Category: Islam

Wahhabi Saudi Arabia has a More Rational Vaccine Mandate than the US Republican Party

While Tucker Carlson is still dragging both his knuckles on the ground The Saudis show just how far ahead of him they are when it comes to vaccine mandates.

Republican TV idol Tucker Carlson called Iraqis “monkeys” and “illiterate” and maintains that “white men” invented civilization. That is, Muslims in his view are uncivilized, an opinion widely shared in Republican circles. I pointed out to Mr. Carlson that actually it was the Iraqis who invented much of what we now call civilization. But here is another kicker: Saudi Arabia, the bastion of a peculiar kind of Wahhabism or ultra-fundamentalist form of Islam, is putting in a whole range of vaccine mandates. Its religious and state officials now say that anyone who comes on pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca must have two doses of a WHO-approved vaccine.

Source: Wahhabi Saudi Arabia has a More Rational Vaccine Mandate than the US Republican Party

Taliban “Islam” versus the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an

I addressed a similar question regarding ISIL in a Nation essay, How Islamic is the Islamic State? All you have to do is think about the manifestations of Christianity. You have your Kentucky snake handlers and your QAnon militants, some of whom carried guns at the Capitol insurrection. Then you have your mainstream Presbyterians and Congregationalists. You have your Order of the Solar Temple cult inside Catholicism. And then you have mainstream American Roman Catholicism. And we haven’t even gone into Evangelicalism in Brazil or all the different ways Christianity is practiced in sub-Saharan Africa. There, you have millions of ordinary Catholics and Protestants but also the virulent Christian terrorist organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army. If we go back in time, you have your Protestant Peasants War in the early 1500s in Germany. You get the picture. In my view, the Taliban resemble the Ku Klux Klan. New York Times journalist David Sanger complained when I said that, saying that the Taliban took over a whole country and the KKK is a fringe. But I’d just like to point out that the KKK had enormous influence in the Democratic Party in the 1920s and that it took over the state

Taliban “Islam” versus the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an

On how Muhammad never preached “Jihad”

Muslims are fighting each other for the same reasons Christians are fighting each other, Politics and Power (ODT)

The word “jihad” has become pervasive in English. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates yesterday spoke of “jihadis.” The Western Right wing is trying to use the term to replace the Communist Manifesto as the ultimate in the threatening Other. It figures prominently in FBI charges against militants. It is often glossed as “holy war.” People, especially those who dislike Islam, think that it means aggression and that the conception is intrinsic to the religion of Islam.

In fact, the Prophet Muhammad never preached “jihad” in this sense of “holy war,” as I argue in my new book:

via On how Muhammad never preached “Jihad”

Finsbury Park: ‘Hero’ imam stood between alleged terrorist and angry victims| A reply to Murdoch media bigots


It’s maybe proof that this demonisation of the Muslim community at the hand of those who have ulterior motives and wish to divide this country and divide this great city have succeeded to some extent,” Imam Mohammed said.”(They have) influenced the vulnerable and impressionable into thinking we’re barbaric and that we are people who like to shed blood and therefore that we must be eliminated and exterminated.”The fabric of society is not torn. But we have to continue to keep the fabric of the society and this community of London intact – and come together.”

Source: Finsbury Park: ‘Hero’ imam stood between alleged terrorist and angry victims

If you want to know about Muslim women’s rights, ask Muslim women | Susan Carland | World news | The Guardian

Islam’s patriarchy and western feminism have said a lot. Now Muslim women who fight sexism (yes we exist) must be heard

Source: If you want to know about Muslim women’s rights, ask Muslim women | Susan Carland | World news | The Guardian

‘Jihadists were going to burn it all’: the amazing story of Timbuktu’s book smugglers | World news | The Guardian

In 2012, ​tens of ​thousands of ​artefacts from the golden age of Timbuktu were at risk in Mali’s civil war. This exclusive extract describes the race to save them​ from the flames – and how lethal attacks could still threaten the town’s treasures

Source: ‘Jihadists were going to burn it all’: the amazing story of Timbuktu’s book smugglers | World news | The Guardian

Extreme Islam: What makes a young British woman turn to Salafism? | The Independent


It’s two in the afternoon on a busy south London street. I’ve just arrived here with a photographer friend, Eleanor, and our “models” – two obliging young women. Both Layla and Rahima are wearing all-enveloping black gowns and niqabs – face veils that reveal only their eyes. They won’t be striking any poses; just walking casually along the pavement or crossing the street. Nothing to worry anyone. And so we begin. Suddenly, we notice a bald man in his sixties, just a few feet away, making unmistakably rude gestures at us.

Source: Extreme Islam: What makes a young British woman turn to Salafism? | The Independent

What it’s like to be gay and a Muslim | Love & Sex | Lifestyle | The Independent

The Orlando shooting was a hate crime against gay people – even if, once it emerged that the attacked had been a Muslim, many people claimed this as a terrorist attack rather than a hate crime. And, in an important sense, this was also a terror attack, since its aim was to spread fear in the LGBT community.

Source: What it’s like to be gay and a Muslim | Love & Sex | Lifestyle | The Independent

Great Western debate: What’s cooking under the Muslim headscarf? — RT Op-Edge

‘Lord forgive them for they do not know what they’re doing’ … I wonder if this famous quote could apply to our modern-day great freak out over Muslim women and the headscarf. The audacity really! Why cover up when you could be free?

Source: Great Western debate: What’s cooking under the Muslim headscarf? — RT Op-Edge

I’m a middle-aged, white Scottish man who converted to Islam without ever meeting a Muslim. This is how | Voices | The Independent


How does a middle-aged, white Scottish man living in the Scottish Highlands end up becoming a Muslim – especially when he hasn’t properly met a Muslim in his life? For me, it all started when I heard the call to prayer from a local mosque while on a beach holiday in Turkey. It woke something up inside me, and inspired me to begin a spiritual quest. Back home in Inverness, I went to the local bookshop, bought a Qur’an and started to read. While reading, I always asked God to guide me on the journey I had set out on.

Source: I’m a middle-aged, white Scottish man who converted to Islam without ever meeting a Muslim. This is how | Voices | The Independent

Faces of Islam: Award-winning photographer snaps Brisbane Muslims for special project – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

More than 40 members of Brisbane’s Muslim community talk about their lives, ambitions, and beliefs as part of a special project, Faces of Islam.

Source: Faces of Islam: Award-winning photographer snaps Brisbane Muslims for special project – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Is the Bible the same as the Koran? – » The Australian Independent Media Network

By Bob Rafto The Paris terrorist attacks were horrific and like any other terrorist attack they leave a trail of grief for the victims’ families to which I send my sincere condolences. Like everyone else, I did feel revulsion but was further repulsed by the Muslin haters with Tony Abbott in the forefront sowing seeds…

Source: Is the Bible the same as the Koran? – » The Australian Independent Media Network

Humanist vs Islamic perspectives on science and the modern world | Science | The Guardian

Jim Al-Khalili, physicist and Ziauddin Sardar, chair of the Muslim Institute, talk science, western colonialism and religious rigidity

Source: Humanist vs Islamic perspectives on science and the modern world | Science | The Guardian

Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz calls for Muslim parents to protect kids from radicalisation – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The daughter of African-American civil rights leader Malcolm X says parents need to take more responsibility to make sure young people stay away from radical messages.

