Friday, July 22, 2005

Conflicting Images: Muslim Americans

Yesterday, the conflicting images of Muslims could not have been brought home to me more than in the two minutes I spent standing in line at the local Kinko's.

Thursday, July 21, I had woke up at around 5 AM and began watching the news, discovering that more bombs had gone off in London. The fact that I was up at 5 AM would surprise most people that know me. I'm not a morning person, but I did had some things to see to and I wanted to get an early start.

Even before this Thursday, I had been thinking that the Muslim community in England must be feeling more and more squeezed from both sides of the spectrum. The two sides being the British liberal society under attack by Muslim extremists pressuring the Muslim community to do more to help combat or identify terrorists in their midst and the other side the Islamists, possible terrorists, that are pressuring them to mind their Muslim identity, reject the liberal lifestyle they are confronted with and, if not actively, then passively resist the British government and its blandishments.

One could imagine that there are some Muslims that feel that they are being unduly pressured from both sides and that they would rather not be involved, would rather not act like they have "a horse in this race", would rather continue their quiet lives, working, praying, playing, eating, enjoying their family and, probably surprising to many, to continue to live their anonymous lives.

Just like non-Muslims.

Increasingly, as the war goes on, Muslim citizens will find themselves even more pressured, even more squeezed in the middle and asked more and more from each side to take a stand.

Until now, western governments have really attempted to keep the attention and the pressure from the Muslim communities, to, in a real sense, trying to keep them as a whole on the side lines of the fight, neither identifying them as actors nor controllers of the situation. We have quietly told them we need their help, but we have not actively pointed to them as a part of society that we need to worry about. While many understand that it is from this contingent that the terrorists have come or resided in, to some extent, the government has been, up til now, able to insure that the Muslim community is not completely and disasterously identified with the terrorists.

There are many reasons for this and some that many people decry as impossible or even ill advised. The first would be to insure that a minority group in the United States is not subject to discrimination and vigilantism. The second is to insure that the rule of law and only the law within the United States is applied to identify potential threats, interdict and prosecute. The rule of law is something that we defend and, losing it means that we have allowed the terrorist enemies to accomplish one of their goals: to destroy the very basic fabric of our society showing that laws created by man and not by God are corruptable and disposable.

The second reason we have been on this path is to counter the primary stated goal of Islamists: to separate the world into Dar al Harb (the House of War or the enemy) and Dar al Islam (the House of Islam or all Muslims). The strategy that the Islamists are using can be clearly seen in Iraq and continues to make its presence known in Britain. They understand the Muslim community very well. They understand their fears, their complaints and they understand their religion. All of these things they use when gathering recruits and planning operations.

Some have pointed out that the London attacks were perpetrated on transport systems in areas that are predominantly Muslim. Certain experts and other commentaters have said what I have been thinking that exploding bombs near these communities had a four fold strategic purpose:

1) They would blend in entering and leaving the trains
2) Attacks might convince some in the Muslim community to believe that they were targeted because they have not been Islamic enough which may convince some to revert to more pious behavior in hopes to avoid attacks.
3) Attacks might convince some in the community that their worst fears have been realized and that the British government posed or perpetrated these attacks to target them as minorities or because the government is ultimately biased and bigotted against them. (For those that question this possible response, I would say that one should be aware of the multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding such things as the 9/11 attacks which many still claim was a product of Mossad, that the Jews were told to leave or that, even worse, the US government conspired with Zionists to kill its own citizens, blame it on Muslims and thus give an excuse to attack them)
4) To cause the government to behave even more stringently, restrictive and repressive against Muslims, further separating the Muslim community from the rest of their fellow citizens in the country. Thus, fence sitters will be convinced that the Islamists were right all the time.

This morning as I watch the news, I hope very much that the man the British police shot was really one of the perpetrators from yesterday or involved in the 7/7 attack or planning another attack today or had any definitive links to terrorists. If not, I guarantee that the Islamists in Britain will make this out to be the British government intent on discriminating and targeting all Muslims and Asian/Arab people. When they first announced the "shoot to kill" order, I thought that, if I was a Muslim in England right now I would feel like I had a giant target on my back. If there is no good probable cause for this man's shooting, being as he was shot 5 times while down on the ground (per witnesses), this will be touted as an execution.

I shudder to think what the response is going to be from certain parts of the public and not just the Muslim/Arab/Asian community.

