In the days and weeks after 9/11 American President George W. Bush went out of his way to assure the world that America’s war on terrorism would target terrorists and ‘evil’ and not Islam or Muslims. In those crucial times this statement was indeed a commendable one and most certainly prevented a severe backlash against Muslims.
However, events over the last year suggest that America’s war has shifted precariously close to being one against Muslims.
The shift in approach by the U.S. administration started on March 21st 2002 when federal agents raided the offices of a number of reputable Muslim organizations and the homes of prominent American Muslims. Among the organizations targeted were the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) and the Graduate School of Islamic Social Sciences (GSISS).
Both of these institutions have been proponents of moderate and progressive initiatives and for the development of an American Muslim presence. The raids, according to authorities, were done to investigate alleged links between these organizations and individuals with terrorist groups.
Dr. Taha Jabir Al-Alwani who is undoubtedly one of the most respected thinkers and Muslim scholars in the West heads one of these organizations, GSISS. The homes of the distinguished intellectual, Dr. Mona Abou El Fadl of IIIT and Muslim American leader, Dr. Iqbal Unus were among those raided.
If moderate leaders and organizations such as these are harassed by the American government then this is no longer just a war on terrorism.
Since these raids, detentions and interrogations by U.S. officials have picked up.
In August, Dr. Ali Mazrui was interrogated for seven hours at Miami International Airport on his way back from a visit to Trinidad.
Dr. Mazrui, a prominent Muslim political scientist of world renown, is the Albert Schweitzer professor in the humanities and director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at SUNY-Binghamton. He was grilled on his views on jihad and why he chooses to be a Sunni Muslim!
Then in the same month Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, a Washington-based think tank that promotes democracy in the Middle East, was questioned for four hours at a Detroit airport while returning from a trip to the Middle East –” a trip that was funded by a National Endowment for Democracy grant.
On September 11, two Canadian Muslim Imams were detained and interrogated for 16 hours while on their way for a weekend lecture tour to Orlando. One of them, Shaikh Ahmad Kutty is a highly regarded Muslim scholar who has preached moderation and for the civic engagement of Muslims in North America for over three decades. He was questioned persistently on why he chose to study Islam and about his involvement with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA).
Then, incredibly, on September 3, a delegation of 18 Yemeni businessmen, legislators and cultural representatives invited to Washington by the U.S. State Department was held for five hours after arriving at Dulles International Airport while immigration officials questioned and fingerprinted them –” and Yemen is an American ally.
Many Muslim public officials and Imams are reporting that they are now routinely questioned, sometimes for several hours, on their entry into or exit from the U.S.
What is disturbing is that the questioning is not limited to security concerns but includes intrusive questions about the person’s beliefs and the religion of Islam which leads one to the conclusion that a psychological war to demoralize and destabilize the North American Muslim community is being conducted by U.S. officials.
The Bush administration told the world that the war on terrorism is against individuals or groups who commit acts of terror against the U.S. It was not to be a war on Islam or Muslims.
Now with what seems to be a deliberate effort to pursue and interrogate law abiding Muslims and moderate leaders, Muslims are left to think that this is more than just a war against terrorism.