What’s better than mass surveillance at catching potential attackers? People
by KEVIN KNODELL
“They know what’s going on. They know that he was bad,” presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told supporters after Omar Mateen killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016.
Trump was talking about the American Muslim community, which — he argued — had covered for Mateen.
“They have to cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad,” Trump doubled down. “But you know what? They didn’t turn them in. And you know what? We had death and destruction.”
But law enforcement had previously investigated Mateen. What’s more, at least one of the tips that initially led authorities to Mateen came from Mohammed Malik, a Florida entrepreneur who had attended the same mosque as Mateen.
Malik went to officials in 2014 after Mateen told him that he’d been watching videos by radical cleric Anwar Al Awlaki — videos he described as “powerful.” Malik told federal agents about the troubling interaction and suggested keeping an eye on Mateen. Malik went public with his story in The Washington Post on June 20, 2016. Federal officials have corroborated his account.
Malik is far from the first American Muslim to come forward with tips on would-be terrorists. A Duke University study from 2014 noted that, since 9/11, no fewer than 54 jihadist terror suspects or perpetrators came to authorities’ attention as a result of initial tips from members of America’s 3.3 million Muslim citizens.
Muslim informants fingered more terror suspects than bulk data-collection did in the same period of time. Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency between 2005 and 2014, boasted that mass surveillance had prevented around 10 terror plots.
Immigrants to America from predominantly Muslim countries have been very successful in their adopted country. Their presence in the United States dates back to the country’s earliest days. Muslim immigrants settled the American frontier alongside newcomers of other faiths, all looking to start new lives in the New World.
U.S. Muslims have served their country as police, diplomats and soldiers. Several died fighting America’s wars and are buried at Arlington National Cemetery alongside Christians, Jews, atheists and adherents of other creeds.
Islamic State isn’t shy in expressing its contempt for Muslims in the West, especially American ones. The group published a hit-list of those it considers apostates, many of whom are Americans. One is Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman who famously took his oath of office on Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Koran.
“As millions of faithful Muslims flee Daesh’s imposed nightmare they call a ‘caliphate,’ Daesh takes the time to threaten Muslim public servants in the West,” Ellison responded in a press release. “Daesh is a collection of liars, murderers, torturers and rapists. The fact that I’m on Daesh’s bad side means I am fighting for things like justice, tolerance and a more inclusive world.”
The Orlando shooting has sparked heated debates about gun control, immigration and civil liberties. Some Americans, Trump included, have questioned whether Muslims can ever truly be productive members of a Western democracy.
It’s true that there are many Muslims who view homosexuality as immoral and who hold deeply conservative social views.
But 42 percent of American Muslims believe gay marriage should be legal in the United States — compared to just 39 percent of self-identified American Protestants who believe the same thing. And when it comes to the role of women, Pew found that 90 percent of American Muslims believe women should be able to work outside the home and pursue higher education.
While American Muslims as a group are well-educated, successful and often have friends from many different backgrounds, in many cases Muslim immigrants to Europe have enjoyed considerably less success integrating.
But as with any situation involving a complex and ever-changing demographic, the picture is complicated.
In the spring of 2016, a Scottish Muslim shopkeeper named Ahmed Shah wrote a post on Facebook wishing his neighbors and friends a happy Easter. Shah was a beloved pillar of his community — and Scotland has, in many ways, been highly successful integrating Muslim immigrants. But after seeing the message, Tanveer Ahmed — a Muslim from the English city of Bradford — drove 200 miles and stabbed Shah 30 times.
Maajid Nawaz, a British-born Muslim activist and former Islamist who now works to counter jihadist ideology, has long warned of a burgeoning radical movement — which he admits he was once part of — that threatens to marginalize pluralistic Muslims. In particular, he argues that refusing to condemn Islamist ideology in order to avoid offending Muslims actually gives radicals freedom to preach their hate.
“By shutting down the conversation of Islamist extremism, we deprive [other Muslims] of the lexicon to deploy against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts in their own communities,” Nawaz wrote in a column for The Daily Beast shortly after the Orlando attack. “We surrender their identity of Islam to the extremists.”
Mateen’s reasons for attacking Pulse may have been as personal as much as ideological. He had a history of mental illness and domestic abuse, and many reports quoting members of Orlando’s gay community claim he was a deeply closeted and confused gay man. Mateen had apparently espoused support for Hezbollah, the Nusra Front and Islamic State — all three of which actively oppose one another.
Mateen’s handle on what exactly he believed was likely weak, at best. But Malik’s revelations demonstrate that Islamist ideology certainly played a role in Mateen’s thought process. Jihadist terror is a real threat and likely will continue to be so for a long time to come. But it’s not a monolithic threat.
The Orlando attack came after a devastating week for Islamic State, in which the group lost ground in Iraq, Syria and Libya as local forces drove the group out of its old strongholds. Muslim fighters have been doing the lion’s share of the fighting — and dying — in the fight against the jihadists on the ground.
But in fighting Islamic State, it’s important to not turn on our friends and neighbors. Terrorists thrive on fear and division. We shouldn’t give them what they want.
And besides, America’s Muslims are America’s first and best line of defense against jihadist terrorists.