Peddling Islamophobia

Islamophobia has always been a bipartisan affair, and “warmonger Judith Miller is happy to be its shill”, writes author.

United States
The rate of FBI-orchestrated terrorism sting operations has only increased under Obama's watch [EPA]

In her own words, Judith Miller has devoted her career to covering “threats to our country”. Her service to this end includes significant if dubious accomplishments. Most widely known for fabricating and peddling many of the biggest lies that sold the country on the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Miller also helped propagate Israel’s myth that Palestinian political party Hamas had a “dangerous” network in the United States. The latter propelled the migration of Hamas onto the US’ list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations and saw US citizen Muhammad Salah perniciously labelled a “terrorist”. 

Now, Miller has seized on the Boston bombings as an opportunity to advocate for increased surveillance of Muslim communities, à la New York City. In a wholly laudatory article for the Wall Street Journal, Judith Miller speculates how the NYPD, with their cunning combination of psychological and detective work, would have handled the Tsnarnaev brothers – and likely saved the day. 

“In the dozen years since 9/11, the city has developed a counter terror program that is a model of how to identify and stop killers like the Tsarnaev brothers before they strike,” she said.   

Miller seems blithely unconcerned with mass murderers like James Eagan Holmes, Adam Lanza or Michael Page who killed a combined total of 45 people in the last year. The only “killers” Miller thinks our law enforcement should be worried about are Muslim ones. 

Radicalisation theory

Miller heaps praise on the NYPD’s implementation of the “radicalisation theory” – a pseudo-scientific barometer of an individual’s predisposition to committing an act of terror – into police practice, and the department’s infiltration and surveillance of exclusively Muslim communities since 9/11. In disingenuously euphemistic terms, Miller characterises the latter as the NYPD’s “continuing effort to understand Muslim communities”. 

This rank ethnic profiling programme, tellingly named the Demographics Unit (later re-named the “Zone Assessments Unit”), is housed within the NYPD’s CIA-built Intelligence Division and has overseen the systematic and indiscriminate spying on Muslim communities. 

The programme gathers such critical information as which cafes offer Al Jazeera news for customers, which businesses sell halal products and how many times Muslims pray during the day. The Demographic Unit is thorough and extensive: “The NYPD monitored Muslim Student Associations from Philadelphia to New Haven… and mosque crawlers [NYPD informants] had spied and reported on… more than 250 mosques,” according to a recent report produced by the CLEAR Project, AALDEF and MACLC. This report documents the fear, fragmentation and erosion of trust in law enforcement the programme creates within Muslim communities in the greater New York City area. Muslims might be forgiven for doubting the authenticity of the lofty aim of “understanding” Judith Miller attributes to the NYPD in her WSJ article. 

Listening Post – Boston: When the media gets it wrong

According to Miller’s assessment, it is these tactics that have allowed the NYPD to effectively stop 16 terror plots in New York City. 

Never one to be overly concerned with facts that do not suit her position, Miller omits details, including the fact that some of those 16 plots some were “manufactured” and it was not the NYPD’s surveillance programme that successfully thwarted any of them. Justin Elliott of ProPublica broke down the inflated – yet oft-cited – list of “prevented” attacks in NYC, showing the mendacity of crediting the NYPD for keeping the city safe from “terror”. 

Thomas Galati, the commanding officer of the NYPD Intelligence Division put it plainly last June: “I never made a lead from rhetoric that came from a Demographics report, and I’m here since 2006… and I don’t recall other ones prior to my arrival.” 

Miller’s article cites heavily from Mitchell Silber’s and Arvin Bhatt’s 2007 report “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat“. The report, prefaced by New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, provides the foundational logic for NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims and suggests that all Muslims are on a path that leads toward terrorism. Although the report has been thoroughly denounced and repeatedly ridiculed, its rationale has nevertheless become normalised. So while Judith Miller has been widely discredited, the views she espouses on this subject are not. 

Spying programme

In January, the Congressional Research Service issued a report called “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat” that reflects the persistent dominance of the so-called radicalisation theory in discussions surrounding terrorism. 

In its critique of the report, the ACLU notes that CRS is “charged with providing objective policy analysis for members of Congress”. The ACLU points out that while CRS acknowledges the problems with Silber’s and Bhatt’s report, it accepts that “the adoption of a particular belief set is a precursor to violent action” and “continues to hew closely to the model of radicalisation it promotes”. In other words, casting the entire Muslim community as a potential threat is considered “objective” analysis rather than racist rhetoric. 

Michael German, Senior Policy Counsel at the ACLU Washington Legislative Office writes

The faulty assumption that radical thoughts lead to violence drives many of the inappropriate law enforcement actions against Muslim-American communities and political activists that, like the NYPD surveillance programme, violate civil rights but don’t actually improve security.

In advocating for increased surveillance, Miller is likely to be criticised for echoing the likes of Republican Representative Peter King. But, perhaps inconveniently for Democrat apologists, it was John Brennan – Obama’s lead counterterrorism adviser before his promotion to the director of the CIA – who defended the NYPD’s spying programme in the face of criticism last year. 

And why wouldn’t he? The surveillance of Muslim communities was never an exclusively New York – or Republican – enterprise. The number of informants embedded in Muslim communities throughout the country remains at record highs under Obama; and according to Trevor Aaronson’s The Terror Factory, the rate of FBI-orchestrated terrorism sting operations has only increased under Obama’s watch. 

Islamophobia has always been a bipartisan affair, and long-time liar and warmonger Judith Miller is happy to be its shill.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in San Francisco and the West Bank. She is a graduate of Stanford University. 

Follow her on Twitter: @CharEsilver