Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Muslims have been among the chief targets of the U.S. government’s “war on terror.” As a result, Muslims in communities across the U.S. have been subjected to both heightened surveillance and privacy invasions, resulting in the arrests of thousands of Muslim Americans, especially evident amongst the Muslim male population. In addition, some have also been convicted on terrorism charges based on flimsy or fabricated evidence gathered during sting operations, reflecting the steady erosion of civil liberties that has occurred post-9/11.
For example, in Albany, New York, Yassin Aref, the imam of a mosque in an impoverished area of the city, was arrested in 2004 after he and a co-defendant, fellow mosque member Mohammed Hussein, were caught up in a sting operation conducted by the FBI. The operation involved the use of a paid informant and secret evidence to convict the men of terrorism-related charges. The FBI’s case also included the misinterpretation of the Arabic word for “brother” as “commander,” after Hussein’s personal information was found in a “bombed out Iraqi encampment.” The government initially acknowledged their mistake and released Aref from jail, placing him under house arrest. Thirteen months later, however, the government brought nine additional charges against him, and because of this, a “presumption of dangerousness” was made against Aref. Consequently, the judge cancelled bail and sent him back to prison.
In the case of the Newburgh (New York) Four, the FBI conducted a sting operation using the very same paid informant—a man named Malik—they had used in the Hossein and Aref case. The Newburgh case involved four impoverished men being accused of planting explosives in a New York synagogue. The informant worked with the four men over the course of a year, supplying them with the resources they would need to commit attacks on the synagogues. When the would-be terrorists planted the fake bombs at the synagogues and pushed the detonator, FBI agents arrested all of them and charged them with acts of terrorism.
Just as the “red scare” and Cold War of the 20th century demonized communists, the “war on terror” that has dominated the U.S. political landscape since 2001 has targeted Muslims, with similar results. Massive amounts of government spending are invested in a seemingly-endless “war on terror” that targets people for their religious or political beliefs. Yet, not a single person “was convicted of a terrorist crime after eighty thousand domestic special registrations, five thousand preventative detentions and tens of thousands of FBI interviews…”
Muslim communities across the U.S. have experienced increased social isolation, mistrust in government, and a loss of American identity. As one Arab American woman commented, “I no longer have the serene sense that I will always be safe here. I feel that being an American citizen is meaningless. That it doesn’t really protect you in any way.”
Aref, Y. (2008). The Son of Mountains, by Yassin Aref. Troy, NY: Troy Book Makers.
Cainkar, L. (2009). Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Bakalian, A. (2009). Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond, by Anny Bakalian & Mehdi Bozorgehr. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Student Researchers: Katie Pierre, Danielle Booher, Mike Reda, Siena College.
Faculty Evaluator: Dr. Mo Hannah, Siena College.