Source: Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz calls for Muslim parents to protect kids from radicalisation – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Islam: the ‘Open Civilisation’ confounds closed minds:

July 20, 2015 11.05am AEST

The modern era defines a period when Islam passes through the shadows, or so it would seem. Islam remains in the media spotlight, with anti-Islamic rallies being held around Australia. It is portrayed as the religion that fails to integrate into modernity. Apparently, the only remedy is the construction of a “Western Islamic” identity.

This is a hugely problematic and skewed view of Islamic history and the potential of Muslim communities. Richard Bulliet, professor of history at Columbia, has argued that the period 1300 to 1900 is the “golden age” of Islam. This period is hardly talked about in academic circles and seldom without the taint of Bernard Lewis’ hypothesis about the decline of the Muslim world and his claim about the unimaginativeness of the Muslim empires during the age of European discovery.The West is preoccupied with a particular minority strand of Islam, which does not represent the Muslim majority – most of whom, including these Indonesians, are in Asia.

This portrayal, Bulliet argues, resonates strongly with the contemporary notion of Muslims as dullards incapable of inventiveness and innovation in the modern world. An aspect of this is that the “West” has bought into the Salafi argument that there is a pure form of Islam against which the great diversity of the global ummah (Muslim community) is tested.

The global reality is different. Bulliet makes a pertinent point about “Islam” being the “Open Civilisation”. He also presents the clearest evidence to refute a theory of decline.The period 1300 to 1900 was a time of increased conversion to Islam in what Bulliet calls the “Muslim south”, places such as West and East Africa, Southern India, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, but not including equally important newly converted outer-lying regions such as China. The phenomenon of conversion to Islam during 1300 to 1900, a period of so-called decline, undermines the credibility of Lewis’ influential thesis.

Muslims actually

Most of the world’s Muslims today are direct descendants of those converts from the 1300 to 1900 period, which occurred after the Mongol devastation. These Muslims have little connection with those Muslims of the early medieval era, a period of conquest and empire-building, nor with earlier events in Mecca and Medina.

The point often missed is that they are the majority of the Muslim migratory population who are presently moving into regions of the Western world. It is their voice that is not being heard; instead, a conservative, puritanical view of Islam has made a deep impression on the Western imagination.

There is a tendency to focus on Islam as practised in Saudi Arabia, home to less than 2% of the world’s Muslims. EPA
Click to enlarge

This blinkered view of Islam continues, for example, to be perpetuated through Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is both privately and publicly invested in promoting its own traditionalist version of Islam. Such a view, though constantly in the “public” eye, does not constitute a majority in Islam, nor does it amount to hegemony over Islam.

There seems to be confusion about what constitutes “majority” opinion on, say, hardline attitudes and what might qualify as “hegemony”. Having less than a quarter of the Muslim population advocating death for apostasy does not equate with majority. Radical Muslim groups vying for a caliphate do not constitute hegemony. There has to be a majority for there to be hegemony, and the majority of Muslims are ordinary, more liberal-minded people.

Freedom of religion includes Islam too

Another side to this is that Muslims should have the right to practise their faith freely, in whatever form and to whatever lawful degree they choose, without being suspected of being “terrorists”. People who are strict practising Muslims are not necessarily associated, and should not be assumed to be, with extremist militant jihadists. Practising one’s religion with sincerity and rigour is one thing; being confused with extremist militant jihadists is another thing altogether.

Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik self-identified as Christian but does not represent devout Christians any more than violent jihadists represent observant Muslims. EPA/Erlend Aas
Click to enlarge

The relationship between militant extremists and the Muslim faith is coincidental. The relationship between dissenting views about the culture of Western capitalism and liberal democratic idealism and being a strictly practising Muslim is coincidental.

It is true that people in Muslim countries around the world retain an anti-“Western” attitude. They oppose American, British or Australian policies, for example. Yet there is not necessarily a causal link between this attitude and Islam.

Reinforcing this argument is that most Muslim countries in the Middle East are not governed by Muslim regimes, but by autocratic rule. Over the past half-century or more, foreign support of these autocracies has understandably led to Muslim disdain for “Western” involvement. The fall-back to religion, Islam, for those who feel oppressed by autocracies certainly does not reduce the whole of Islam to a religion that breeds radical jihadists.

Religions are not themselves living phenomena that move through time; they are moved by the actors who interpret core religious texts and participate through the religions to which they belong. Human agency makes the religion what it is.

Religion is ultimately subject to interpretation and its manifestations are representative of the struggles that individuals face in coming to terms with what it means to be religious in everyday life.

Terrorism and the dangers of fearmongering; Bolt continues the Tea Party war cry of war against Islam.

The weekend atrocities in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, in which dozens of lives were lost in brutal attacks, are shocking. They have generated precisely the kind of fear terrorists seek to instil. Against the background of such attacks, the Charlie Hebdo rampage in January, and others, it is little wonder Australians see terrorism as a significant threat.

The danger is real. But the Abbott government should resist the temptation to play politics with this understandable fear. Prime Minister Tony Abbott was quick to distance himself last week from a lamentable choice by the Victorian branch of the Liberal Party to solicit donations with a call to support a “safer Australia”. He was right to do so. But Mr Abbott has himself been needlessly inflammatory in recent months with some of his own rhetoric, raising suspicions he sees electoral advantage in a national security debate, rather than making a genuine effort to reassure and protect a worried public.

Our concern goes far beyond the choice of words, to areas of law. It is the job of politicians to legislate, but it is notable that in response to the terrorist threat – not just in recent times, but since the attacks on America in 2001 – Australia has seen more than 60 laws passed to provide stronger powers to police and security agencies. Our leaders should tread more warily. The cost of new powers can sometimes – often – be measured by a loss of individual rights. There must always be careful efforts not to tilt the balance too far away from the prize of liberty.

The Age supports the stated intent of the latest legislative proposal to strip the citizenship of dual nationals who choose to take up arms against Australia by joining a declared terrorist group. This is a sensible recognition of the modern and transnational nature of terrorist threats. But the law must be precise. If the broad category of damage to Commonwealth property becomes a basis for revoking citizenship, and if that provision captures a person who scrawls graffiti on the Parliament building, the punishment would be excessive. The ill-defined notion that citizenship is forfeited “if the person acts inconsistently with their allegiance to Australia” must also be given special scrutiny as the amendments are considered

A similar problem of unintended consequences arises with the recent law on disclosing a special intelligence operation, which could result in journalists being jailed. Or the bill for the retention of metadata, which casts a vast surveillance net across the community. Or the declaration of a prohibited area, which reverses the onus of proof and could see a person punished for merely being in the wrong place, without evidence they have done wrong. When such measures combine with existing dubious powers, such as so-called “preventative detention orders” that allow a suspect to be held for up to 14 days without charge, a disturbing pattern emerges, in which hard-won individual rights have been sacrificed.

When the Coalition took office, carrying an ideological aversion to “red tape”, it planned to abolish the position of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor – a misguided proposal, thankfully abandoned. Bret Walker, the Sydney barrister who previously held the role, has remarked on the “odd culture” in modern Australia, where “we really do think problems are addressed by passing laws about them”.

Terrorism is a different type of threat, requiring measures to pre-empt fanatics who may be willing to die for their misguided beliefs. But more faith is required in the ability of police and security agencies to use existing laws to thwart the danger. There is little to be gained – and much to be lost, by way of the freedoms that distinguish our democracy – by constantly redefining the boundaries of the crime. Unless, that is, politicians have another purpose in mind.

