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General News    H4'ed 5/24/10

Tomgram: Stephan Salisbury, Being Muslim Is No Crime

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How convenient that there are Muslims in America. How much harder it would be for the government to increase its power, while abridging more general liberties, if they didn't exist. A radical Islamic preacher, who also happens to be an American citizen, is now hiding out somewhere in Yemen inciting violence against this country. What's the solution? Simple: add him to the CIA's "kill list," send in the drones (though we are not at war with Yemen), and execute him. Better yet, call that act a "targeted killing" and you don't have to worry about the legal niceties associated with the word "assassination."

An American citizen of Pakistani birth leaves the least well-made smoking car bomb in history in Times Square. What a good moment to "protect" Americans from the evildoers lurking behind him by carving out a "broad exception" to his Miranda rights anddelaying speedy court hearings. It's like a yard sale. You get two previously well accepted rights curtailed for the price of one.

When it comes to homegrown threats of terror or a suspicion that a citizen might be related to a "foreign terrorist organization," why not make another exception and just strip him of his citizenship, then send him to Guantanamo and throw away the key (something Senator Joe Lieberman is now advocating)? As Glenn Greenwald of has written, such examples "are designed to formally exempt a certain class of American citizens... from the most basic legal protections. They're all intended, in the name of Scary Terrorists, to rewrite the core rules of our justice system in order to increase the already-vast detention powers of the U.S. Government and further minimize the remaining safeguards against abuse."

The fear of terrorism is, of course, widespread. It has long been nurtured by an American Fear Inc, even if the actual danger in this country has been blown out of all proportion, as Stephan Salisbury makes clear below. Each new alarum -- whether a shoe bomber who can't light his shoe, an underwear bomber who can't light his underwear, or a car-bomb maker who uses non-explosive fertilizer for his weapon of choice -- is useful when it comes to funneling ever more money into the mini-homeland-security-industrial complex that has grown up around the Department of Homeland Security or, above all, expanding government power at the expense of the citizen. Right now, only Muslim Americans -- "terrorists" -- are in serious danger of losing these rights, but it should be obvious that new powers in the hands of ever more powerful authorities have a tendency to grow and spread. In a sense, it's as if the terrorists, American law enforcement, and the government were in a conspiracy to jointly take away ever more citizenly rights and liberties, while ratcheting up our wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Stephan Salisbury has watched, up close and personal, the process by which American Muslims have been demonized and their communities assaulted. In his new book,Mohamed's Ghosts: An American Story of Love and Fear in the Homeland, he's written vividly and dramatically about just what that process has been like since 2001 and what it means. (In addition, catch Salisbury on the latest TomCast audio interview discussing the words that changed our world since September 11, 2001, by clicking here or download the interview to your ipod by clicking here.) Tom

Citizen Alioune
How Not to Deal with Muslims in America

By Stephan Salisbury

Alioune Niass, the Sengalese Muslim vendor who first spotted the now infamous smoking SUV in Times Square and alerted police, is no hero.

If it were not for the Times of London, we would not even know of his pivotal role in the story. No mainstream American newspaper bothered to mention or profile Niass, who peddles framed photographs of celebs and the Manhattan skyline. None of the big television stations interviewed him.

As far as the readers of the New York Times are concerned -- not to mention the New York Post and the Daily News -- Niass doesn't exist. Nor does he exist for President Obama, who telephoned Lance Orton and Duane Jackson, two fellow vendors, to thank them for their alertness in reporting the SUV. The New York Mets even feted Jackson and Orton as heroes at a game with the San Francisco Giants.

And Niass? Well, no presidential phone calls, no encomiums, no articles (though his name did finally surface briefly at a New York Times blog several days after the incident), no free Mets tickets. Yet as the London Times reported, it was Niass who first saw the clouds of smoke seeping from the SUV on that Saturday night.

He hadn't seen the car drive up, because he was attending to customers -- and, for a vendor in Times Square, Saturday nights are not to be taken lightly. Niass was alarmed, however, when he saw that smoke. "I thought I should call 911," he told the Times, "but my English is not very good and I had no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn't call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer nearby." Then the cop called 911.

So Lance got the press, and he and Jackson, who also reported the SUV, have been celebrated as "heroes." As the Times interview with Niass has made the internet rounds, there have been calls for the recognition of his "heroism," too.

These three men all acted admirably. The two other vendors did what any citizen ought to do on spotting a smoldering car illegally parked on a busy street. But heroes? In the case of Niass, characterizing him as a hero may in a sense diminish the significance of his act.

A vendor in New York since 9/11, he saw something amiss and reported it, leading him into contact with the police. That a Muslim immigrant would not think twice about this simple civic act speaks volumes about the power of American society and the actual day-to-day lives and conduct of Muslims in this nation, particularly immigrant Muslims.

This was a reasonably routine act for Orton and Jackson, but for Niass it required special courage, and the fact that he acted anyway only underscores what should be an obvious fact about Muslims in post-9/11 America: they represent a socially responsible and engaged community like any other.

Assault on American Muslims

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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