Islamophobia Aff—um 7ws they never loved us

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Islamophobia Aff—UM 7wS

They never loved us


Domestic surveillance is a militarized, extrajudicial tool used to target Muslims and black people birthed from COINTELPRO. The death of black and brown bodies and pervasiveness of surveillance is now so common that it is both banal and unnoticed.

We begin by mourning Luqman Abdullah, a Muslim imam and community activist who served thousands while renouncing violence. Peaceful community service couldn’t save him—he was “unfinished business” from COINTELPRO and was surveilled, infiltrated and assassinated by federal agents because he dared to challenge imperialism and structual oppression

Kundnani, 15—Arun, Professor of Terror Studies and Media @ NYU & John Jay College, formerly a Fellow @ Leiden U (Netherlands), an Open Society Fellow, and Editor of Race and Class. The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror, p. 1-5 –BR

Death came instantly to Imam Luqman, as four FBI agents fired semiautomatic rifles from a few feet away. Sixty law enforcement officers-including a special operations team the FBI had flown in from Quantico, Virginia, a SWAT team from the FBI's Detroit field office, and officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police-had surrounded the warehouse in Dearborn, Michigan, where the imam and his four colleagues were loading television sets into a trailer on the morning of October 28, 2009. Luqman Abdullah had been the leader of the Al-Haqq Mosque on Detroit's impoverished West Side for thirty years. Every Sunday he and his followers had run a soup kitchen, providing some of the basic needs of the local community. The majority of the people in the neighborhood were either unemployed or in low-paying jobs, and they depended on such initiatives for their survival. The landscape of mostly empty and burned-out buildings was testimony to the exodus of huge swathes of the city's population and the practice of families sharing houses when they could no longer afford the rent on their own homes. Imam Luqman was a familiar face, always available to help out Muslim and non-Muslim alike. His favorite word was "grassroots,” says his son Omar Regan.

He had a strong desire to change the neighborhood. He believed that Islam would help people get off drugs, alcohol, and depression. But he wouldn't even really preach for them to be Muslim more than he would push for them to at least act like they were Muslim. He'd just give it to you real. Everybody always talked to him, because they appreciated his direct approach. He believed we got to change the condition of our people, because the government ain't going to do it. And he would say we need to stand up and fight for our rights, because the government's pushing us around, trying to make us feel like we got something to do with 9/11 when we ain't got nothing to do with that kind of stuff. That's how my dad would talk—he's from back in the sixties.1

Luqman Abdullah had converted to Islam in the early 1980s, after serving in the military and then falling into depression. The inspiration for his conversion was Jamil al-Amin, who in the 1960s, under the name of H. Rap Brown, had been a leading activist with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Over the course of a decade, in the face of racist violence and the Democratic Party's sluggish response to the organization's attempts to break southern segregation, SNCC had radicalized; it came to advocate black power and opposition to the Vietnam war, and eventually merged with the Black Panther Party. Rap Brown rose to the top of the FBI's target list of black revolutionaries, and soon enough, the bureau found its opportunity to imprison him-on incitement to riot charges. Brown converted to orthodox Islam while in prison in New York in 1971 for reasons no doubt similar to those which led Luqman Abdullah to do the same a decade later. For both, Islam preached active struggle for racial justice alongside individual spiritual development; it offered a way to live and a vision of a better life. This interpretation of Islam offered a framework for continuing the black radical tradition of the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X after a period of defeat for black political struggle. The FBl's Counter­intelligence Program (known as COINTELPRO) had secretly destabilized the movement and entrapped its activists. Brown, now calling himself Jamil al-Amin, was released from prison in 1976 and settled in Atlanta, Georgia. He opened a community grocery store and helped rid the neighborhood of drugs. But he continued to face regular law enforcement harassment and arbitrary arrests. Eventually, in 2000, al-Amin was arrested on murder charges after a shootout with two Fulton County Sheriff 's deputies occurred. Al-Amin was identified by the surviving officer as the shooter who had been wounded in the exchange of gunfire-even though he had no injuries and another person had confessed to the crime. He is now caged in the "domestic Guantanamo;' the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where the US government incarcerates those it accuses of being among the most dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists.

By the time the war on terror was launched in 2001 much of the sixties generation of black radical activists had been exhausted, co-opted, imprisoned, or killed, to a large degree victims of the FBI's efforts to destroy the movement. But Luqman Abdullah, who was leading the campaign to free Jamil al-Amin, was still preaching radicalism to his small congregation in Detroit. As Omar Regan puts it, he was "unfinished business" from the days of COINTELPRO. And now the war on terror provided a new lens through which to view his activities. Soon the FBI was categorizing Abdullah as a "highly placed leader of a nationwide radical fundamentalist Sunni group consisting primarily of African-Americans" who had called his followers to "an offensive jihad, rather than a defensive jihad [in order] to establish a separate, sovereign Islamic state . . . within the borders of the United States, governed by Shariah law:'2 The implication was that he shared an ideology with al-Qaeda. In the sixties, figures such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali had been portrayed by the media as "Muslim extremists"; now a new set of images of Islamic extremism had come to the fore, images that could be used to manufacture an ideological connection between a radical black preacher on Detroit's West Side and the events of September 11, 2001.