How modern militant Islam got that way: By Mohamad Bazzi March 12, 2015

Assyrians hold banners as they march in solidarity with the Assyrians abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria earlier this week, in Beirut

The past year was a particularly cruel one for minorities in the Middle East. Since Islamic State militants seized parts of Iraq and Syria, they have relentlessly persecuted the region’s religious minorities. In doing so, the militants are trying to eradicate ancient cultures and religions that date back to Mesopotamia.

After Islamic State and its allies captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in June, they gave Christian residents an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or be driven out of their homes. Many Christians fled to Turkey or the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. The extremists drove out a Christian population that had lived in Mosul for two millennia. Other groups, such as the Yazidis, have been treated far worse.

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there were 1.5 million Christians living in the country. Today, the Christian population has dwindled to fewer than 400,000 — and many are on the run from Islamic State.

Islamic State’s latest targets are the Assyrians, one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, who are concentrated in northeastern Syria and northern Iraq. In late February, Islamic State militants overran 12 villages in northern Syria and kidnapped more than 200 Assyrians, including dozens of women and children. Assyrians speak a modern version of Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

The current status of religious minorities in the Middle East is indeed dire. They are threatened by civil wars, growing intolerance, the rise of Islamic militancy, autocratic governments and the pull of emigration. But it is important to remember that there is a long history of tolerance within Islam for other religions. The survival of the Assyrians, Yazidis and others until today is a testament to a millennium-long, and often overlooked, history of religious coexistence fostered by Islam.

Over the past 50 years, militant movements and some Islamic regimes that favor a literalist approach to revealed texts have imposed austere interpretations of the Quran and of Islamic law, or shariah, ones that run counter to a millennium of moderate understandings, including tolerance for other faiths. Shariah is not a monolithic system of medieval codes, set in stone and solely based on cruelty and punishment. Since the seventh century, the body of law has co-evolved with different strains of Islamic thought — tolerance versus intolerance, forgiveness versus punishment, innovative versus literalist.

To believers, shariah is more than a collection of laws; it is infused with higher moral principles and ideals of justice. Shariah literally means “the path to the watering hole,” an important route in the desert societies of pre-Islamic Arabia. Historically, Islamic law is based on four sources: the Quran, the sayings and traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (the Sunnah), analogical reasoning and the consensus of religious scholars. Because the Quran did not provide a system of laws, Islam’s early leaders would rely on the Sunnah, a collection of the prophet’s sayings and stories about his life. (The word Sunnah also means path, and it is the root of the designation “Sunni” — those who follow the prophet’s path — the dominant sect in Islam.)

In the 13th century, as the Mongols swept across Asia and sacked Baghdad, the Mongol warrior Hulagu, a grandson of Genghis Khan, asked Muslim jurists at the time: Would they prefer to live under an unjust Muslim ruler or a just nonbeliever? Wanting to keep their heads, most preferred Hulagu’s rule. But one jurist forcefully rejected the Mongol invasion, and his decision reverberates to this day. Ibn Taymiyyah, a scholar from Damascus, issued several fatwas, or religious rulings, against the Mongols, who were threatening to overrun the Levant.

After Hulagu, some Mongol leaders nominally converted to Islam, but Ibn Taymiyyah still considered them infidels. He also argued that it was permissible for believers to kill other Muslims during battle if those Muslims were fighting alongside the Mongols. Ibn Taymiyyah is the intellectual forefather to many modern-day Islamic militants who use his anti-Mongol fatwas, along with his rulings against Shi’ites and other Muslim minorities, to justify violence against fellow Muslims, or to declare them infidels.

Ibn Taymiyyah inspired the father of the Wahhabi strain of Islam that is dominant in Saudi Arabia today, the 18th-century cleric Mohammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, who decreed that many Muslims had abandoned the practices of their ancestors. Wahhab’s followers led a failed uprising against Ottoman rule in the Hijaz, the region of Arabia where Islam was founded. The Wahhabi appropriation of Ibn Taymiyyah’s teachings would have a profound impact on the future of Islamic militancy. Their brief rule over Islam’s holy sites in the early 19th century introduced pilgrims from across the world to the idea that violent revolution could be construed as a religious obligation.

Today’s Islamic militants and repressive regimes — especially Saudi Arabia, which has used its oil wealth to export Wahhabi doctrine throughout the Muslim world — are obsessed with literalist interpretations of shariah and punitive aspects of the Quran, as opposed to strands that emphasize Quranic exhortations to forgiveness. The weight of Islamic history skews toward moderate understandings, but in recent decades these regimes and militants have used their influence to breed intolerance.

How were so many minority communities able to coexist with Islam for more than a millennium? For a long time, these groups reached an accommodation with Muslim rulers by emphasizing the idea that they were ahl al-kitab, or “people of the book.” The Quran singled out Jews, Christians and Sabaeans (an ancient people who lived in what is now Yemen and southern Iraq) as possessors of books recognized by Islam as God’s revelation. As the Islamic empire expanded, Jews and Christians were granted legal status in Muslim communities as protected subjects, known as dhimmis. They were allowed to practice their faith, govern their own communities and defend themselves from aggressors in exchange for paying a special tax, the jizyah.

Other groups, including the Samaritans, Yazidis and Zoroastrians, managed to secure the label “people of the book” for themselves, and in doing so were able to coexist with the dominant religion. Islam was, especially in its initial centuries, a religion that could accommodate and incorporate ideas from elsewhere. It also did not seek to suppress the older faiths of the Middle East.

In his powerful short book, In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong, the Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf describes how in its early conquests, Islam had developed a “protocol of tolerance,” which he contrasts with Christian societies at the time. Maalouf, himself a Greek Catholic, a religious minority, wonders: “If my ancestors had been Muslims in a country conquered by Christian armies, instead of Christians in a country conquered by the forces of Islam, I don’t think they would have been allowed to live in their towns and villages, retaining their own religion, for over a thousand years.”

Maalouf notes that at the end of the 19th century, Istanbul, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire, had a majority of non-Muslims — Armenians, Greeks and Jews. “From the outset, and ever since, the history of Islam has reflected a remarkable ability to coexist with others.”

We must not allow that history to be overshadowed by overzealous regimes and the rise of Islamic State, which views non-Muslims — and even many Muslims — as people to be forcibly converted, driven into exile or put to the sword. For a long time, there was another way.

America’s most prominent Muslim says The Atlantic is doing PR for ISIS

Screencapture from video released by ISIS

In September, Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), held a press conference in Washington and, flanked by other Muslim figures, announced that 120 Muslim scholars had produced an 18-page open letter, written in Arabic, to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

An English translation of the document is a tough slog. As Awad said at the time, “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.” He even admitted that mainstream Muslims might find it difficult to read.

The letter is an extended exegesis, heavily salted with quotes from the Koran and the Hadith, arguing point by point about the nature of jihad, the slaughtering of innocents, the taking of slaves, and other not-so-savory elements of the distant past — and in the past they should remain, the text argues. It makes the case not only that ISIS was wrong to commit horrific acts of violence in modern times, but that it was interpreting Islamic law incorrectly to justify such acts.

ISIS not only doesn’t represent Muslims. It isn’t, in fact, Islamic at all, the document argues.

Just two weeks before, President Obama had kicked up a controversy by saying the same thing — that al-Baghdadi’s forces wreaking havoc in Iraq and Syria were “not Islamic.”

Yesterday, however, The Atlantic uncorked a 10,000-word cover story by Graeme Wood, titled “What ISIS Really Wants.”

