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Rudolph Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, reduced his city’s crime rate by applying pressure on petty criminals, such as the “squeegee men,” derelicts who cleaned windshields for a tip. The police bore down on marijuana dealers, vandals and other minor offenders they previously ignored, in the correct supposition that they would have information leading to more dangerous criminals. That is the anti-terror strategy of the Department of Homeland Security, which has criminalized not only the terrorists, but also ideological sympathizers of the terrorists as well. That is, the American definition of “terrorist sympathizer” includes not only the local mosque official who took donations for charities associated with Hamas, but also otherwise peaceful men who offer mere ideological justification for jihad, including Islamic scholars of global reputation and job offers at leading universities. It is an unpleasant but efficient policy.
Apropos of this, a Muslim reader, Mr. Jeff Imada, asks:
“It’s very likely that by hook or by crook the [George W] Bush administration will get in the next election. So [an attack on] Iran is a definite. But what about after that? What is your view on what will happen in the future, say during 2006 when the war is in preparation and 2007 when the war is in full swing? What will happen to all of the Muslims in the world, will they be targeted, will we lose what little rights we have, or will [we] be hunted down for no other reason than [that] we are even remotely associated with a religion? This is under no doubt going to get worse for every one. Will al-Qaeda become a massive force of orphans and relations of the dead? I know now that this war is definitely against Islamic nations to usurp their resources. But how will it affect me? I am talking about myself in particular. Please write an article of how each individual Muslim will suffer under the leadership of the Americans’ attack on Islam. Need to know … I guess everyone does.”
Mr. Imada’s concern has some foundation, although it seems overwrought to say that Muslims will be hunted down for association with a religion. American policy has changed radically since the first days following September 11, 2001, when the head of the American Muslim Council prayed in public with President George W. Bush, and last summer, when he confessed to a federal charge of terror-related activities. Rather than court Muslim opinion, Washington has given Muslim communities an ultimatum of sorts.
Islamist terrorists hide behind a civilian screen wherever possible, and draw occasional support from sympathizers within governments in Muslim countries or Islamic communities abroad. Police have charged leaders of ostensibly mainstream Islamic organizations in Europe and the United States with terrorist links, in some cases with abundant evidence. Most striking, as noted, was the recent confession of Abdurahman Alamoudi, founder and head of the American Muslim Council, to laundering Libyan contributions to American Muslim organizations. When arrested, Alamoudi had contact information for seven men whom the US Justice Department sought as alleged terrorists. This is a man who had met both presidents Bill Clinton and Bush, and received accolades from the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an exemplar of “mainstream” Islam.
Some view the prosecution of Alamoudi and a dozen similar cases as part of a vast conspiracy to victimize Muslims. Some insist that the September 11 attacks were staged by American intelligence as a provocation. We do not know (and may never know) all of the details, but the subtle overlap among mosques, charities and terrorist cells has the undivided attention of US and European authorities. To get at the terror cells, the authorities will put pressure on the milieu in which they operate – the equivalent of Giuliani’s squeegee men. A large fraction of Muslims overseas hope for the success of organizations that the American (and some other) authorities regard as terrorist, eg, Hamas. US intelligence hopes to isolate terrorists and starve them of support by putting pressure on their support networks. A bitter choice has been forced on the Muslim communities of Europe and the United States, namely, to cooperate with anti-terror investigations of prominent citizens among them or to fall under general suspicion. For individual Muslims residing in the West, this may become rather unpleasant.
Recent actions by American law enforcement may have as their goal polarizing the Muslim community overseas. Diverting a London-New York flight last week to a remote airport in order to detain the former Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam, seemed like a signal of “zero tolerance” on the part of the US authorities.
Of greater portent was the Department of Homeland Security’s action last summer against a prominent Islamic scholar. It revoked the visa of Tariq Ramadan, preventing him from accepting the Henry Luce Professorship of Religion at Notre Dame University. In April, Time Magazine named him one of the era’s 100 most important innovators, attempting to “bridge Islamic values and Western culture.” Ramadan, a grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, sought to straddle the frontier between moral support for radical Islam and dialogue with the West.
Western liberal opinion for the most part rose up in protest, although some left-leaning sources supported the exclusion of Ramadan. In the American Prospect, Lee Smith wrote: “That Ramadan believes Islam will replace Judaism and Christianity may come as a surprise to those who thought he was just saying Islam is compatible with liberal values (it will certainly surprise the fathers at Notre Dame). Rather, Ramadan is a cold-blooded Islamist who believes that Islam is the cure for the malaise wrought by liberal values. His revision of the jihadist paradigm – peaceful but total – is brilliant in its way, and he may well turn out to be a major Islamist intellectual, far surpassing even his grandfather’s influence. His cry of death to the West is a quieter and gentler jihad, but it’s still jihad. There’s no reason for Western liberals to try to understand that point of view.”
In the American view, a porous membrane divides ideologues who rationalize terrorist activities from the operational cells that carry them out. Squeezing the soft outer shell of the network, the US authorities believe, will lead the inquisitors to the hard core. Some insights about this line of thinking may be found in the current academic literature on social network analysis. Useful links can be found on the website of Valdis Krebs, for which I am grateful to Wretchard (http://belmontclub.blogspot.com). From the examples provided by Krebs, it does not take much imagination to work out what has been fed into the computers at the Department of Homeland Security, or what they have spit back out.
Yes, Mr. Imada, individual Muslims will suffer; life will become less pleasant for Muslim intellectuals who flirted with radical Islam. Either you are with us, or you are against us, Bush warned the governments of the world in the aftermath of September 11; now the same message has gone out to Muslim communities of the West.