The criminalizing of US Muslims

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According to some observers, it has almost become a crime to be a Muslim in the US since September 11. Only those Muslims are tolerated who submit to US supremacy. Under the pretext of “fighting terrorism” the US has launched a witch-hunt against Muslims. More than 1,200 are in detention without charge and with no access to lawyers. Hundreds more Muslims Muslims have been detained, taken off planes or attacked, in the US and Canada.

It is not merely the media-created hysteria that is responsible for the paranoia sweeping North America. On November 14 US president Bush signed an order to set up special military tribunals to try alleged terrorists as well as non-citizens. “It may be very difficult to try a terrorist of high prominence, say, someone like Usama bin Ladin, in a regular civilian court in the United States and ensure the safety of people associated with the trial,” a US official told Agence France Press on condition of anonymity. Moreover, “it’s easier to protect sources and methods of investigations, and some of the evidence will be very very sensitive.”

The “very, very sensitive” nature of evidence is a convenient smokescreen because the US does not have enough evidence to make a convincing case against Usama in a proper court of law. That may also explain why some American officials are calling for the use of torture to extract confessions. Since the US’s allegations against Usama bin Ladin began, people and governments have been asking for hard evidence of his wrongdoing; none has been forthcoming. When British prime minister Tony Blair tried on October 4 to make a case, it was shredded by journalists and legal experts. Bush’s call to set up special tribunals has not gone down well even with such establishment mouthpieces as the New York Times. In an editorial (‘A travesty of Justice’, November 16), the paper described Bush’s secret military tribunals as “a dangerous idea.” It went on to say: “Mr. Bush is eroding the very values and principles he seeks to protect, including the rule of law.”

The New York Times described Bush’s action as the latest in a troubling series of attempts since September 11 to get around the Constitution. It lamented the US Justice Department’s plans to wiretap conversations between prisoners and their lawyers, continued “detention of hundreds of detainees without revealing their identities” and “the charges being brought against them or even the reasons for such secrecy.” Such a strong indictment from one of its own mouthpieces speaks volumes for the clumsiness with which the American government is trampling the rights it claims to be upholding.

The FBI is also interrogating Muslims of Middle Eastern or Pakistani origin. At least 800 are being targeted in the Detroit/Dearborn area alone.

The witch-hunt has spread to American university campuses as well, with university authorities being forced to divulge confidential information about students. According to US media reports, not one university has refused to cooperate. The FBI says that it has a list of 5,000 Muslims it wants to interrogate, causing consternation in campuses, mosques and communities. Attendance at mosques has declined because of worries that they may be targeted. Although local FBI officials say that calling someone for questioning does not necessarily mean he or she is a suspect, the fact that the same officials say they have tens of thousands of leads to follow in Southern California alone is troubling many Muslim community leaders.

A clear pattern of behaviour is easily discernible. In the US, for instance, most organizations and mosques are so frightened that they are calling America’s ‘war’ on Afghanistan “fully justified.” They call it “our war” and are falling over each other to pledge loyalty to the US. There are, of course, some exceptions: not all Muslims have been cowed, but they are few and are excluded from debate in the mainstream media. Yet most Muslims’ cowardice has not prevented agencies from interrogating and terrorizing them. Expressing loyalty, it seems, is not enough to save a Muslim from the wrath of the inquisitors.

Even media representatives appear to be targeted. On November 13 al-Jazeera offices in Kabul were bombed, and all its equipment as well as the building were destroyed; nearly a month earlier the New York Post had called for such an attack to terminate al-Jazeera’s “pro-Taliban propaganda.” The following day (November 14), an al-Jazeera correspondent in the US was arrested and detained while on his way to cover the meeting between George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in Texas.

The satellite channel said: “American police detained Al-Jazeera’s Washington correspondent Mohammad al-Alami while he was covering the US-Russian summit in Texas,” in an on-screen announcement. Alami was detained at Waco airport. “Policemen armed with M-16 automatic rifles followed me as I was leaving the airport and arrested me,” he told al-Jazeera. He was told that a credit card for al-Jazeera Washington office that he had used to rent a car and reserve a plane ticket and hotel room “had in the past served for transactions linked to Afghanistan.”

Only after al-Jazeera’s office in Qatar approached its contacts in the US secret service was Alami released.

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