A tale of two cities
|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.
Topics: Crime And Justice, Illinois, Terrorism
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.
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.
Only a Muslim can have such a great name as a TERRORIST.
hOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE CALLED A jew, THAT NAME IS ONLY FOR THE jew.
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?
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.