October has brought three evenings of queasy debating between presidential candidates. Some Americans were cheering for their favorite demagogue, Trump, and some were cheering for Clinton’s ability to remain poised in his wrath. Some were comically indifferent as they turned the evening into a drinking game that likely required many of them to call out of work the following day. Many of us, however, watched on in horror as we witnessed volatile dialogue between the parties competing to become the leader of the free world.
As expected, on October 9th, debate rhetoric eventually shifted to the grim reality of how Muslim Americans fit into the American fabric given the heightened frequency of Islamophobic violence today. After audience member Gorbah Hamed asked both candidates how they would help Muslims in terms of vicious anti-Muslim sentiment, both candidates expressed the need for Muslims to report suspicious behavior to authorities and to be “the eyes and ears” of our government.
It is well established, and has already been heavily discussed, that limiting the framing of Muslim American relevance to the national security narrative is both dehumanizing and insulting. The notion that we are only valuable so long as we contribute to, and bear burdens for, the furtherance of national security objectives is one that reduces us to suspect actors until we prove our value in this schema based on our furnishing of desired information. After all, why was it that it took Khizr Khan, speaking to millions of viewers about his fallen son to somewhat restore Muslim humanization in election rhetoric? Because the current political climate espouses that Muslim humanity may only be granted restoration through our deaths in illegal wars and our subscription to national security protocols that paint us all with the same unforgiving brush. It also creates an “Us versus Them” dichotomy by which Muslim victimhood is erased from discussions on terrorism and we are viewed as peoples who harbor dangerous actors rather than as a community that is similarly plagued by those actors.
It is in light of this understanding that #MuslimsReportStuff was born, with Muslim Twitterati humorously wrecking the proposition that they have an affirmative duty, distinct from their non-Muslim peers, to report their observations in order to be worthy of positive government engagement. The tweets were hilarious and some of the best compilations can be easily found by way of a simple Google search. But while they highlight the absurdity of this duty to report in order to quell Islamophobia, they fail to highlight a truth about reporting and Muslim policing that is seldom discussed: Muslims do report. The truth is, many Muslims and Muslim organizations actually work closely with the government in furtherance of policing efforts. Notably, in spite of the uproar that followed the October 9th debate, the same rhetoric was proffered on the October 19th debate, during which Clinton continued to call for American Muslims to be “on the front lines” of the fight against terror thereby contributing to anti-Muslim bias. It is thus imperative to understand the realities of Muslim engagement with our government.
New York City is an exemplary case study of both the existence of Muslim-government engagement and the irrationality of excessive community policing. This city prides itself for having the best counter-terrorism force in the world. Much of that, however, is not due to the six-year undercover operation that was conducted in this city’s mosques and universities by the New York Police Department. During those six years, undercover officers posed as members of various mosques and enrolled as students in various universities as they probed corresponding Muslim Students Associations/Organizations. These officers listened for problematic khutbahs and even enrolled in classes with Muslim students in order to learn more about their world views via class discussion. They tracked library book checkouts and even went on student retreats to get to know their pool of suspects better. In some cases, officers also emulated radical personalities in order to bait interested minds, thus zeroing in on the danger they sought.
The end of this six-year sting was a momentous one, as it was brought to an end after the Associated Press released a series of award-winning articles exposing the operation. It was an expose that shook the city, and left Muslim college students, like myself, at that time feeling exceptionally othered. The best part? After six years, the operation resulted in no leads. Zero. In the cases where officers emulated radical ideals to bait mosque congregants, those same congregants reported those undercover officers to the authorities—repulsed by the beliefs the officers believed they would find in those same community members.
The above serves as only a single example among many for Muslim communities in the United States. As a result of this absence of dialogue related to the realities of Muslim reporting to and engaging with government actors, there is a largely uninformed American populace that continues to hinge Muslim American humanity on desired behaviors that have already been happening for years. This is the very populace that continues to have these misconceptions affirmed by presidential candidates who both espouse that Muslims are just not doing enough as they compete for the most powerful position in the world. They are blinded by unawareness and, in many cases, flourish in their own willful blindness, as they continue to view the Muslim American community as one that is dogmatic, hateful, and unwilling to cooperate with the police power.
Thus, the dehumanizing requirement of Muslim “participation” in order to ease the sting of Islamophobia is unfounded in the face of the fact that, not only have Muslims been reporting, but their cooperation as Americans in the shared fight against terror has resulted in the transmission of a great wealth of imperative national security intelligence. In fact, Muslim Americans have alerted law enforcement about more terror suspects than U.S. intelligence to date. Furthermore, these communities, despite being subject to a highly intrusive police power, remain steadfast in their commitment to engaging with government actors, as evidenced through the many Muslim organizations in the country that similarly espouse this problematic rhetoric that frames reporting and policing as an affirmative duty.
Ultimately, this begs the question(s): What do our candidates really want in terms of Muslim relations? How can they desire engagement that they already receive? What will it really take to restore Muslim humanity in the American politico? And when will that humanity no longer be based on our ability to perform as informants?
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