Six years and eight months after the 9/11 tragic attacks, Muslims in America remain at the receiving end with the reconfiguration of American laws, policies and priorities to target them. The latest assault on the Muslim community comes in the form of a simulated attack on a fake "mosque" by the law enforcement authorities in Illinois.
On May 1, over 120 officials from almost 30 government agencies participated in the drill in Irving, Illinois, targeting a community facility that had been re-named the "Irving Mosque" for the purposes of the exercise. There were participants from local law enforcement, fire departments and ambulances. In the exercise, officers from the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) stormed the "mosque" using an armored car. One "hostage" was hooked up to an explosive device and the "suspects" in the "mosque" released nerve gas.
For the purpose of the emergency exercise drill, the Continuing Recovery Center in Irving, Ill., had become Irving Mosque, the home-base for a radical, heavily armed group with suspected terrorist ties. There were explosions outside and inside the building.
Not surprisingly, a preview of the May 1st training was highlighted by the media with such sensational headlines: "Pennsylvania's police prepare for radical Islam," and "Radical Islam: A Law Enforcement Primer."
What message that exercise conveys to the American masses who are already conditioned by the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric by some radio hosts, electronic and print media as well as some political and Christian Right leaders in the post-9/11 America?
Surely, it reinforces the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim image among the masses. According to a March 2008 Gallup survey, a substantial number of Americans have a negative perception of Muslims. The poll shows that only 17 percent have positive perception while 23 have negative. 48 percent were found neutral which are surely not positive. Two polls by CAIR and Washington Post in March 2006 indicated that almost half of Americans have a negative perception of Islam and that one in four of those surveyed have extreme anti-Muslim views. The troubling results of these polls are not surprising in this atmosphere of fear and hatred against the Muslim community created in the name of national security.
There cannot be two opinions that the "Irving Mosque" exercise creates a negative image of Mosques and Islamic centers. It is disrespect to the Muslim places of worship and sends a "wrong message" that all Islamic houses of worship may be potential security threats.
To borrow from Khalid Saeed, President of the American Muslim Voice, (AMV), this outrage should be offensive to the sensibilities of all civilized Americans and it should be condemned in strongest possible way as it sends wrong message about a large peaceful segment of American society and the great religion of Islam. "There are about eight million American Muslims who are proud and patriotic citizens of this great nation of ours, and are making a positive contributions to this great and diverse nation."
"The use of a fake 'mosque' in this type of drill sends the wrong message to law enforcement officials who may now view mainstream institutions, such as Islamic houses of worship, as potential security threats," according to Ahmed Rehab, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago. "Officials must be trained in dealing with hostage-taking and responding to chemical, biological or bomb attacks. We are only questioning the wisdom of linking the American Muslim community and its institutions to such incidents."
Taking a leaf from New York Police Department's controversial study "Radicalization in the West and the Homegrown Threat," Municipal Police Officers Education & Training Commission (MPOETC) has prepared a Mandatory In-Service Training (MIST) Program and Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System (ILEAS) officials are required to undergo a three-hour class called "Radical Islam: A Law Enforcement Primer."
The fake mosque attack as part of that training course aims at "providing an overview of the factors and issues related to a radical view of Islam." The MPOETC has its own sweeping definition of "radical Islam." Radical Islam assumes the authority to ''nullify, abolish, or do away with'' previously established religions and systems of government, establishing Islamic rule based on the Koran and the ''example of Muhammad.''
Muslim civil rights groups have expressed concern over this program. In a letter to the MPOETC Training director Rudy M. Grubesky, CAIR-PA Civil Rights Director Justin Peyton wrote:
"We are concerned that this course may provide inaccurate, incomplete or stereotypical information about Islam to state law enforcement officers and could serve to reinforce negative stereotypes of Muslims and Islam. The promotion of such stereotypes could negatively impact the daily interactions of law enforcement officers with members of the Pennsylvania Muslim community."
"While CAIR applauds MPOETC's effort to educate police officers about the potential threats posed to American society by extremist individuals and groups, we would like to emphasize that the violent ideologies those individuals falsely attribute to Islam are not characteristic of the American Muslim experience."
In short, such drills as a mock attack on the fake mosque in the name of national security will only alienate and marginalize the American Muslims who remain a victim of guilt by association in the post-9/11 era.
Mosque is a symbol of worship just like Church, Synagogue or Temple and not a symbol of radicalism as portrayed by this simulated attack on the fake mosque.