A tale of two cities

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Crime And Justice, Illinois, Terrorism Views: 6886

Gale William Nettles, shown in a courtroom drawing, appears before U.S. Magistrate after his arrest Thursday, Aug. 5, 2004, in Chicago on charges of plotting to use a fertilizer truck bomb to blow up a federal courthouse.
AP Photo/Verna Sadock

Two arrests, two terror plots, two cities. In one city, two men are arrested for allegedly agreeing to launder money to pay for a shoulder-fired missile to assassinate a foreign ambassador. In the other city, a man is arrested after he was paid $10,000 in cash for delivering 1,500 pounds of fertilizer to an undercover FBI agent posing as a terrorist. A day earlier, authorities said he rented a storage facility with about 500 pounds of fertilizer which he planned to use to destroy a federal building via truck bomb. Both cases were elaborate sting operations, with every "terrorist collaborator" being either an undercover FBI agent or government informant. 

The first city was Albany, NY where two "mosque leaders" were arrested and charged with material support for terrorism and money laundering. The other city was Chicago, where an "ex-con" was arrested and accused of plotting to blow up the Dirksen Federal Building in Downtown Chicago. Clearly, all three men are terrorists, right? Well, not exactly. Although both cases smack of terrorism to me, if one reads the news articles about the arrests, I fear he may come away with a different conclusion.

I analyzed the articles published about the Albany and Chicago arrests in three newspapers: the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and Washington Post. It was striking how the tone of the articles differed. In the articles about the two men in Albany, NY, every single headline contained the words "mosque leaders." Why is that important? Why can't they simply be "two men," even though they may have been leaders in the Masjid As-Salam mosque in Albany? In the course of discussing the criminal complaint against the two men, each article talked about how law enforcement officials have claimed the men have ties to overseas terrorist organizations, particularly Ansar Al-Islam, a militant Iraqi group linked to Al Qaeda.

All three articles referred, in whole or in part, to this quote by Deputy Attorney General James Comey: "This case is important because we hope it will send a disrupting message to those out there who might be plotting to commit terrorist acts." The New York Times article quoted NY Governor George Pataki as saying, "The fact is there are terrorists among us who want to engage in acts to attack us again and to take away our freedom. I just want to reassure the public here in Albany and in New York and across America that our government, our administration in Washington, this state government and local officials are taking this threat to our freedom very seriously." 

Police officers stand outside the Masjid As-Salam  mosque in Albany, NY, August 5, 2004. 

Although terrorism was all over the Albany articles, I could hardly find mention of the word "terrorist" in any of the three articles about Gale William Nettles, the man arrested in Chicago for allegedly plotting to blow up the Dirksen Federal Building. The Chicago Tribune described him as "a troubled man with a long history of criminal convictions and mental problems, [and he] acted alone and had no connections to any terrorist organizations." The Washington Post called him a "convicted counterfeiter with an apparent grudge against the courts," and the New York Times quoted Thomas J. Kneir, special agent in charge of the Chicago office of the FBI, as saying that Nettles "absolutely hates the U.S. government." Even though Nettles allegedly sought out a member of Al Qaeda or Hamas in the course of his plot and even used the nickname "Ben Laden," not one article even hinted at calling Nettles a terrorist. Not one of the articles mentioned Nettles' religion or religious orientation.

What if Nettles was a Muslim? What if Nettles had been a convert to Islam? I would bet the farm that his religious beliefs would have been reported, and even stressed upon, in the articles. I bet that, had Nettles been a Muslim, the headline about his arrest would have read: "Terrorist plot foiled," or "Muslim convert arrested on alleged plot to blow up Federal Building." But since Nettles was not Muslim, he was "a troubled man with a long history of criminal convictions and mental problems."

This is truly sad. When terrorism has anything to do with Muslims, the religious beliefs of the accused are front and center. Some how, some way, these Muslims have "links" and "ties" to overseas terrorist organizations. Some how, some way, "jihad" also makes it into the article or broadcast about the accused. Although I admit that the articles about the two Albany men do not directly say they are terrorists, the background information reported and the allegations of law enforcement officials about them taint the two as terrorists, even before they have their day in court. Yet, whenever a domestic terrorist is caught, such as Nettles, their religion is not even mentioned. Frequently, if not consistently, they are described as "disturbed," or "troubled," or suffering from "mental problems." It is only natural, right? Muslims are terrorists by their very nature, but for a non-Muslim to also be a terrorist, he must be a mutant, "troubled and disturbed." 

I make no presumption of the guilt of any of the three accused. They are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. I just wish the articles about them would treat them in the same manner. I do give the New York Times some credit. At least they printed their article about Nettles under the heading "Domestic Threat," and they quoted U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as saying, "These are times of danger. We have to watch for people from overseas and we have to watch for people from our own country." Still, the articles about the Muslim men from Albany and Gale Nettles are strikingly different in tone and style, and it is wrong.

