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Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez
Belen Fernandez is a journalist, author, and co-editor at Pulsemedia.org.
Police pseudoscience and the 'War on Terror'
The New York Police Department is taking a troubling approach to perceived threats from American Muslims.
Last Modified: 21 Jun 2012 15:37
The NYPD showed a film to trainees claiming US Muslims want to 'infiltrate and dominate America' [GALLO/GETTY]

"Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat" is the name of a 2007 report issued by the New York Police Department (NYPD) highlighting the allegedly underappreciated risk that terrorist acts might be committed by the domestic Muslim population.

The report's pseudoscientific analysis postulates that Muslim individuals generally pass through four different phases prior to engaging in terrorism: Pre-Radicalisation, Self-Identification, Indoctrination and Jihadisation.

Examples of the Self-Identification phase are said to include "[g]iving up cigarettes, drinking, gambling and urban hip-hop gangster clothes" and "[b]ecoming involved in social activism and community issues". To illustrate the Indoctrination phase, the report's authors assert that the Islamic bookshop in Brooklyn that previously employed Pakistani American Shahawar Matin Siraj - convicted in 2006 for plotting to blow up a New York subway station - served as an "extremist incubator" and a venue for "transferring [Siraj's] Salafi-like mindset to his perception of global issues".

"Much different from the Israeli-Palestinian equation, the transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge or desperation."

- Radicalisation in the West: The Homegrown Threat, NYPD

One global issue subjected to Siraj's radicalised outlook, we are told, is Israel/Palestine:

"As early as November 2002, Siraj said that suicide bombings in Israel were not suicide, but revenge in response to Israeli atrocities and that he would do the same thing."

Curiously, however, this very same report appears to validate the notion of a logical cause-and-effect relationship between Israeli behaviour and that of Palestinian suicide bombers:

"Much different from the Israeli-Palestinian equation, the transformation of a Western-based individual to a terrorist is not triggered by oppression, suffering, revenge or desperation."

Conspicuously absent from the report's chronology of Siraj's radicalisation, meanwhile, is Osama Eldawoody, the NYPD-funded Egyptian informant who encouraged Siraj to undertake the subway bombing. A tape recording of Siraj insisting that he would have to ask his mother whether it was permissible for him to plant bombs is merely one piece of evidence suggesting that the young man was hardly a super-terrorist bent on the obliteration of the United States and the subversion of world order.

The notion that there is a phalanx of radical Islamists intent on destroying the country from within is showcased in the 2008 film "The Third Jihad", which, as the New York Times notes, "was shown to more than a thousand officers as part of training in the New York Police Department". Zuhdi Jasser, the star of the film and president of an organisation dedicated to "taking back Islam from the demagoguery of the Islamo-fascists", recently defended the NYPD's systematic spying on Muslim communities: "We thank God every day for the NYPD".

Surveillance operations

The August 2011 Associated Press expose on Muslim surveillance operations notes:

"The goal was to 'map the city's human terrain', one law enforcement official said. The program was modelled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank, a former police official said."

If this is indeed the case, the modelling process was presumably facilitated by a joint US-Israeli formula according to which terrorism conducted by Muslims equals terrorism, while terrorism conducted by the US and/or Israel equals counterterrorism.

"The recent revelation that Department of Defense educators have advocated for a 'Hiroshima'-style approachto Islam meanwhile does little to assuage concerns that the US is fundamentally opposed to the religion itself."

Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, alluded to additional transoceanic parallels when I met with her in her Brooklyn office last month to discuss the curtailment of Muslim civil liberties. According to Sarsour, the notion that the NYPD exists to protect certain ethnicities against others is gaining currency among Muslim New Yorkers, who are exhibiting increasing solidarity with other second-tier citizens of US democracy, such as those disproportionately subjected to stop-and-frisk procedures.

One can imagine the response from the homegrown threat alert team to a revelation that Muslim organisations were, for example, videotaping church- and synagogue-goers and deploying agents to infiltrate Christian and Jewish businesses. When such methods are employed by state institutions responsible for safeguarding civil rights, however, we learn from fearmongers like Jasser that Islamist groups are in fact inventing Islamophobia allegations and exploiting the concept of political correctness in a grossly unfair assault on the police.

The recent revelation that Department of Defense educators have advocated for a "Hiroshima"-style approach to Islam meanwhile does little to assuage concerns that the US is fundamentally opposed to the religion itself. It also makes a bit of a mockery of the hype over the alleged destructiveness of radical Islam.

As for other potentially valuable lessons Israeli authorities might impart to proponents of a police state in the US, the reference in Radicalisation in the West to the role of "oppression, suffering [and] desperation" in spawning Palestinian terrorism is an apt reminder of Israel's successful contributions to the creation of the very terrorist menace it continues to invoke as an excuse for yet more oppression.

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in November 2011. She is an editor at PULSE Media, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, CounterPunch, Guernica Magazine, and many other publications.

Follow her on Twitter: @MariaBelen_Fdez

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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