After talking to an ISIS recruiter in Australia, an expert on ISIS theology at Princeton, and sitting down with three Islamic figures in London who yearn to join ISIS in Syria, Wood came to the conclusion that the apocalyptic vision of ISIS is, actually, deeply rooted in Islam.

“The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” Wood writes. “Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Some of Wood’s observations about what he calls the ISIS “hermit kingdom” include:

  • Its coming signals “the imminent end of the world.”
  • It has no truck with the modern world, and instead sincerely wants to bring a Medieval “caliphate” upon a particular territory.
  • Standards of its Sunni Muslim convention are so strict, groups that follow other Muslim traditions, such as Shiites, are “marked for death.”
  • ISIS predicts an apocalypse that will be signaled, in part, by a portentous battle in northern Syria against the army of “Rome” near the town of Dabiq, which ISIS controls.
  • Following that battle, the caliphate will take Istanbul, but then an anti-Messiah, Dajjal, will come from eastern Iran and kill all but 5,000 of the caliphate’s fighters, cornering them in Jerusalem. Then Jesus will make his prophesied return, kill Dajjal, and then “lead the Muslims to victory.”

Because ISIS is so focused on these goals in a particular territory, it may actually pose less of a threat to Americans than al-Qaeda, which remains focused on targets in the West, Wood says.

He adds that understanding ISIS theology is key to preventing Western leaders from making things worse with what he says have been some blunders caused by ignorance. For now, he says, airstrikes and alliances with third parties are probably the best we can do. If we send troops for ground battles it will only help ISIS recruit more fighters as it appears to fulfill its prophecies.

And most of all, Wood asserts, it’s crucial to understand ISIS through its Islamic underpinnings. Otherwise we just won’t understand its motives.

I was curious, however, what Nihad Awad might make of Wood’s article, since he had gone to so much trouble last year to argue the exact opposite.

Awad helped found CAIR in 1994, and he’s been its only national executive director. He stood with President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, expressing the outrage by America’s Muslims at the attacks. And this week the press has been busy reporting his denunciations of the Chapel Hill murders of three young Muslims. He is, in the U.S., the face and voice of moderate Islam.

When I reached Awad yesterday, he hadn’t seen the article yet. When I described it over the phone, he reacted immediately by saying, “This is an outrageous statement, an ignorant statement.”

He then asked for some time to read the article in its entirety, and then we spoke again later last night.

“This piece is misleading because it’s full of factual mistakes,” Awad said. “Mistakes are all over it.”

He blamed Graeme Wood for trying to grasp things he wasn’t qualified to understand.

“Scholars who study Islam, authorities of Islamic jurisprudence, are telling ISIS that they are wrong, and Mr. Wood knows more than what they do, and he’s saying that ISIS is Islamic? I don’t think Mr. Wood has the background or the scholarship to make that dangerous statement, that historically inaccurate statement,” he said. “In a way, I think, he is unintentionally promoting ISIS and doing public relations for ISIS.”

I asked him for a specific mistake that Wood made in the piece, and he said right from the start it was obvious that Wood was out of his depth with Islam’s terminology.

“He’s using ‘terrorism’ and ‘jihad’ interchangeably — that’s very dangerous. Jihad is a legitimate concept in self-defense. If you call terrorism jihad, you are legitimizing the actions of terrorists.”

I asked him about an apocalyptic vision in Islam — does the Koran predict a violent end of days?

“There is no apocalyptic bloodbath in Islam. Muslims believe in the second coming of Jesus, but we don’t believe what Christians or Christian Zionists believe,” he said, referring to prophecies that get some American evangelicals worked up, predicting a bloody war between Muslims and Jews as a harbinger of the Second Coming. “We don’t believe that,” he said.

If ISIS isn’t Islamic, what is it?

“ISIS represents a state of desperation of some Muslims who don’t believe in justice. They see injustice, they hijack these grievances and try to culture it with religious justification. That’s due to the lack of leadership of Muslims themselves there, the governments of Muslim and Arab countries, and the international community,” he said. “Those leaders failed people who are under occupation, and ISIS is filling a vacuum of leadership.

“They’re calling it a Caliphate, which is completely nonsensical,” he added. “They’re using certain historic terminology to appeal to young people who are disaffected. But they’re appealing to a small number of people. Out of 1.7 billion Muslims, they’ve appealed to a few thousand.

“My fear is that ISIS is couching its struggle in religious terminology, and I fear that some people in the West are couching their response in religious terminology — like some people here on Capitol Hill.”

And fighting a religious war will only make things worse, he said.

“As long as we have dictatorships and tyranny in the region, then something even worse than ISIS will replace it,” Awad said. “Airstrikes are only a partial solution. A long term solution is to deal with the root causes. That will require wise leadership.”

After talking to Awad, I reached out to Graeme Wood, telling him about some of Awad’s criticisms.

“I do not equate ‘jihad’ and ‘terrorism.’ There may very well be factual errors in the piece, but he has not named any,” Wood wrote in an email.

As for Awad’s objection that Wood wasn’t qualified to overrule Muslim scholars, he says, “Here he is confusing what is Islamic with what is right. I specifically refrained from saying whether ISIS’s interpretation of Islam (or that of Abdullah Pocius, the Salafi imam I profiled in the piece, or that of the vast majority of other Muslims — ‘virtually all of them’ — who reject ISIS) is right. That is a question for Muslims. Instead, I argue that ISIS is Islamic, in the sense of drawing on the long and varied traditions and core texts that Muslims share. They did not make these practices up out of whole cloth, even the ones like slavery and execution of homosexuals.”

Muslim-Americans: Presumed guilty? Rebuffing the collective guilt assigned to Muslims following the Oklahoma City beheading. In Australia these days, no burden-of-guilt on the Muslim community is complete without a desperately worded and rushed out apology by community leaders and imams for crimes at home or abroad. Yet today Tony Abbott and Andrew Bolt on the Bolt Report declared it wasn’t enough and has never been enough. Yet our Media never report the leading imam’s condemnations allowing bigots like Bolt to say they are lacking.

Alton Nolen allegedly beheaded a woman at a foods distribution plant in Oklahoma [EPA]

Story highlights….Preamble

Since April 19, 1995, Oklahoma has held a special place in the USA’s terror imagination. For Muslim-Americans, their current state as social pariah number one, holds unpleasant reminders of the post Oklahoma City indictment of Islam. (link – Almost two decades later, conditions are being replicated following a beheading outside Oklahoma City on September 25th. Alton Nolen, a 30-year old local, severed the head of Colleen Hufford – a former colleague at the food-distribution company that had recently fired him (link –

Following the gruesome incident, media outlets immediately sought to link this savagery to the man’s recent conversion to Islam. (link – His extensive criminal record was merely a sideshow, skipped over, in order to focus the public attention on the presupposed

Since April 19, 1995, Oklahoma has held a special place in the US terror imagination. For Muslim-Americans, their current state as social pariah number one, holds unpleasant reminders of the post Oklahoma City indictment of Islam. Almost two decades later, conditions are being replicated following a beheading outside Oklahoma City on September 25. Alton Nolen, a 30-year-old local, severed the head of Colleen Hufford – a former colleague at the food-distribution company that had recently fired him.

Following the gruesome incident, media outlets immediately sought to link this savagery to the man’s recent conversion to Islam. His extensive criminal record was merely a sideshow, skipped over, in order to focus the public attention on the presupposed “guilt” of Islamic doctrine.