This is not the first time this type of reporting has occurred, and on one level, I echo the sentiments of Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American Islamic Relations: "It is something we just have to live with." Hooper was talking about the intense scrutiny of the American Muslim community by law enforcement agencies after September 11. I fear the same may be true for the incessant connection between terrorism and Islam and Muslims. Yet, just as Hooper continued, "When [the intense scrutiny] crosses the line into ethnic profiling, then we have to challenge it," we must continue to take the media to task when they do not report about similar cases of terrorism in a similar manner. Terrorism has many faces, and terrorists come in all flavors. Their religious persuasion should be absolutely irrelevant. I am sure the media understands this. It is high time they started acting as if they did.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is author of "Why I Love the Ten Commandments," published in the book Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith (Rodale Press), winner of the prestigious Wilbur Award for 2003 Best Religion Book of the Year by the Religion Communicators Council.

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Crime And Justice, Illinois, Terrorism
Views: 6886

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Older Comments:
Hesham has given a very thought provoking case which is so true and troubling at the same time. The double standards of the media in projecting anything Muslim to be linked to terrorism is nauseating. Good job Hesham. Hope the media behaves more maturely and true to itself and to others and stop sensationalizing news.

Mike as you can see not every orginisation is Fox news or CNN. Your views are there for every one to see.

These kinds of covert sting operations have been going on far longer than with just the events of today. It is done on purpose to try and prove how bad Muslims are. It is NOT a misunderstanding, it is blantant, deliberate act to make all of Islam look bad. As far as the media being involved, look back to the DC sniper coverage. On 19 News in Akron,Ohio, a female commentator actually said that when the man or men involved are arrested, we will know if it is the work of terrorists. My last look into the dictionary had various definitions of terror and terrorism, and it had nothing to do with ethnicity. The DC sniper envoked terror in a community, had people change their daily routines, and caused panic. All of these are lists in various dictionaries as acts of terror. Why then would we have to wait to see WHO the culprit is to classify it as such. If we think we have seen terrorism, just wait until the second part of the Patriot Act is implemented this fall in the US. The powers that be are not going to allow the women here to know that they are being exploited and used. The powers that be will not let the public know that there may be a better, more peaceful way to live than with the things that corrupt or tempt. The capital that would be lost by the illicit things is more than these powers to be are willing to risk. So keeping lies about Islam in the media and fear in the public, is their attempt to hold on to the corruption that pays off.

The problem now is of misunderstanding. One should ask himself/herself what could be done to solve this problem. It is easy to point the blaming finger at others and forget how we, as individuals and community, have continuously contributed to the situation we're living in. If every Muslim takes the time to talk to his/her friends and neighbors and explain to them what it really means to be a Muslim, we would be dealing with less misunderstanding. Remember how kind was the prophet to his neighbors regardless of their religion and regardless of how they treated him.

Articles, and cases for that matter, like these, 'm sure are numerous out there! Continue to bring them to light so that the not so yet convinced might have the clear picture of events in the present day world.

IT's WE AGAINST THEM! We muslims, against them, the Khazar Jews, Fundamentalist Christians and Neocons. I wonder how long, though it will take before the muslim world(entire) realise this and begin to act accordingly. May Allah open our eyes to the evil machinations of our adversaries so that we take heed and protect ourselves, AMEEN.

There is something that troubles me about the whole story. If you go to somebody who is in need of money and offer him "a big prize" to commit a crime what is the chance he would refuse that money? I don't think being Muslim or non-Muslim matters here, if the person is ethical, then he won't accept that money.
This reminds me of the undercover Police who disguise as prostitutes and go around tempting people into prostitution and when a person accepts, they arrest him. Don't get me wrong, prostitution is wrong, but tempting people into doing it and then arresting them for that sounds kind of weird.

Why, they are not Muslim, the Jews will never allow any news-Jews to be fed to US that have to do with terrorism.

Only a Muslim can have such a great name as a TERRORIST.


America, America, America.............where are you and the rest of the western world leading us ? I feel we are on a dowmward slope, we should be making tracks to peace, not building walls around us !! For the sake of the futures people, hold fire and use your minds not bullets.

i think this so called "sting" operation is wrong.
it sometimes makes the person do something he wasn't going to do when offfer him money or told him three, four or even teen times. that is what this agency is doing. this morrning i was reading an article on BBCWORLDSERVICE about a man who accepted to kill kobe Bryant's accuse when the police offer him $1m i believe. he didn't know there were a police and now facing charges. it is possible this man doesn't even have in his mind killing somebody, but when you offer $1m for somebody is broken two, three,four times, the chances is he would say OK although he can't even do it. why don't we just let people to decide their own what they do?

Whenever anyone like G.W. Nettles or Timothy McVeigh expresses sympathy for Muslim militancy, various "independent media analysts" are quick to suggest that such sentiments prove the existence of domestic/international terrorist connections. Whether or not such connections actually exist would, as yet, appear to be less than clear. For whatever it might be worth, in my view, it simply seems logical to suppose that domestic terrorists would be inclined to seek and/or to accept offers of assistance from foreign terrorists - especially if neither one seemingly had a fundamental objection to cooperating with the other. In the meantime, based on what the author appears to be saying, various "mainstream media interests" are attempting to conceal from Americans various signs that such connections exist.

So is the author suggesting that there is a "media conspiracy" - perhaps conspiring to prevent discord among Americans? If so then I admire the author's courage and dedication in striving for the truth to become known - for I imagine that ignoring such signs would not be good for Americans in the long run. However, if that is not actually what the author is striving for, frankly I seem to be missing the point.