Suspected Of Being Muslim

Back in September, the Justice Department announced “a new series of pilot programs in cities across the country to bring together community representatives, public safety officials and religious leaders to counter violent extremism”. While the DOJ avoided using the words “Muslim” and “Islam” in its press release, the targets of these programs are obviously American Muslim communities. Naureen Shah, who grew up in such a community, decries the initiative as way too broad:

There is tremendous risk of abuse and mistake in any program that tries to predict future criminals, including terrorists. Empirical studies show that violent threats cannot be predicted by any religious, ideological, ethnic, or racial profiling.’

The evidence suggests that there is no direct link among religious observance, radical ideas, and violent acts. Some of the theories underlying the government’s approach caution just that, but they nevertheless advise law enforcement—and now, American Muslim community “partners”—to connect the dots linking an individuals’ noncriminal behavior, his ideas, and his attitudes. That kind of monitoring shrinks the space for free expression by creating an atmosphere where people fear they must watch what they say and how they act, lest it be reported.

It also denies what it is to grow up. As a teenager, I became angry and difficult. I disappeared on weekends. I chatted online for hours as my family ate dinner downstairs. I wasn’t a violent terrorist in the making. But under the government’s program, community members will be encouraged to monitor these behaviors and intervene with teens who engage in them.

Writing from the UK, where authorities have taken a similarly community-based approach to addressing radicalization, Arshad Isakjee objects to the assumption that there is such a thing as a “Muslim community” in the first place:

It is tempting to readily accept the warm notion that Muslims collectively behave like characters in Eastenders, buzzing around Asian Albert Squares across the country, their families constantly interacting at the local mosque – their version of the Queen Vic. We would never accept similar notions of Christian communities or white communities – but when applied to minorities, the idea sounds authentic and credible. …

Look closer though, and the Muslim community is far more elusive. Until the Salman Rushdie fatwa affair, Muslims in the UK were not conceptualised by religious identity. Ethnic groups such as Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians were the more legitimate conceptions of migrant communities. Even today, in most British towns and cities with Muslim populations, different ethnic groups will have their own mosques and religious institutions, and in some instances membership of those establishments remains exclusive to those specific ethnic groups.