To Fight Terrorism, Treat Muslim-Americans With Respect

U.S. Constitution
U.S. Constitution

In the wake of the horrific November 13th terror attacks in Paris by individuals claiming ISIS affiliations, a number of Republican candidates for President have argued that protecting against similar attacks in the United States requires treating all Muslims as potential terrorists.

Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, for example, have argued that the United States should only admit Christian refugees and should exclude Muslims, sparking comparisons to the rhetoric espoused by many Americans in the early years of the Second World War who refused to accept Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. And Donald Trump has argued that all Muslims should be made to register and carry identification cards, a proposal that harkens back to similar registration programs for blacks in apartheid South Africa and Japanese Americans during World War II.

These proposals are outrageous, vitriolic and un-American, not to mention arguably violative of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Indeed, to treat all Muslim Americans as potential terrorists is not only fundamentally unfair and contrary to American values, but is patently absurd.

The hard truth is that we cannot securitize our way out of the terrorism threat from ISIS, Al Qaeda, Far Right, Nationalist or other terrorist threats simply by arbitrarily increasing the numbers of bombings, arrests, or amount of surveillance. It is simply unfeasible to sufficiently implement security to the level necessary to protect against all possible terrorist attacks -- we simply have too large a population and too many potential targets, from shopping malls, stadiums, music venues, restaurants, subways, and even crowded city streets. Such singularly focused and overly-broad securitization approaches seek out needles in haystacks, but are both extremely costly and generate the feeling of living in a police state.

Terrorism is a long-term problem requiring thoughtful long-term solutions. The only reliable way we as a nation can adequately protect ourselves from terrorism in the long run is to apply a variety of tactics that not only help us reasonably and proportionately identify and stop bona fide terrorist threats, but also comply with the letter and spirit of our Constitutional protections.

To do this effectively, Muslim Americans, like all Americans, must be treated with dignity and respect by law enforcement agencies (not to mention government officials and politicians). It is only by building genuine trust and confidence between law enforcement and local communities that the potential for meaningful partnerships can flourish.

We have seen this done effectively post-9/11 with Muslim and other communities in cities like Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Montgomery County, Maryland, Boston, and Northern Virginia. These models for law enforcement-community partnerships can help prevent all sorts of potential violence -- be it gang activity, street crime or terrorism.

By using holistic approaches to violence prevention in local communities, the foundation can be laid to prevent terrorism in the long term. Alienating Muslim communities, or any communities that feel marginalized or alienated, not only runs the risk of making these Americans feel like constant suspects in their own country, but also deprives law enforcement from the benefits of their cultural insights, the advice on best practices for engaging youths and other vulnerable individuals, and the cooperation that could help identify pressing community problems or suspicious activities in local communities.

It is also important to look at the actual facts when it comes to domestic terrorism. Although homegrown terrorism has become a hot-button political issue, incidents involving Muslims are extremely rare. According to a 2013 study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, since 9/11 terrorism by those identifying as Muslim American has claimed 33 lives in the United States, while terrorism by those identifying as Far Right has killed more than 200 Americans during the same period.

Rather than seeing widespread support for violent extremism in Muslim American communities, the data show precisely the opposite is true -- that Muslim Americans are law-abiding, civic-minded, and as vocal as other American communities in their opposition to terrorism. In fact, Muslim Americans are probably even more vocal than other communities in their opposition to terrorism. Moreover, data from a number of reliable studies have repeatedly shown that Muslim Americans continue to be the largest source of tips that have brought terror suspects to authorities' attention since 9/11. For example, according to a 2011 study by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, tips from Muslim American communities helped thwart terrorist plots in 52 of 140 cases involving Muslim Americans. This means that at least 37 percent of foiled domestic terror plots have been thwarted with the help of Muslim Americans.

The choice to fight terrorism is simple: we can alienate, marginalize, and question the loyalty of seven million proud Muslim Americans, or we can ardently protect and defend the civil rights and civil liberties of our compatriots, honor their right to practice their religion, and recognize that they can be law enforcement's key partners in preventing terrorism.

In short, it is a choice between being ridiculous and being sensible, a choice between falling into the ideological trap laid by ISIS to instigate a false war between Muslims and Christians, and remaining true to our values, our Constitution, and the rule of law.