Hamed Aleaziz was hard at work factchecking Trevor Aaronson's excellent Mother Jones feature on FBI surveillance in Muslim communities around the United States. Then a disorienting reality hit him: one of the mosques Aaronson reported to be infiltrated by FBI informants was the same one he prayed at as a kid in Oregon.
Go read Aleaziz's moving reflections. His kicker gets at the heart of the issue:
As the FBI releases more and more informants (right now there are at least 15,000 of them) into Muslim communities, it hopes to create a hostile environment for potential terrorists. But from my vantage point, it looks like the FBI is creating a hostile environment for regular Muslims as well. If life in Corvallis is any indication, these events do plenty to silence the voices of an already unfairly scrutinized minority. Reports indicate that many of these FBI stings violate the civil rights of Muslim communities in America; when that's the case, it's more important than ever that Muslims are able to speak out and be represented fairly in media reports. After my unsuccessful experience trying to shed light on the impact of this FBI sting on my former home, I wonder if anyone will ever be able to understand what life's like after the FBI targets your community.
No one likes to frame the issue this way, but this is a case of surveillance being the enemy of law enforcement. F'r instance, let's say you're Denis McDonough. You're determined to sell non-Muslim Americans on the mutually reinforcing goals of counterterrorism and countering bigotry against their Muslim neighbors. And you're also determined to sell American Muslims on the goal of cooperating even more closely with law enforcement. What can you possibly tell someone like Hamed Aleaziz that can counteract the feeling he's got knowing his childhood mosque is under government scrutiny? Clearly he's not interpreting it as just his mosque, but his entire community.
Put another way: let's say the "lone wolf," self-radicalized, homegrown terrorism problem really is the paradigmatic domestic-terror threat of the moment. Focusing on the subset of lone wolves that might come from and prey upon U.S. Muslim communities, you have to recognize that however good law-enforcement surveillance and intelligence-gathering methods are, it's going to be the average person in the community who spots the lone wolf first. Ask yourself: she more or less likely to alert law enforcement to a looming danger if she feels like her entire community is under the heavy manners of the police and the feds? Is she more or less likely to alert law enforcement to a looming danger if she feels like law enforcement considers her as much of a potential threat as this wolf in the night?