Four individuals were arrested in Lodi, California on Tuesday, two Muslim Americans and two Muslim religious leaders. The religious leaders were arrested on immigration violation charges and the other two were charged with lying to federal agents. However, an FBI agent proudly informed the community that a link between the Lodi Muslim community and al-Qaeda may have been found.
Just recently in January 2005 the FBI concluded in a 32-page report that, "US Government efforts to date also have not revealed evidence of concealed cells or networks acting in the homeland as sleepers."
This supposed new revelation was made based on the interrogation FBI conducted with one Umar Hayat, a 22 year old US citizens who was returning from Pakistan after allegedly attending the camp. Interestingly, the arrests came after the senate issued a serious criticism of FBI and its functioning.
If the arrests really lead to the busting of a sleeper cell, then we all must express our gratitude to our law enforcement agencies and demand severe punishment from our courts. Additionally, as Muslims we must make it clear that there is no place in our mosques and Islamic Centers of those people who nurture ideas of committing acts of violence and terror against others.
Even though the arrest of two religious leaders was not related with the arrest of the other two US citizens, the FBI as well as the media presented that as part of a terror plot cleverly unearthed by the law enforcement agencies. CNN, Fox and other news channels jumped on the story and started raising all sort of possibilities. Fox reported that the plot to bomb super market was foiled. CNN asked "terrorism experts", how peaceful were mosques in the US? Others questioned the character of Muslim religious leaders etc. No one even tried to clarify that the arrests of two religious leaders had nothing to do with the so called terror related arrests. Even the FBI officials failed to make a distinction between immigration related arrests and other arrests.
It would not be far fetched to assume that law enforcement agencies have a strong undercover presence in mosques and Islamic centers, most sermons in US mosques are wire taped and a number of Muslim leaders are kept under surveillance. Additionally, law enforcement officials have found several Muslim organizations who are their willing partners in their hunt for terrorists. Yet, during the last four years, no one has produced any shred of evidence linking any mosque with any groups identified by the state department as terrorists. Yet, the image that the media and many in law enforcement agencies have often given specially in relation to the Lodi arrests is that mosques are not safe and Muslim American religious clerics are involved in plots to harm Americans and their institutions. This raises questions questions about their real motives. By issuing such generalized statements, these groups are not only spreading fear among citizens but are also making Muslims and mosques targets of suspicion, hatred, arson and violence. Since September 11, 2001 more than 50 mosques have been harmed one way or the other and thousands of Muslims including children and women have been terrorized by groups or individuals who have developed a hostility against Islam and Muslims.
What is also ironic is that law enforcement agencies have already given their verdict in these arrests and indicted the religious leaders as well as the other two suspects before they were even put before a magistrate for a trail.
Regardless of the outcome of the case, this is unconstitutional as it deprives people of their rights to remain innocent until proven guilty. Apparently, in the name of national security and campaign to fight terrorism, everything seems to be legitimized. A few months ago, the law enforcement agencies proudly announced the arrests of two would be suicide bombers in New York, only to release them later and drop all charges. However, the damage their announcement caused to Muslims was unspeakable.
Muslim Americans have categorically affirmed their commitment to the process of justice. Their organizations have also continued to denounce terrorism even before September 11. Yet, they are still seen suspects and fifth columnists by many religious and political groups as well as many in law enforcement agencies. Muslim Americans have never interfered in judicial process. They have even demanded fair and open trials in all cases. Bring all the evidence and convict the criminal if he or she has committed the crime, they have always argued.
Yet, their voices have not been taken seriously. Most of them are still viewed as suspects or intelligence assets and they have remained outside the framework of efforts being launched to fight terrorism. They were not considered worthy of giving their opinions on September 11 terror act even by the commission that was created to investigate it. Not many Muslims have been invited to participate in any congressional hearing on the subject. Even in media reports on such cases, Muslim voices are rarely heard. None of the news channel asked any Muslim religious or political leaders to comment on the developing story in Lodi even though they probably are the best people to talk about mosques, Islamic centers and the culture that prevails there.
It is apparent that in order to sensationalize an event and drive political mileage, the life of an entire community is being jeopardized. Those in law enforcement agencies are indirectly encouraging people to hate Muslims by making irresponsible statements and those in media are playing on the fear complex of people. They are creating an anti-Muslim hysteria in the country and are doing a great a disservice to the founding principals of this nation.
Dr. Aslam Abdullah is Editor of the Muslim Observer and director of the Islamic Society of Nevada as well as the Muslim Electorates Council of America.
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