Being Muslim Is No Crime

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How convenient that there are Muslims in America. How much harder it would be for the government to increase its power, while abridging more general liberties, if they didn’t exist. A radical Islamic preacher, who also happens to be an American citizen, is now hiding out somewhere in Yemen inciting violence against this country. What’s the solution? Simple: add him to the CIA’s “kill list,” send in the drones (though we are not at war with Yemen), and execute him. Better yet, call that act a “targeted killing” and you don’t have to worry about the legal niceties associated with the word “assassination.”

An American citizen of Pakistani birth leaves the least well-made smoking car bomb in history in Times Square. What a good moment to “protect” Americans from the evildoers lurking behind him by carving out a “broad exception” to his Miranda rights and delaying speedy court hearings. It’s like a yard sale. You get two previously well accepted rights curtailed for the price of one.

When it comes to homegrown threats of terror or a suspicion that a citizen might be related to a “foreign terrorist organization,” why not make another exception and just strip him of his citizenship, then send him to Guantanamo and throw away the key (something Senator Joe Lieberman is now advocating)? As Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com has written, such examples “are designed to formally exempt a certain class of American citizens… from the most basic legal protections. They’re all intended, in the name of Scary Terrorists, to rewrite the core rules of our justice system in order to increase the already-vast detention powers of the US Government and further minimize the remaining safeguards against abuse.”

The fear of terrorism is, of course, widespread. It has long been nurtured by an American Fear Inc, even if the actual danger in this country has been blown out of all proportion, as Stephan Salisbury makes clear below. Each new alarum—whether a shoe bomber who can’t light his shoe, an underwear bomber who can’t light his underwear, or a car-bomb maker who uses non-explosive fertilizer for his weapon of choice—is useful when it comes to funneling ever more money into the mini-homeland-security-industrial complex that has grown up around the Department of Homeland Security or, above all, expanding government power at the expense of the citizen. Right now, only Muslim Americans—”terrorists”—are in serious danger of losing these rights, but it should be obvious that new powers in the hands of ever more powerful authorities have a tendency to grow and spread. In a sense, it’s as if the terrorists, American law enforcement, and the government were in a conspiracy to jointly take away ever more citizenly rights and liberties, while ratcheting up our wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stephan Salisbury has watched, up close and personal, the process by which American Muslims have been demonized and their communities assaulted. In his new book, Mohamed’s Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland, he’s written vividly and dramatically about just what that process has been like since 2001 and what it means. (In addition, catch Salisbury on the latest TomCast audio interview discussing the words that changed our world since September 11, 2001, by clicking here or download the interview to your ipod by clicking here.

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