Spying on Arabs and Muslims in New York violates civil rights
The policy has failed to protect Americans from the real terrorists
By Ray Hanania — When American officials fail to do their jobs, they always come up with something to hide that fact.
It was clear that the U.S. failed to understand the complexities of the extremists in the Middle East when terrorists attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001. Our country was taken by surprise.
Instead of focusing on doing professional criminal police work to understand and identify these killers, our failed leaders responded to the growing anger in America and turned to stereotyping and racism to drive their response, persecuting many innocent Arabs and Muslims.
Even a decade later, Americans still do not understand the complexities of the Middle East and our failed foreign policies there demonstrate it clearly. But worse is the continued reliance on stereotyping and racism to fuel our country’s anti-terrorism readiness.
We’re not ready to confront the terrorists and the extremists because Americans have chosen the route of hatred, stereotyping and bigotry rather than professional criminal investigation, intelligence based on facts and a strategy that taps the patriotism that exists among the majority of American Arabs and Muslims.
It’s far easier to hate and blame all Arabs and all Muslims rather than to conduct a proper investigation of a crime. It’s easier to claim to be “pre-emptive,” an Israeli term used to justify the unjustifiable, than to be “ready” to fight crime and protect Americans.
The most recent example of this failure in American security is in New York City where millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to spy on all of the city’s Arabs and Muslims. Not only is it a violation of basic human and civil rights, the policy is a failure. Muslims are NOT the problem. Ineffective American policy is.
For example, rather than understand the clear and obvious distinctions between mainstream and moderate American Arabs and Muslims, the NYPD followed the failed lead of our national government. In mid-2007, the NYPD began a secretive campaign to photograph and violate the rights of innocent civilians by secretly taping their conversations.
The process reflects how the government in the 1970s monitored anti-war activists spending hundreds of millions of dollars to discover that the majority of activists were non-violent. Similar campaigns were directed against American Arabs and Muslims back then, too.
In 1975, after serving two years active duty in the United States Air Force, the FBI began monitoring my activities because I expressed views challenging American Foreign policy. The report began that the FBI “suspected” that I was a “terrorist,” and ignored the facts of my two years of honorable service defending America at a high security F-111 Air Force Base during the Vietnam War. The report covered a two year period, but concluded after expending many unnecessary resources that I was merely someone concerned about “bettering” the lives and involvement of American Arabs in American society.
They didn’t need to conduct that investigation. All they had to do was ask me to help them. All they had to do was ask the Arab and Muslim community to help them protect this country against extremists and terrorists. All they had to do was set aside their lack of knowledge and instead recognize that challenging American foreign policy is not a basis on which the government should build its national security.
And President Barack Obama is no better. He has helped fuel the stereotypes along with the extremists in the conservative American political movement. Obama has refused to reach out to the American Arab and Muslim journalists who know our community better than anyone. He’s concerned more about politics, than safety.
Here are some fundamental distinctions that even the brightest American strategists have failed to understand, causing this country great tragedy.
Muslims and Arabs are not one and the same. The majority of Arabs in America are Christian. The majority of Muslims are African American. Muslims are divided into several important sects, just like Christians and Jews. The largest are Sunni Muslims who are Arab, followed by Shi’ite Muslims who are predominantly non-Arab.
Iran is not an Arab country. It is a Shi’ite country.
Palestinian activists who have challenged Israel’s brutal oppression re not anti-American, even though we strongly challenge America’s blind support of Israel.
Saddam Hussein, though a brutal tyrant, was the bulwark against religious extremism and al-Qaeda in the Middle East. Destroying him in the manner that we did only strengthened al-Qaeda and allowed for extremist religious ideology and activism to spread throughout the Middle East.
The Syrian dictatorship consists of a handful of tyrants from one family who happen to be from a minority Islamic sect, Alawites. They have been oppressing Syrians for generations and the government’s extremism does not reflect the views of the population which we now see is under brutal siege.
The terrorist threat is not an Arab threat or a Muslim threat. The terrorist threat is a criminal threat. Muslims are not the problem. The lack of basic education is the problem.
American are the most educated people in the world but they are the least educated about the world. Understanding simple nuances could have helped build stronger alliances with Arabs and Muslims, rather than destroying those opportunities by supporting dictatorships and tyranny in the Middle East as we have.
There is a terrorism threat against America. But it is not an Arab terrorist threat. It is not a Muslim terrorist threat. It is a criminal terrorist threat. It may be that many of these terrorists are Arab or Muslim, but the failure to distinguish between the majority community which is moderate and concerned about larger issues of justices has made our defense against this terrorist threat ineffective.
Americans should reach out and work with Arabs and Muslims, not isolate them, spy on them or vilify them for political gain by fueling false stereotypes.
We’re American. We’re willing to help identify the criminals, who come from all races, religions and ethnicities because we want to protect ourselves, too.
But when American leaders can’t see the obvious differences that exist between everyday Arabs and Muslims here and in the Middle East, or understand the cries for justice and freedom demanded in the Middle East against Arab dictatorships and Israeli occupation and oppression, then all that is being done is to eliminate the one weapon that Americans have to fight the terrorist threat.
American Arabs and Muslims are an asset. This country should be working with them by treating them with respect, understanding and support.
Instead, ignorance and corrupt policies are driving our defense against terrorism, and that won’t work.
New York’s undercover spying on the Arab and Muslim community there has only made it easier for the few extremists to hide and harder to find.
The best way to fight terrorism is to use professional criminal investigative techniques that are not subject to political and racial and religious biases. Terrorism is a crime, not a lifestyle for an entire stereotyped people.
Those who directed the spying on Arabs and Muslim in NYC should be identified, arrested and prosecuted. They have done America a great injustice.
(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and Chicago radio talk show host. Reach him at www.RadioChicagoland.com.)
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"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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