Naturally the subhuman violence popularised by ISIL, including, but not limited to beheading, allowed pundits with little information of the crime motives, to blithely connect Nolen’s act with a terrorist network. Worse still, for a community already under an aggressive media spotlight – clear efforts were made to seek a connection (however tenuous) between Muslim-Americans and ISIL.

As the media hype about the first workplace beheading in the US reached fever pitch, it became nauseatingly clear that the true motive and the specific personality of the culprit were considered by news desks as something of an irrelevance to the story. Which by now had its own wrong-headed “terror-based” momentum.

But these days, no burden-of-guilt on the Muslim community is complete without a desperately worded and rushed out apology by community leaders and imams for crimes at home or abroad.

Politics of apology

These days, the quintessential hallmark of being Muslim in America is neither faith nor citizenship. Rather, the essence of Muslim-American identity right now is the collective fear which arises during national security crises. It is increasingly these “interim moments, between catastrophe and discovering the real culprits [of terrorism],” which most aptly defines so much of the experience of being Muslim and American today.

Although the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks are committed by non-Muslims, the prevailing narrative conflating mass violence with Islam trumps statistics, easily shifting the presumption of guilt onto every adherent of the faith, via hyped up news bulletins.

These days, no burden-of-guilt on the Muslim community is complete without a desperately worded and rushed out apology by community leaders and imams for crimes at home or abroad.

The immediate search to indict Islam after every atrocious act has, systematically, bred a defensive posture among Muslim-American citizens and our institutions. The practice of assigning instant guilt, combined with the American understanding of Islam as a spiritual, ideological and demographical monolith, has pushed Muslim-Americans into the proverbial corner. Trapped between “supporting terrorism” and a hard place, Muslim-Americans are perpetually burdened with guilt by association of faith.

And we ourselves are not without blame for this sorry state of affairs. Muslim-American leaders (some self-appointed) and too many of our major institutions have largely ceded to intimidation. There are various elements at play.

Being the first to speak out when a new atrocity breaks, can mean a great deal of airtime and publicity for the “Muslim spokesperson”. And it is a long accepted fact that an invitation to White House dinners is on offer to Muslims who are willing to jump on the blame bandwagon. Those who sadly may be putting personal ambitions above long term community strategy, curry favour with government agencies that profile, prosecute, and persecute Muslim-Americans.

An apology is far more than an act of remorse when made to the media by Muslim-Americans. It is an admission of tacit guilt. Let me give you an example: If someone living on my road whom I’ve never met, steals your bike, do I apologise for it? And if I did, wouldn’t you wonder why I was linking myself to the crime?

Eroding stereotypes

Oklahoma, aptly named the “Sooner State” represents the American rush towards judging Islam as responsible for violent atrocities before facts are collected and assessed. This was the case in 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombing and with last week’s workplace beheading.

Now social media activists are seeking to breakaway from the confines of apologia. The Twitter hashtag kicked off by frustrated Muslim youth living in the West #MuslimApologies has brilliantly poked fun at the societal pressure to say sorry continually, nonsensically almost impulsively for all of the worlds ills – if you are Muslim.

Deftly catching the real atmosphere in the Muslim community humour is soothing our community’s soul and giving others an insight into the ludicrous nature of our dilemma.

Assed Baig: “I’m sorry that we keep getting in the way of your drone strikes.” Or how about this from “Raz”: “I’m sorry my beard scares you. It’s hormonal, I swear.”

Choosing to demonstrate that Muslims are diverse, this budding outlook may very well offer the strategic means to move beyond the bleak, dated, sorry state, that grips many organisational gatekeepers, and fails all of us in the US with its vacuousness.

Khaled A Beydoun is an Assistant Professor of Law at the Barry University Dwayne O Andreas School of Law. He is a native of Detroit.

The Strategy To Confront The Islamic Extremists


Given these facts, what is the best strategy to confront Islamic radicals, such as the Islamic State? In my opinion, the eight pillars of an effective strategy are as follows.

First, the corrupt dictatorial regimes in Islamic countries that are supported by the West give rise to Islamic groups as an alternative. Ending discrimination, setting up the democratic process and respecting the fundamental human rights of the citizens must be the focus of the opposition to such regimes. Ethnic, gender and religious discrimination represent the most important social background for the growth of the fundamentalist terrorists.

Second, confronting the Islamic extremist groups that supposedly want to establish an “Islamic Caliphate” cannot be done by military means only, because defeating them militarily does not put an end to the claim that it is the Muslims’ duty to set up an Islamic government. This is evident everyday as more recruits join ISIS despite the protracted military campaign against them. Islamist groups are even more radical today than when the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan after 9/11.

“One must demonstrate to 1.5 billion moderate Muslims that the interpretations of the Quranic teachings and the Prophet’s Sunnah by the Islamic extremists are pathetically wrong.”

At the same time, one must demonstrate to 1.5 billion moderate Muslims that the interpretations of the Qur’anic teachings and the Prophet’s Sunnah (tradition) by the Islamic extremists are pathetically wrong, so that one can prevent, for example, the European, American, Canadian and Australian Muslims from joining the terrorist groups. It has been estimated that over 12,000 of such Muslims are fighting alongside the terrorist groups.

Third, it must be emphasized that the claim that there is such a thing as Islamic government is baseless. The Quran and Sunnah have not obliged Muslims to establish such a chimera as the Islamic government, but have taught them to use wisdom, justice, consultation, and innate human dignity to organize their collective lives and their society. Similar to all other religions, Islam does not have provisions for forming a state, particularly modern states as we understand them now. Religious government is an absurd notion, and if a government is formed under Islamic banner, it will only serve the interests of a special group of the people, not an entire Islamic society. Thus, if Muslims form a government, it will be a secular, not a religious one.

Fourth, the reductionist approach to Islam can be deadly, as it will only increase the power of the conservative and reactionary clerics. It also transforms the kind and forgiving God to a warmongering king that constantly issues orders for more bloodshed. As the Iranian Muslim theologian and jurist Muhammad al-Ghazali put it, scientific religious laws are for materialistic issues; they do not represent true religion.

Fifth, we must keep in mind that we have many versions of liberalism, Marxism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Islamic fundamentalism is only one version of Islam. There are other versions of Islam that are based on enlightened and moral interpretation of the Islamic teachings and the Prophet’s traditions, adjusting itself to be compatible with democracy, human rights, freedom, and pluralism. and views everyone, regardless of religion, ethnicity and gender, as free and equal citizens.

The defenders of this version of Islam view al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, the al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram and similar groups as the most important threat to Muslims and true Islam.

Sixth, it must be emphasized that true secularism is not opposed to religion, and a secular democratic state will not only eliminate ethnic and religious discrimination, such as pitting Shiites against Sunnis, but will also create the conditions for the religious people to practice their beliefs free of the government. The regimes that claim to be based on religion have, in fact, transformed religion to something akin to governmental orders and intervene in the moral relation between the pious people and their God. At the same time though, “fundamentalist secularism” also intervenes in people’s religion because it is anti-religion. A true secular democracy only separates religion from governance.

Seventh, the West must not approach the Islamic world in a way that is threatening to Muslims, giving them feeling of humiliation, discrimination, and threat of military attacks. This has often been done by the support that the West has provided to the corrupt dictatorial regimes in the Islamic world. Such support has always been a prime factor in the attraction of some Muslims to radical groups.

Eighth, it is morally unjustifiable if a religious, ethnic or gender-based minority is systematically discriminated against while their beliefs are mocked by those invoking “freedom of expression.” As an example, consider the plight of Muslims in France that represent about 10 percent of the population.

