As one public figure put it, “everybody from that area knew [a recently captured jihadist] was there — nobody turned him in. There’s something going on, and there’s something wrong.”
It is not important who made this inarticulate, but highly charged, assertion. What’s important is that it is being repeated ad nauseam.
Yes, there is something wrong. Terrorism is wrong. And so are ideas like this one that cast suspicion on an entire community. It is wrong both factually and morally. It is prejudicial. It is counterproductive. Worse, it is dangerous in ways that are too numerous to go into here.
Consider the logic of the idea that “everybody” or even a substantial number of people in a particular group know about miscreants who are part of that group. Am I assumed to know the intentions of every Bahá’í in California? Too much? How about just those in the Bay Area? Or in San Jose? Or who attend events at our Bahá’í Center regularly? Or the ones in my study circle?
Okay, it’s likely I would know if something was going awry in the life of one of the dozen or so Bahá’ís in our study group. But here’s the thing—the people in my study circle are there because they are devoted to a set of principles that are the antithesis of everything in the fanatic’s thought process. Indeed, their active participation would indicate to me that they’d find that thought process completely alien.
Pause to reflect: Do you, dear reader, know the intentions of everyone with whom you share an affiliation? Everyone at your church, on your flag football team, in your D&D campaign, in your motorcycle club, in your school’s PTA, at your job, in your classroom? Would you feel justly accused if the fellow sitting three seats ahead of you in church or in class shot up his neighborhood and the authorities assumed you must have known he was planning such a thing because of a shared affiliation?
How many people living next door to a mass murderer—or even in the same house with one—said they had no clue he was so close to the edge beyond which there be dragons? Do we suppose that all Oklahomans or all inhabitants of Oklahoma City or everyone who lived near or who knew Tim McVeigh knew that he was planning on blowing up a government building with a preschool in it?
This leads me to wonder if some non-Muslims imagine that Muslims have superpowers simply because they are Muslim.
Ibrahim Hooper, representing the Council on American-Islamic Affairs (CAIR), told the New York Times that “it’s absolute and utter nonsense that American Muslims somehow know of potential terror threats and fail to report them.”
He’s right, and not just because Occam’s Razor slices the idea into illogical confetti. The facts are these: Muslims all over the country are and have been working with local authorities and the FBI to counter extremism. Intel leading to more than 40 percent of arrests of would-be terrorists involve tips from within the Muslim-American community. This includes families reporting missing members they suspect went overseas to join ISIS, community members reporting suspicious behavior, or taking screen shots of violent postings on social media.
I posted an article on DailyKOS the other day (okay, it was a rant) about the recent calls by public figures to give law enforcement expanded authority to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods”. The article erupted after I watched one individual defending that idea repeatedly and failing each time to explain what any of those words meant in context (with the possible exception of “and”). What was he suggesting, interviewers wanted to know? After repeated tries, he was unable to come up with anything coherent or practicable.
In defense of this expanded surveillance, some pundits have pointed to a program that existed in New York for some time after 9/11. We should have more of those, they insisted. It was a successful program doomed by “political correctness” (which masquerades, apparently, as outmoded virtues like courtesy, kindness, and empathy).
Here are some more actual facts: The NYPD carried out that program for over six years. In that time—during which they not only encouraged Muslims to increase vigilance in their religious communities, but placed spies in mosques and gathering places frequented by Muslims to eavesdrop on conversations—they did not generate a single terrorism investigation. They surveilled every mosque within a 100 mile radius of NYC without generating a single lead. One supervisor of the program recommended it be curtailed, not out of “political correctness”, as social media memes and memophiles insist, but because it wasn’t accomplishing anything. He wryly commented that the police were paying spies to sit around sipping tea and eating sweets at tax payer expense.
Actually, it did accomplish something; it had a negative impact on the relationship between the authorities and the very people the NYPD needed to support their efforts—Muslim citizens of New York. It also led to lawsuits that cost Gotham in excess of $1M to settle.
If someone tells you it was a success, don’t believe them. Look it up. Better yet, make them look it up.
So, yes, America, all the tough rhetoric about patrolling and securing and surveilling and something being wrong and everybody knowing something and taking “them” out (used to refer with equal vigor to actual ISIS actors, their families, and that great “Everybody” that knows something but won’t tell)—all of that snarling and snapping and gnashing of teeth is having an effect on our nation, our communities, our families, our selves.
And as with any poisoned organism, the resulting weakness leaves us ill-equipped to fight anyone—least of all, our own demons.
I close with the words of my personal mandate:
Gird up the loins of your endeavor, O people of Bahá, that haply the tumult of religious dissension and strife that agitateth the peoples of the earth may be stilled, that every trace of it may be completely obliterated. For the love of God, and them that serve Him, arise to aid this most sublime and momentous Revelation. Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction….
The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. — Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CXXXII