Sahar Aziz: The Importance of Muslim Women in Counter-terrorism
In December 2011, Janet Napolitano testified that lone wolf terrorists are America’s primary domestic national security threat. Based on recent terrorism indictments, Napolitano was clearly referring to young Muslim men in America with unpopular political viewpoints and orthodox religious beliefs. A young man who fits this profile is susceptible to sting operations by undercover agents and shady informants. Often, the target’s mother is the last to know about the circumstances leading to her son’s demise. This must change.
Without proactive intervention from Muslim women, young men in Muslim communities are destined to fall prey to the same predatory tactics experienced by young African American men. Profiled, tracked and eventually incarcerated based on facially neutral laws selectively enforced against a particular minority group. For African American Muslims, they are doubly harmed.
Investigative news reports coupled with disclosures from freedom of information requests corroborate Napolitano’s public statements: If you are young, Muslim and angry, the government has you in its crosshairs. Law enforcement is trolling the Internet, spying on mosques, and infiltrating Muslim youth groups in search of vulnerable young Muslim men with political views critical of aspects of U.S. policy and orthodox religious practices. Many of the targets suffer from mental health problems or severe economic hardships.
Once selected, agencies insert an informant into the young man’s life to befriend and provoke him toward a violent act. The provocateur prods the target from objectionable rhetoric to active planning of a violent act. As demonstrated in the Newburgh Four, the informant supplies the cash, weapons and the terrorist plan to the otherwise broke and mentally challenged young men. More recently, Jose Pimentel appears to have been induced to play a minor supportive role in an informant-led plot. The case against him was sufficiently flawed to cause the FBI, known for its hawkish approach to counterterrorism, to stay out of the case.
These cases, along with scores of others, make two things quite clear. First, contrary to his campaign promises, President Obama has no intention of changing course from Bush’s aggressive preventive counterterrorism model and its heavy reliance on entrapment. Second, the predominately male leadership of Muslim communities has yet to develop and implement effective strategies to protect their young men from being cherry picked as part of a broader preventive paradigm.
It is time for Muslim mothers to do for government entrapment what mothers in the 1980s did for drunk driving. Step in and prevent your sons from becoming another statistic.
Just as Mothers Against Drunk Driving was created to educate adolescents on the vices of drunk driving and pressure the government to take steps to protect their youth, a Mothers Against Government Entrapment could serve the same purpose for Muslim youth preyed upon by government agents or criminal elements. Rather than stand on the sidelines as their sons are poached by law enforcement and cast into our nation’s criminal justice system, notorious for its disparate impact on racial minorities, Muslim mothers should develop community anti-entrapment programs that includes holding politicians accountable for abusive practices.
But first, Muslim mothers must acknowledge the harsh reality that government agents are actively inducing their vulnerable young men to participate in fake terrorist plots. And if the government doesn’t reach them, actual terrorist recruiters may do so.
As the vast majority of young Muslim men will reject outright such solicitations, this leaves the most vulnerable as the low hanging fruit. Those with mental illnesses, in desperate financial straits, or experiencing serious emotional difficulties could ultimately end up incarcerated instead of receiving the health services and counseling they need.
Muslim women need to play a more active role in protecting their youth. They should ensure their youth are taught their civil rights and the courage to stand up to government abuses. This includes teaching them about the threats posed by recruiters, to fully exercise their rights to an attorney if approached by law enforcement, the right to express political dissent and practice one’s faith without fear, and the expectation of equal citizenship. A community anti-entrapment program that lacks a civil rights component risks propagating the government’s chilling of constitutionally protected rights by instilling fear, rather than empowerment, in Muslim youth.
Equally important, community counseling and mental health services must be established to meet the needs of vulnerable young men. Do not allow the community to leave them to be preyed upon by highly compensated informants under pressure to produce terrorist plots, undercover agents seeking a promotion through a high profile sting operation, or a terrorist recruiter prowling for a dupe.
It is long overdue for Muslim women to take the reins of leadership and design effective and creative strategies to protect their sons from becoming another victim of government overreaching.
Mothers, reach out to your sons before the government beats you to it.
Sahar Aziz is an Associate Professor at Texas Wesleyan School of Law and former Senior Policy Advisor at the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. She serves as a legal fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She is the author of ‘From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: American Muslim Women Caught in the Crosshairs of Intersectionality.’
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