As the French Premier Manuel Valls acknowledged, there is a sort of “apartheid” in France with respect to its Muslim community.

Liberal Jewish American philosopher Jason Stanley distinguishes mocking the Prophet of the majority — the Christ — and that of the minority — Prophet Muhammad and correctly rejects the latter. The only “fruit” of such mocking and insults is a deepening rift between Muslims and the West and the growth of Islamic terrorist groups.

Instead of widening the fissures, we must move toward healing, mutual understanding and respect. Within the Islamic world, that starts with embracing secularism.

The full article is to be found here

“Since a young age, Muslims and Arabs are told not to question authority … However, Islam rejects that idea” Strange the extreme right or left anywhere hates any form of critical thought. However it’s where Tony Abbott has taken us.

Two women explore some expressive street graffiti in central Cairo

On Islam, critical thinking, and why it’s so difficult to speak one’s mind

Does condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo make me less Muslim? No, supporting the freedom of speech of the dead cartoonists, or the Saudi blogger being flogged for “insulting Islam” doesn’t make me a westernized secular who doesn’t care about Islam, my religion or the Prophet Muhammad. Instead it is those so-called Muslims hostile to critical thinking that lack basic understanding of what Islam is all about.

The fact remains that the reason we lack freedom, or any shot at democracy in the Middle East, is because it is so difficult to speak one’s mind, whether it is about religion, politics or social justice.

In Egypt, the satirist Bassem Yousef had his show cancelled following the overthrow of democratically elected Mohamed Morsi. Why? Because Bassem was going to criticize Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s coup. In Turkey, the Justice and Development party, which was initially hailed for deepening democracy, is now destroying that democracy by jailing and arresting journalists and banning social media websites to mask a massive corruption scandal within the government.

SINCE A YOUNG AGE, Muslims and Arabs are told not to question any authority that presides over them. Islam as taught in the schools has many contradictions, which many children try to wrap their heads around. Yet when they ask about contradictions, the answer is always, “Questioning God’s will is forbidden. We have to accept everything God does and says even if we don’t understand why he willed it that way.” As a teenager I wondered why Islam prescribed the death penalty for apostasy, my Islamic Studies teacher responded, “They deserve to die because they rejected Islam after they were lucky enough to be enlightened as Muslims.”

“…it is so difficult to speak one’s mind”

According to the Pew Research Center, in Egypt and Jordan more than 80 percent of questioned Muslims approve of the death penality for leaving Islam. In Palestine and Egypt more than 80 percent favor stoning as a punishment for adultery. These cruel punishments and close-minded religious interpretations are reminiscent of the Islam that ISIS seeks to establish in Syria and Iraq. Yet many Muslims believe that ISIS is a plot by foreign governments, and the very reason these conspiracy theories thrive is because we have given up critical thinking and questioning.

However, Islam rejects that idea. The Quran indicates over and over again that questioning is the very foundation of being a Muslim. Prophets came to revolutionize the societies they lived in. They didn’t accept the atrocities that were taking place and came to fix them, to enlighten and not to keep people in darkness.

Yet too many Muslims have suspended basic critical thinking. Does it make sense to beat your wife? Does it make sense to make your daughters slaves to older men when they are twelve? Does it make sense for a woman to wear a hijab just because she is a woman? Does it make sense to stone women who have been raped? Does it make sense to perform the painful and hideous crime of female genital mutation on girls as young as five? Does it make sense to behead an aid worker who was helping Syrians in times of war? Arabs and Muslims are throwing around all these traditions as “Islamic laws.” But they are not. You simply need access to Google to prove that those traditions are not part of Islam.

BUT TODAY, in many countries, you can’t say that in public without censure or more serious punishment. In Egypt, a student was sentenced to three years in prison for proclaiming that he was an atheist and “insulting Islam.” Yet he was simply declaring his disapproval of killing people who leave Islam or the practice of stoning for adultery. He questioned and ended up in trouble. Imagine how many who secretly believe the same thing but are afraid to speak out. It is this very instinct of wanting to know why, what and how that is being put to death slowly until it no longer exists.

Everyone must be allowed to talk, criticize and think, whether about religion, politics or social traditions. This is something that many in the Middle East gave up on a long time ago, until the glimpse of youthful hope of the Arab Spring, until it was hijacked by the old paternal and controlling elite.

“Yet too many Muslims have suspended basic critical thinking”

It is easy to capitalize on religious sentiment when people feel helpless. Equating political and religious authority is important in consolidating power. They feed into one another. Embracing a more radical or ”brave,” as its champions call it, interpretation of Islam makes the leader look less submissive to “evil western” powers for rejecting their sinful liberty.

Egyptian President Sisi, who many Egyptian seculars supported when he announced his coup, made it clear that Salafi groups and the al-Azhar religious authority was on his side. To the majority of Egyptians who voted for Morsi a year before he affirmed that he was even more Muslim than the Muslim Brotherhood itself.

IN TURKEY, Erdogan won three consecutive elections by adopting a subtle yet effective religious rhetoric to please his grassroots supporters. He no longer talks of secularism, freedom or democracy. Rather he asserts over and over again his religious identity, his wish to make women to be stay-at-home mothers, and act more “moral,” for example not laugh in public as one of his ministers suggested last year. All the while in Turkey journalists are being silenced and protests are being squashed or gunned down.

Ideological extremism exists in every country and every religion, yet the fact that it remains part of the government, whether democratic or not, is the very reason repression remains endemic in the region. At its root is this idea of not being able to think freely. One doesn’t need surveys or statistics to show that where freedom of speech exists and prevails, societies and nations stand a better chance of enhanced lives, a better chance at practicing their beliefs, in other words a real democracy, not a farcical one.

Any views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.

There Are Two Sorts Of People In The World, Those Who Divide People Into Categories And Those Who Don’t!

murdoch tweet p

Now I seem to remember that one of the reasons that John Howard refused to apologise to the stolen generation was that “we” weren’t personally responsible. Afterl all, none of “us” ever stole children so how could “we” apologise for something we didn’t do. And I seem to remember that the Murdoch Media was fairly supportive of this position.

But now I find that Mr. Murdoch embraces the notion of collective responsibility. If you’re a member of a particular group, then you’re responsible for the actions of all members of that group.

It’s an interesting concept.

Should perhaps all energy companies be fined for the actions of Enron?

Or all newspaper journalists be jailed for the phone hacking in Britain?

Of course, it’s be ridiculous to jail all journalists. I think just the ones who work for Murdoch  would probably be enough.

But now we’ve established the notion of group responsibility. Here is my quick list of people who should apologise on behalf of their group:

  1. All police should apologise for the death in Ferguson.
  2. All bank employees should apologise for the GFC.
  3. All drivers should apologise for the car that cut me off the other day.
  4. All Dutch immigrants should apologise for Andrew Bolt.
  5. All teenagers should apologise for the popularity of “One Direction”.
  6. Alll Australians should apologise for the election of the Abbott government.

Ok, it’s only a quick list, and maybe an apology isn’t enough. Maybe like Rupert says until the people who are part of the group “recognise and destroy”…

Oooh, that sounds a bit nasty and threatening when put in another context. Gee, I certainly don’t want to suggest that any member of that group should “recognise and destroy” someone else in the group.

I mean, people reading this blog might get the wrong idea about what I mean and it would sound like I were inciting hatred and violence.

Lucky Rupert’s made himself a lot clearer about what he means by “recognise and destroy” and that the words won’t encourage such things!

