Ten reasons why surveillance of Muslims makes no logical sense

Revelations about the NYPD’s extensive surveillance of Muslims have provoked heated debates about whether spying on mosques, Muslim-owned businesses and university students is justified by national security interests. In order to clear up some misconceptions, we here at AltMuslimah have compiled a list of ten key reasons why profiling American Muslims has no rational justification. Please help us get the word out by sharing this with your friends and colleagues!
10.     Domestic terrorism is much less common today than it was in previous decades.

The problem most often associated with Muslims is terrorism—which always seems to be on the rise. As recently as 2010, 79 percent of Americans saw terrorism as a “very serious” or “extremely serious” threat to the future wellbeing of the U.S.. But a 2010 study by the RAND Corporation found that domestic terror incidents were 15 to 20 times more common in the 1970s than in most years since 9/11 (p. viii). That statistic even holds true when foiled plots are counted as “incidents.”

9.     Most domestic terrorism is not perpetrated by Muslims.

When investigating domestic terrorism, it makes little sense to focus primarily on Muslims. According to FBI statistics, non-Muslims were responsible for about two-thirds of U.S.-based terrorism between 1980 and 2011. From 2002 to 2005, that figure rose to 95 percent.

8.     American Muslims reject terrorism both in public and in private.

If a Muslim wanted to engage in terrorism, their community would not stand behind them. A 2010 study by researchers at Duke University found that American Muslim organizations and leaders “have consistently condemned terrorist violence” since September 11th, 2001. They have done so, the report notes, both in public speeches and in private discussions. The RAND corporation concludes that would-be terrorists “would find little support in the Muslim community.”

7.     American Muslims actively police themselves and confront extremists.

American Muslims do not just reject terrorism with words—they back their talk up with action. Duke University scholars David Schanzer, Charles Kurzman and Ebrahim Moosa found that American Muslims use several self-policing practices to prevent extremists from gaining influence in their communities:

The practices range from confronting individuals who express radical ideology or support for terrorism, preventing extremist ideologues from preaching in mosques, communicating concerns about radical individuals to law enforcement officials, and purging radical extremists from membership in local mosques. (p. 1)

A memorable example of this occurred in 2011, when Muslims at a mosque in Irvine, California filed a restraining order against one of their congregants after he repeatedly used violent rhetoric. The man, it turned out, was actually an undercover FBI informant.

6.     American Muslims work with law enforcement to fight terrorism.

Successful terrorism prevention would not be possible without the cooperation of American Muslim communities. Speaking before a Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI director Robert Mueller testified that the Muslim community “has been tremendously supportive and worked very closely” with the FBI. And National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter stresses that “we have to make quite clear that the [Muslim] communities are part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The Duke University study cited above reports that “tips from the Muslim American community provided the source of information that led to a terrorist plot being thwarted in 48 of 120 cases involving Muslim Americans”—the single largest source of information. (Despite all this, the NYPD’s surveillance program has succeeded in fostering a spirit of distrust and non-cooperation among local Muslims.)

5.     Mosques help integrate Muslims into US politics.

Contrary to popular belief, mosques do not radicalize Muslims. A massive survey of American Muslims conducted in 2011 and funded by the Social Science Research Council found that Muslims who are more involved with their mosques also participate more in American politics and civil society. The report notes:

On a range of political activities, those with no connection or involvement to the mosque report 1.7 average acts of political participation. In contrast, those who say they are very involved with the mosque report 2.6 political acts per year – a 53% increase in civic engagement.

Mosques are the doorways to civic engagement and political integration—not political extremism.

4.     The most devout American Muslims are less politically radicalized than the least religious.

The 2011 survey of American Muslims cited above revealed an interesting fact: Muslims with more religious fervor were less likely to see a conflict between religion and American politics than those with less commitment. The report notes:

While 77% of those with the lowest levels of religiosity feel Islam is compatible with political involvement in America, 95% of those who are most religious feel Islam is compatible with American politics.

This flies in the face of stereotypes that depict highly religious Muslims as radical extremists.

3.     One in 30,000 American Muslims becomes involved in terrorism.

According to the RAND Corporation study cited above, approximately one in every 30,000 American Muslims gets involved in terrorism (p. vii). In other words, any given American Muslim has a 0.0033 percent chance of being a terrorist.

To put that in perspective: US Department of Justice statistics show there is about one killer among every 8,700 males. The next time you’re worried about someone in “Muslim garb” being a terrorist, remember that if you are a man, it is three times more likely that you yourself are a murderer.

2.     American Muslims do not want to subvert the U.S. legal system.

Do American Muslims want to establish Islamic Law in the United States? A new study by University of Windsor law professor Julie says that this is simply not the case. Macfarlane surveyed more than 210 Muslims from the U.S. and Canada (mostly the U.S.), many of whom were imams and community leaders. None of the respondents agreed with the idea of enforcing Islamic law through American courts, and even the religious leaders expressed “almost no support for a parallel Islamic tribunal system” (p. 11).

1.     American Muslims are 4 times less likely than the average citizen to support attacks on civilians.

Believe it or not, non-Muslim Americans are far more likely than Muslims to support violence against civilians. In 2009, Pew surveyed American Muslims and asked whether targeting noncombatants “in order to defend Islam“ was ever justified. In response, 78 percent of Muslims said such violence as “never justified,” and 13 percent said it was either “rarely,” “sometimes,” or “often” justified.

When researchers with the University of Maryland’s Program on International Public Attitudes surveyed Americans and Iranians in 2006, they discovered that only 46 percent of Americans believed “attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” were “never justified.” On the other hand, a full 51 percent of Americans believed that such attacks could be justified (see p. 10)—about 4 times the percentage of American Muslims with the same belief (13 percent).

These ten facts all beg one question: Why?

If domestic terrorism is on the decline, and most of it is not perpetrated by Muslims—who overwhelmingly reject terrorism, have a 0.0033 percent likelihood of engaging in it, actively police themselves, and work cooperatively with law enforcement—then why is the NYPD using American tax dollars to spy on them? Why are mosques treated with suspicion, when they help politically integrate American Muslims, and when higher Muslim religiosity corresponds to lower political radicalism? Why is law enforcement so scared of Muslims, when they strongly support the American legal system, and are much less likely than non-Muslim Americans to support violence against civilians?

(Photo Credit: laughingsquid)

Peter Gray recently finished his B.A. in Asian Studies at Clark University with a special focus on Indonesia. His writing interests include Islam, Islamophobia, and Muslim feminism.

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