Muslims on the terror watch list. The problem with this is ensuring the right people are on that list. If that watch list is anything like the TSA no-fly list (easy to get on, impossible to get off of), we have a problem. And just like with mosque surveillance that is made public, tracking radical threats doesn’t deter their activity. Islamic extremists have a start-up mentality: they are extremely flexible and expect to adapt to the environment. In the case of next generation Muslims, that activity will shift to universities, social venues, and online. This is why announcing a surveillance program is an ill-advised move. Don’t announce it, just do it.
The fact is, 80% of U.S. mosques are known to be complicit in promoting violence. The Islamic Society of Boston is one of them. At this one mosque we find, not only inciters of violence and hatred, but the inevitable result of that incitement: actual violent jihadists who’ve drawn blood. In the case of the ISB, it was perpetrators of the Boston Marathon Massacre in 2013.
And when Islamists complain about the need for mosques, chatter among Millennial Muslims show a growing frustration for mushrooming mosques at the expense of diminishing community services for Muslims in need. In other words, Muslims themselves say the mosques aren’t necessary.
However, tracking activity within mosques is necessary given the causal relationship between extremism and mosque affiliation. For Giuliani, the imperative on tracking red-flagged Muslims with bracelets comes after a string of Western attacks by extremists who were on a terror watch list – or had at some point been detained for questioning. Though active monitoring can be implemented, there’s a greater question of resources. The reason many of these red-flagged terrorists went under the radar was because officials were simply overwhelmed with data.
The solution to curtailing America’s terror threat isn’t just one extreme solution or another; it’s a combination of extreme measures paired with creative initiatives. This starts with recognizing that mosques are a portal for Islamism and extremism. This is not to say that every mosque is hoarding ammunitions in the backroom, but rather mosques (1) aren’t challenging their own narratives of Islamic supremacy within their congregation and community, and (2) aren’t rejecting hate preachers who hold an animosity toward at West.
In addition to more sound surveillance programs that perhaps works with progressive Muslims, it would be advisable to put searing pressure on mosques, leaders, organizers and Islamic organizations that makes it clear that ambivalence, acceptance, and/or embrace of radical Islamic philosophy will not be tolerated. This means that as a collective society, we need Muslim Reformer-lead conversation about Islamic philosophy, a principle tenet in Trump’s foreign policy speech.
Alongside, the U.S. government has to recognize it’s in an ideological war, meaning that empowering counter narratives among Muslim reformers and critical thinkers – and funding initiatives and centers spearheaded by them – is no longer an option to be explored; it must be supported. This doesn’t mean additional funds for CVE or vague counter-terrorism funding. It means funds for hoisting the flag of reform and making it possible for true progressives to establish ideological lighthouses that build a movement.
But there’s a larger problem: a total lack of solidarity between party lines and across national and state agencies.
Giuliani correctly pointed out the need for continued surveillance programs, especially after the Orlando Shooting – an attack that is strongly suspected to have been triggered in part by radical imams. These programs were in place under Bloomberg but were halted under current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
The New York City Police Department has also faced wavering support for its efforts to combat Islamic extremism in the city that has faced the most brutal Western assault by Islamic extremists. Though a post 9/11 era saw support for increased surveillance and controls, that support has dwindled with each changing of the guards – at a national stage from Bush to Obama, and more regionally, between NYPD Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to newcomer Bill Bratton. Bratton disbanded a critical undercover police unit assigned to look for terrorist activity in New York Mosques and social venues popular among local Muslims. Bratton also chose to shelf an instrumental 92 pages report that was heralded as groundbreaking.
And nationally, while the CIA and the FBI joined forces post 9/11 to pool resources and create efficient information networks, the FBI has largely failed in their attempt to recruit and deploy undercover agents. Caught between fruitless community relations with Islamists and a failure to put into action credible undercover assets, the FBI has faced a backlash from the Muslim community for entrapment scenarios that have actually created viable threats.
It’s clear that any plan moving forward is going to need having everyone on the same page. That starts with recognizing we’re dealing with an ideological problem that goes beyond jihadi training grounds overseas. We’re dealing with a mindset that goes beyond mosques and borders.
Shireen Qudosi is a Muslim writer based in California.
In several cases, the authors misrepresented what was reported by the media, claiming as hates crimes cases that were never investigated as hate crimes.
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