Media at war, death by our side. Do we play by the Geneva convention? Iraq doing it for themselves.

ISIL can be defeated


ISIL will be punished

ISIL is not the only group using the media as a weapon of war, with one anti-ISIL TV station also gaining ground in Iraq.

Al Jazeera’s Charles Stratford reports from northern Iraq.

How Surveillance Turns Ordinary People Into Terrorism Suspects Wiley Gill did nothing wrong. How did he get on a list of suspected terrorists?

This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

It began with an unexpected rapping on the front door.

When Wiley Gill opened up, no one was there. Suddenly, two police officers appeared, their guns drawn, yelling, “Chico Police Department.”

“I had tunnel vision,” Gill said, “The only thing I could see was their guns.”

After telling him to step outside with his hands in the air, the officers lowered their guns and explained. They had received a report—later determined to be unfounded—that a suspect in a domestic disturbance had fled into Gill’s house. The police officers asked the then-26-year-old if one of them could do a sweep of the premises. Afraid and feeling he had no alternative, Gill agreed. One officer remained with him, while the other conducted the search. After that they took down Gill’s identification information. Then they were gone—but not out of his life.

Instead, Gill became the subject of a “suspicious activity report,” or SAR, which police officers fill out when they believe they’re encountering a person or situation that “reasonably” might be connected in some way to terrorism. The one-page report, filed shortly after the May 2012 incident, offered no hint of terrorism. It did, however, suggest that the two officers had focused on Gill’s religion, noting that his “full conversion to Islam as a young [white male] and pious demeanor is [sic] rare.”

The report also indicated that the officer who entered the house had looked at Gill’s computer screen and recalled something “similar to ‘Games that fly under the radar'” on it. According to the SAR, this meant Gill “had potential access to flight simulators via the Internet.” Gill suspects that he was probably looking at a website about video games. The SAR also noted earlier police encounters with Gill, in his mosque and on the street. It recorded his “full beard and traditional garb” and claimed that he avoided “eye contact.”

In short, the Chico Police Department was secretly keeping tabs on Gill as a suspected terrorist. Yet nowhere in the SAR was there a scintilla of evidence that he was engaged in any kind of criminal activity whatsoever. Nevertheless, that report was uploaded to the Central California Intelligence Center, one of a network of Department of Homeland Security-approved domestic intelligence fusion centers. It was then disseminated through the federal government’s domestic intelligence-sharing network as well as uploaded into an FBI database known as e-Guardian, after which the Bureau opened a file on Gill.

We do not know how many government agencies now associate Wiley Gill’s good name with terrorism. We do know that the nation’s domestic-intelligence network is massive, including at least 59 federal agencies, over 300 Defense Department units, and approximately 78 state-based fusion centers, as well as the multitude of law enforcement agencies they serve. We also know that local law enforcement agencies have themselves raised concerns about the system’s lack of privacy protections.

And it wouldn’t end there for Gill.
The Architecture of Mass Suspicion

The SAR database is part of an ever-expanding domestic surveillance system established after 9/11 to gather intelligence on potential terrorism threats. At an abstract level, such a system may seem sensible: far better to prevent terrorism before it happens than to investigate and prosecute after a tragedy. Based on that reasoning, the government exhorts Americans to “see something, say something”—the SAR program’s slogan.

Indeed, just this week at a conference in New York City, FBI Director James Comey asked the public to report any suspicions they have to authorities. “When the hair on the back of your neck stands, listen to that instinct and just tell somebody,” said Comey. And seeking to reassure those who do not want to get their fellow Americans in trouble based on instinct alone, the FBI director added, “We investigate in secret for a very good reason, we don’t want to smear innocent people.”

There are any number of problems with this approach, starting with its premise. Predicting who exactly is a future threat before a person has done anything wrong is a perilous undertaking. That’s especially the case if the public is encouraged to report suspicions of neighbors, colleagues, and community members based on a “hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck” threshold. Nor is it any comfort that the FBI promises to protect the innocent by investigating “suspicious” people in secret. The civil liberties and privacy implications are, in fact, truly hair-raising, particularly when the Bureau engages in abusive and discriminatory sting operations and other rights violations.

At a fundamental level, suspicious activity reporting, as well as the digital and physical infrastructure of networked computer servers and fusion centers built around it, depends on what the government defines as suspicious. As it happens, this turns out to include innocuous, First Amendment-protected behavior.

As a start, a little history: the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative was established in 2008 as a way for federal agencies, law enforcement, and the public to report and share potential terrorism-related information. The federal government then developed a list of 16 behaviors that it considered “reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism.” Nine of those 16 behaviors, as the government acknowledges, could have nothing to do with criminal activity and are constitutionally protected, including snapping photographs, taking notes, and “observation through binoculars.”

Under federal regulations, the government can only collect and maintain criminal intelligence information on an individual if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is “involved in criminal conduct or activity and the information is relevant to that criminal conduct or activity.” The SAR program officially lowered that bar significantly, violating the federal government’s own guidelines for maintaining a “criminal intelligence system.”

There’s good reason for, at a minimum, using a reasonable suspicion standard. Anything less and it’s garbage in, garbage out, meaning counterterrorism “intelligence” databases become anything but intelligent.
When the Mundane Looks Suspicious

The SAR program provides striking evidence of this.

In 2013, the ACLU of Northern California obtained nearly 2,000 SARs from two state fusion centers, which collect, store, and analyze such reports, and then share those their intelligence analysts find worthwhile across what the federal government calls its Information Sharing Environment. This connects the fusion centers and other federal agencies into an information-sharing network, or directly with the FBI. Their contents proved revealing.

A number of reports were concerned with “ME”—Middle Eastern—males. One headline proclaimed, “Suspicious ME Males Buy Several Large Pallets of Water at REDACTED.” Another read, “Suspicious Activities by a ME Male in Lodi, CA.” And just what was so suspicious about this male? Read into the document and you discover that a sergeant at the Elk Grove Police Department had long been “concerned about a residence in his neighborhood occupied by a Middle Eastern male adult physician who is very unfriendly.” And it’s not just “Middle Eastern males” who provoke such suspicion. Get involved in a civil rights protest against the police and California law enforcement might report you, too. A June 2012 SAR was headlined “Demonstration Against Law Enforcement Use of Excessive Force” and reported that “a scheduled protest” by demonstrators “concerned about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” was about to occur.

What we have here isn’t just a failure to communicate genuine threat information, but the transformation of suspicion into pernicious ideological, racial, and religious profiling, often disproportionately targeting activists and American Muslims. Again, that’s not surprising. Throughout our history, in times of real or perceived fear of amorphously defined threats, government suspicion focuses on those who dissent or look or act differently.
Counterterrorism Accounting

Law enforcement officials, including the Los Angeles Police Department’s top counterterrorism officer, have themselves exhibited skepticism about suspicious activity reporting (out of concern with the possibility of overloading the system).

In 2012, George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute surveyed counterterrorism personnel working in fusion centers and in a report generally accepting of SARs noted that the program had “flooded fusion centers, law enforcement, and other security outfits with white noise,” complicating “the intelligence process” and distorting “resource allocation and deployment decisions.” In other words, it was wasting time and sending personnel off on wild goose chases.