In 2007, the FBI found its opportunity to begin targeting Imam Luqman's mosque. A member of the congregation had recently been arrested on murder charges, and in a deal with law enforcement, he agreed to work with the counterterrorism squad of the FBI's Detroit field office as part of a sting operation. Two other informants were also recruited, and a two-year undercover operation to infiltrate the mosque began. Many of the congregants had criminal records; all were struggling with poverty. The offer of an FBI payout was bound to be tempting. And when the FBI implemented its plan to lure those around Imam Luqman into helping fence stolen goods, it is easy to see how some of them were drawn in. The FBI's informants pretended they had a contact who needed help moving merchandise stolen from trucking companies. Just for turning up to discuss the plan, the contact, played by an FBI agent, gave everyone one hundred dollars. The second time they met, the FBI undercover agent paid one thou­ sand dollars to the group before anything had even happened, and promised another fifteen hundred dollar payment the following night. All they had to do was turn up at a warehouse in Dearborn and help move what they thought were stolen television sets and laptops from one semitrailer to another. This was repeated a number of times over the coming months, gradually drawing Imam Luqman himself into the operation so that he would also be present at the FBI's warehouse when the time came to carry out the raid.

An indictment was issued against Imam Luqman the day before the raid in October 2009 that charged him with conspiracy to sell stolen goods transported in interstate commerce, firearms possession violations, and alterations to a vehicle identification number. No terrorism-related charges were included, despite the involvement of the FBI's counterterrorism squad and the multiagency Joint Terrorism Task Force. But the indictment included claims, based on reports by the FBI-paid infiltrators, of conversations in which Imam Luqman had advocated "the spread of Islam through violent jihad, and violence against the United States government and against law enforcement:'3 These claims were never tested in court, since Iman Luqman was dead, and none of these conversations were taped. In one of the few conversations that was recorded by an informant, Imam Luqman was asked to donate money for someone to "do something" during the Super Bowl in Detroit. But he replied that he would not be involved in injuring innocent people. There seems little doubt that Imam Luqman viewed the US government as an oppressor and called on his followers to organize against it. Like the Black Panther Party, members of the mosque also carried guns. But there was no evidence of any plot to carry out a terrorist attack, just small­ time hustlers in an impoverished neighborhood struggling to pay the bills while denouncing America. As Abdullah Bey el-Amin, another African-American imam from the same neighborhood and a friend of Imam Luqman, put it, the radical talk was no more than “selling wolf tickets"—street-corner bragging. "You don't need all these crack-shot FBI and helicopters for somebody stealing a laptop:'4 Andrew Arena, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Detroit field office, maintains that Imam Luqman was "the leader of a domestic terrorist group.” When asked why no terrorism charges were brought, he replied: “There’s a lot of cases where we don't charge a person with terrorism. We charge them with whatever we can, to get them off the streets.” With no evidence of terrorism strong enough to hold up in a court, some other charge had to be concocted. But at the same time, in order to justify a sting operation on this scale, journalists were told that the mosque was a hotbed of violent fundamentalists. It proved easier to convict the imam of terrorism in the court of public opinion than in a court of law.

When the time came to finally spring their trap, the FBI's informants once again lured Imam Luqman to the Dearborn warehouse. At a prearranged time, the three informants exited the warehouse and explosives were let off inside as a distraction. A dozen federal agents approached Imam Luqman and his colleagues and commanded them to get down and show their hands. His four associates complied, but Imam Luqman delayed for a moment. Accounts of what happened next differ. Most likely suspecting that Imam Luqman was hiding a gun, the agents released a dog trained to grab an arm and, as the dog bit at his face, Imam Luqman fired at its chest, prompting return fire from four of the agents, who were positioned nearby, killing him instantly. While an agent handcuffed his body as it lay motionless on the warehouse floor, the police dog was evacuated by helicopter to a hospital for possible life-saving treatment. The federal agents commented later that in the seconds before they opened fire, Imam Luqman was looking directly at them and did not appear to be afraid.6

A thousand people attended the four-mile procession to Imam Luqman's funeral. The Department of Justice exonerated the FBI's handling of the arrest and declared his killing lawful. But there is little doubt that had the government chosen not to infiltrate his mosque and entrap him in a criminal conspiracy of its own invention, he would still be alive.