As we go on, we may find that the Islamists have chosen the correct strategy of drawing a line in the sand and proclaiming that Muslims must choose a side: with or against. The Islamists are gambling on our responses to attacks pushing the Muslims away and the inherent "Muslim Brotherhood" attitude to bringing them in. We may have to ask the question of our Muslim citizens that we would prefer to not ask, prefer to "believe" that they are citizens and that their loyalties always fall there first.

I honestly hope that we do not do what the British have done. I mean that to mean I hope that we continue to act within the US with the same calm and "due process" towards finding and detaining terrorists and that I do not hear that we have publicly announced "shoot to kill" orders for snipers following our citizens around.

Maybe we do and we simply haven't announced it yet. Maybe I have my head in the sand and am pretending that it isn't possible that we would have such a secret order. Of course, I understand in the course of police work when confronting a suspect, that suspect may become violent and resist to the point where the officer feels it necessary to shoot. But, that doesn't mean the officer is thinking that his first order is to shoot and it is usually based on a commiserate amount of known threat. If the assailant has a gun, then the officer can consider his life in extreme danger. If the assailant has a knife, the officer may be able to stand off and convince the assailant to lay down his weapon, but if a lunge or other attack move is made, the officer can consider his life in extreme danger. The assailant picks up some blunt object to use as a weapon, see the knife explanation. The assailant has only his bare hands, the officer is probably expected to wrestle the man to the ground and only consider using his weapon if he is in a position where the assailant can over come the officer, severely injure him or even take away his gun and use it against him.

In most states, if the assasailant runs away and is not actively shooting at the officer, even if the assailant is armed, officers are not allowed to shoot. Other states have the added rule "unless the assailant may pose an immediate threat to the population if he evades police".

This is commonly known as the "Texas rule" which has had mixed results and mixed feelings from the population.

In Britain, a couple of days ago, they pronounced the "Texas rule" was in effect.

In a conflicting image, on Thursday, after watching the bombings on TV, I went off to Kinko's to fax some paperwork. I was standing in line for two minutes behind two other people. One an elderly lady getting an old music book rebound with a spiral spine. The second was an Asian or Middle Eastern lady, dressed in long pants and long sleeved shirt that was not tucked into her slacks and she was wearing the hijab (long scarf over her hair and pinned beneath her chin).

She was there to fax something as well. As we stood in line, someone at the desk called for the next customer. She apparently did not hear him. I say "hear" because I know it was not an issue of language barrier. As we stood there a few more seconds, I noticed that she was looking off towards the back of the store absent mindedly and must not have heard the customer service representative. I leaned forward and touched her on the shoulder, saying near her ear, "Excuse me, ma'am, I believe he's ready for you."

She seemed startled and turned to me with a quizzicle look on her face. I gestured towards the man behind the counter. She looked over at the desk and then turned back to me, "Oh. Thank you."

"No problem," I replied half smiling and she returned the same half smile, slightly flustered, before walking over to the counter.

I couldn't help but think a few minutes after the exchange and the noise from the radio in the background re-assembled itself in my ears into a news broadcast about the bombings, it must take a real act of courage sometimes to go out, looking differently, looking "Muslim" on the day that the second London bombing occurred. At the same time I thought, this must be the way to insure that the Islamists do not get their wish that we do not separate our Muslim community from us as "us" and "them". All it takes to combat it is one moment of kindness and common courtesy.

I am hoping, of course, that this continues to be my response. The first response that I can always give to every citizen. The response that says we live in a civilized society and our expectations are that our fellow citizens behave the same way and have no intent to harm each other as a normal practice in our society. That common courtesy continues to be the standard, not the exception.

If it isn't, I suspect that the way the war is going has changed dramatically.

1 comment:

Custos Morum said...

One option you don't consider is the possibility that the victim of the shooting at Stockwell tube station was concealing a bomb. Reports on the incident are still sketchy but police have made it known that one of the reasons for their decision to shoot was his unseasonal clothing (reportedly a heavy winter coat alongside his unwillingness to stop for police and seeming eagerness to run for the nearest tube train. One witness claims to have seen a bomb belt on the victim. I very much doubt that members of the public will harbour any 'mixed feelings' if that reveals itself to be true.

The role of extra-judicial killings in the context of counter-terrorism is an interesting one. In the same way that I support Israeli authorities in targetting dangerous terrorists whom they could never feasibly apprehend peacefully, I also support the British authorities in shooting dead suspected suicide bombers.