A few months later, a scathing report from the Senate subcommittee on homeland security described similar intelligence problems in state-based fusion centers. It found that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) personnel assigned to the centers “forwarded ‘intelligence’ of uneven quality—oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections… and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

Effectiveness doesn’t exactly turn out to be one of the SAR program’s strong suits, though the government has obscured this by citing the growing number of SARs that have triggered FBI investigations. However, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FBI doesn’t track whether SARs uploaded into the domestic intelligence network actually help thwart terrorism or lead to arrests or convictions.

You are, of course, what you measure—in this case, not much; and yet, despite its dubious record, the SAR program is alive and kicking. According to the GAO, the number of reports in the system exploded by 750%, from 3,256 in January 2010 to 27,855 in October 2012.

And being entered in such a system, as Wiley Gill found out, can prove just the beginning of your problems. Several months after his home was searched, his telephone rang. It was a Chico police officer who told Gill to shut down his Facebook page. Gill refused, responding that there was only one reason he thought the police wanted his account deleted: its references to Islam. The phone call ended ominously with the officer warning Gill that he was on a “watchlist.”

The officer may have been referring to yet another burgeoning secret database that the federal government calls its “consolidated terrorism watchlist.” Inclusion in this database—and on government blacklists that are generated from it—can bring more severe repercussions than unwarranted law enforcement attention. It can devastate lives.
Twenty-First-Century Blacklists

When small business owner Abe Mashal reached the ticket counter at Chicago’s Midway Airport on April 20, 2010, an airline representative informed him that he was on the no-fly list and could not travel to Spokane, Washington, on business. Suddenly, the former Marine found himself surrounded by TSA agents and Chicago police. Later, FBI agents questioned him at the airport and at home about his Muslim faith and his family members.

The humiliation and intimidation didn’t end there. A few months later, FBI agents returned to interview Mashal, focusing again on his faith and family. Only this time they had an offer to make: if he became an FBI informant, his name would be deleted from the no-fly list and he would be paid for his services. Such manipulative quid pro quos have been made to others.

Mashal refused. The meeting ended abruptly, and he wasn’t able to fly for four years.

As of August 2013, there were approximately 47,000 people, including 800 US citizens and legal permanent residents like Mashal, on that secretive no-fly list, all branded as “known or suspected terrorists.” All were barred from flying to, from, or over the United States without ever being given a reason why. On 9/11, just 16 names had been on the predecessor “no transport” list. The resulting increase of 293,650%—perhaps more since 2013—isn’t an accurate gauge of danger, especially given that names are added to the list based on vague, broad, and error-prone standards.

The harm of being stigmatized as a suspected terrorist and barred from flying is further compounded when innocent people try to get their names removed from the list.

In 2007, the Department of Homeland Security established the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program through which those who believe they are wrongly blacklisted can theoretically attempt to correct the government’s error. But banned flyers quickly find themselves frustrated because they have to guess what evidence they must produce to refute the government’s unrevealed basis for watchlisting them in the first place. Redress then becomes a grim bureaucratic wonderland. In response to queries, blacklisted people receive a letter from the DHS that gives no explanation for why they were not allowed to board a plane, no confirmation of whether they are actually on the no-fly list, and no certainty about whether they can fly in the future. In the end, the only recourse for such victims is to roll the dice by buying a ticket, going to the airport, and hoping for the best.

Being unable to board a plane can have devastating consequences, as Abe Mashal can attest. He lost business opportunities and the ability to mark life’s milestones with friends and family.

There is hope, however. In August, four years after the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 people on the no-fly list, a judge ruled that the government’s redress system is unconstitutional. In early October, the government notified Mashal and six others that they were no longer on the list. Six of the ACLU’s clients remain unable to fly, but at least the government now has to disclose just why they have been put in that category, so that they can contest their blacklisting. Soon, others should have the same opportunity.
Suspicion First, Innocence Later… Maybe

The No Fly List is only the best known of the government’s web of terrorism watchlists. Many more exist, derived from the same master list. Currently, there are more than one million names in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, a database maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center. This classified source feeds the Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), operated by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. The TSDB is an unclassified but still secret list known as the “master watchlist.” containing what the government describes as “known or suspected terrorists,” or KSTs.

According to documents recently leaked to the Intercept, as of August 2013 that master watchlist contained 680,000 people, including 5,000 US citizens and legal permanent residents. The government can add people’s names to it according to a shaky “reasonable suspicion” standard. There is, however, growing evidence that what’s “reasonable” to the government may only remotely resemble what that word means in everyday usage. Information from a single source, even an uncorroborated Facebook post, can allow a government agent to watchlist an individual with virtually no outside scrutiny. Perhaps that’s why 40% of those on the master watchlist have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation,” according to the government’s own records.

Nothing encapsulates the post-9/11, Alice-in-Wonderland inversion of American notions of due process more strikingly than this “blacklist first, innocence later… maybe” mindset.

The Terrorist Screening Database is then used to fill other lists. In the context of aviation, this means the no-fly list, as well as the selectee and expanded selectee lists. Transportation security agents subject travelers on the latter two lists to extra screenings, which can include prolonged and invasive interrogation and searches of laptops, phones, and other electronic devices. Around the border, there’s the State Department’s Consular Lookout and Support System, which it uses to flag people it thinks shouldn’t get a visa, and the TECS System, which Customs and Border Protection uses to determine whether someone can enter the country.

Inside the United States, no watchlist may be as consequential as the one that goes by the moniker of the Known or Appropriately Suspected Terrorist File. The names on this blacklist are shared with more than 17,000 state, local, and tribal police departments nationwide through the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Unlike any other information disseminated through the NCIC, the KST File reflects mere suspicion of involvement with criminal activity, so law enforcement personnel across the country are given access to a database of people who have secretly been labeled terrorism suspects with little or no actual evidence, based on virtually meaningless criteria.

This opens up the possibility of increased surveillance and tense encounters with the police, not to speak of outright harassment, for a large but undivulged number of people. When a police officer stops a person for a driving infraction, for instance, information about his or her KST status will pop up as soon a driver’s license is checked. According to FBI documents, police officers who get a KST hit are warned to “approach with caution” and “ask probing questions.”

When officers believe they’re about to go face to face with a terrorist, bad things can happen. It’s hardly a stretch of the imagination, particularly after a summer of police shootings of unarmed men, to suspect that an officer approaching a driver whom he believes to be a terrorist will be quicker to go for his gun. Meanwhile, the watchlisted person may never even know why his encounters with police have taken such a peculiar and menacing turn. According to the FBI’s instructions, under no circumstances is a cop to tell a suspect that he or she is on a watchlist.

And once someone is on this watchlist, good luck getting off it. According to the government’s watchlist rulebook, even a jury can’t help you. “An individual who is acquitted or against whom charges are dismissed for a crime related to terrorism,” it reads, “may nevertheless meet the reasonable standard and appropriately remain on, or be nominated to, the Terrorist Watchlist.”

No matter the verdict, suspicion lasts forever.
Shadow ID

The SARs program and the consolidated terrorism watchlist are just two domestic government databases of suspicion. Many more exist. Taken together, they should be seen as a new form of national ID for a growing group of people accused of no crime, who may have done nothing wrong, but are nevertheless secretly labeled by the government as suspicious or worse. Innocent until proven guilty has been replaced with suspicious until determined otherwise.

Think of it as a new shadow system of national identification for a shadow government that is increasingly averse to operating in the light. It’s an ID its “owners” don’t carry around with them, yet it’s imposed on them whenever they interact with government agents or agencies. It can alter their lives in disastrous ways, often without their knowledge.

And they could be you.

If this sounds dystopian, that’s because it is.