The killing of Imam Luqman barely registered in the news media. From one point of view, the manner of his death was hardly different from dozens of other killings of African Americans each year at the hands of militarized law enforcement agencies.7 From another perspective, he resembled the thousands of unnamed militants killed by drones in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Whether as an "Islamic extremist" or as an African American, his death was a perfectly normal occurrence. If the war on terror was the stuff of high-profile debates about war, torture, and surveillance in the Bush years, under President Obama it became a matter of bureaucratic routine, undramatic and unopposed. Although Obama was elected on a wave of opposition to Bush's war on terror, he then failed to take the US in a fundamentally different direction; the administration thereby effectively neutered any remaining opposition and made permanent what had been a "state of emergency:' The minor shifts that did occur were largely already in train in the closing years of the Bush administration. Obama continued along the same track with the same aim in mind: to find ways to continue projecting force in the Middle East and to maintain a national security state at home-but without the noisy and divisive political conflicts that had plagued Bush from 2003 onward. Thus, the US military occupation of Iraq was wound down while the war in Afghanistan, where the number of US troops was trebled, was presented as the "good war:' The number of prisoners at Guantanamo was decreased by around a third, but the 171 who remained were slated for indefinite detention in what was now a permanent internment camp. Speaking in Cairo in 2009, Obama attempted to draw a line through the clash of civilizations imagery of the post-9/11 period and offered instead a picture of respectful dialogue between cultures. But he did so without offering any of the changes in US foreign policy that would give such rhetoric substance. The PATRIOT Act was renewed and the state secrets doctrine was invoked to protect Bush-era officials from prosecution for their torture policy. Extraordinary rendition was wound down, while extrajudicial killings were stepped up.8 The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called it the "new normal:'9 The very banality of counterterrorism discourse secured its ideological power much more effectively than the confrontational rewriting-the-rules strategy of the Bush years. Neoconservatives invented the terror war, but Obama liberalism normalized it, at which point, mainstream journalists stopped asking questions.

What should, by any objective measure, have been the moment the war on terror finally ended actually marked its entry into banality. The killing of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011,just a few months before the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, came as uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt were providing a practical refutation of al-Qaeda's argument that violence against Western civilians was the only way to defeat the near enemy of autocratic regimes in the Middle East. Yet the terror war did not end. The chants of "U-S-A” on the streets of New York and Washington, led by Democrats happy that their president now had his own narrative of conquest, captured the mood. What was being celebrated was a victory in a continuing war rather than the outbreak of peace. There was little chance that this would be a moment to remember the hundreds of thousands killed around the world as a result of the conflict between al-Qaeda and Western governments. On that Sunday night, hours after bin Laden's death, CNN's resident terrorism expert, Peter Bergen, announced that it would mean the end of the war on terror. By Monday morning, after Hillary Clinton had said "the fight continues;' he was back on to correct his earlier assessment, echoing the official line: there could be no end to the war.10 A war that from the beginning had no clear limits or objectives could not now be concluded with the death of one man. The Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, passed by Congress three days after 9/11, established the war on terror paradigm of an open-ended, perpetual, global war. Today the Obama administration continues to rely on that authorization for the claim that it has a legal basis to carry out extrajudicial killings without geographical limit.11 The enemy had come to be understood as more than a single individual or organization; it was a set of ideas-radical Islam-that was defined vaguely enough that even the death of bin Laden would not halt the hundreds of billions of dollars in spending the war involved. Thus, the national security pundits warned, even greater dangers lurked at this very moment of apparent victory. The same terrorism experts who with the death of bin Laden pronounced the near elimination of what they called "core al-Qaeda" in Pakistan and Afghanistan also heralded new threats of Muslim radicalization in other parts of the world: Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Europe, and in the US itself. If the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had been justified on the grounds that fighting them "over there" was the best way to prevent attacks "over here;' a new phase of the war on terror under President Obama intensified the fear that Western Muslim citizens were also a threat.

In August 2011, the White House published its new strategy to prevent violent extremism within the US, which for the first time referred to the need to combat the circulation of extremist ideology among American Muslims. 12 The following month the US government used Predator drones to kill two American citizens in Yemen-Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Security officials described the two as "radicalizers" who had pioneered the use of the Internet to influence Western Muslims. 13 It was the first time the US government had openly ordered the extrajudicial killing of its own citizens. In another drone attack three weeks later, al-Awlaki's sixteen-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed, along with his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians.14 Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, then a senior adviser to Obama's reelection campaign, was asked by journalists about the killing; he said Abdulrahman should have had "a far more responsible father:'15 Congress began to consider the National Defense Authorization Act at the same time, which would not only lead to Guantanamo being kept open indefinitely but also codify the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens arrested on US soil. President Obama declined to veto the act. The common theme in these developments was the focus of the war on terror on the domestic front: the enemy now existed as much among our fellow citizens as in foreign lands. The government was no longer imagining the threat as foreign terrorist sleepers living among ordinary American Muslims; now it was the radicalization of ordinary American Muslims themselves that it feared. Polling carried out after bin Laden's killing suggested that Americans were more anxious about Muslim Americans being terrorists than they had been before. 16

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