Miami Terror Arrests
In the snippets of time away from my grandfather's death bed, I've seen bits of news about the arrests in Miami of seven men who are alleged to have been plotting to blow up the Sears Building in Chicago. The reports raise a lot of questions:
1) The men are being called radical Muslims, but at least one of their members says they are part of a religious sect called "Seas of David." Little is known about this group, but in response to questioning by CNN
, one of the men replied, "we study and we train through the Bible, not only physical -- not only physical, but mentally." Group members say they worship in a "temple," not in an Islamic mosque. They also seem to have had no connection to other radical Muslim groups -- not Al-Qaeda, who they were trying to contact; nor were they connected to the group arrested recently in Toronto.
As a Muslim, I have grave concerns over the increasing perception of polarization between Muslims and non-Muslims. I honestly believe we have far more in common than is often perceived -- human beings all want basically the same things, a decent living, a safe home, family and friends, a dignified life free from poverty and oppression; and all religions teach the same basic values -- peace, harmony, charity, compassion for others, especially the needy, love for other humans, responsibility in our dealings with the world, etc. The perception that "Islam" stands on one side of a divide with "The West" or "Judeo-Chrisitan civilization" on the other is horribly damaging. We live on one small planet, and there is little likelihood of our being able to colonize other worlds in even the medium range future. We simply have to learn to live togther. 1.6 billion Muslims aren't going to suddenly disappear, convert en masse to Christianity or become Westernized overnight, just as a similar number of Chrisitians aren't going to disappear, convert to Islam, or develop new sensibilities. It is insanity to sensationalize current affairs in such a way as to provoke a greater divide than actually exists. It is madness to relate to all Muslims as though they agree with Osama Bin Laden, or are represented by him, just as it would be madness to assume that all Christians agree with Timothy McVeigh or the IRA.
Because Muslims are often foriegn, often brown-skinned, often speaking different languages, eating different foods, and living with different customs, it is easy to stereotype, to lump us all into a single group. But that is as fallacious as it would be to lump all Christians into a single group. And far more dangerous. A war between Islam and the West will not be pretty. A never-ending war on terror will forever alter the face of American democracy... eroding civil liberties and rights that we hold dear, resulting in an overly powerful president who acts like a dictator rather than a president withing a system which balances his power with Congressional and Judicial checks.
2) While the coverage I have seen of the arrests does not make a great deal over the race of the suspects, it is significant that they are African Americans. Clearly, there have been radical/violent black groups in the past. By and large, however, the African American Muslim community has steered clear of radicalism and violence. They tend to focus on personal and spiritual development as the first step to social improvement, with a commitment to promoting black business, individual social, emotional and fiscal responsibility. If this group really is associated with African American Islam, it represents a major departure from the trend. From what I've seen, I believe that they are at best a fringe group that has extremely loose ties with Islam, if any, and as such don't represent African American Islam in any way. That does not mean, however, that the African American Muslim community may not be held guilty by association, and subjected to far more criticism from the pundits than they have been previously. African American Muslims have largely been exempted from the scathing attacks on Islam, and the claims that one cannot be a Muslim and still have loyalty to America, since the vast majority of them have roots in this country that go back centuries. There is a danger that this case could throw into doubt (in some people's minds) that loyalty, which would be a terrible development 1) because it doesn't reflect reality, and 2) because it would feed into the Us/Them rhetoric I was just mentioning.
3) The men were charged on conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. According to CNN, no weapons were found, no bomb- making equipment was found in their Miami warehouse. Even the plans appear to have been hazy -- there is no mention of pages of detailed strategy, or anything like that. I keep thinking of that Phillip Dick story, Minority Report. At what point does preventitive arrest become arresting an innocent person who just likes to bluster a lot, or a group who sits around inventing fairy tales, but who won't really ever do anything? How do you decide which group will actually start to implement their plans, and which group is just spouting hot air? According to reports from the Canadian press, the men in Toronto tried to buy explosives from a Canadian Security Services operative. In fact, it appears a dummy load of fertilizer was actually delivered to them. It seems pretty clear they were taking the steps needed to put their plans into action. The men in Miami tried to make contact with someone they thought was from AlQaeda (again details are hazy -- did they try to make contact or did the undercover agent contact them and they were willing to meet with him?). But the absence of concrete plans, and the materials needed to carry out their supposed agenda makes the case seem a lot more shaky in this second arrest. While protecting the country from further attacks is essential, so to is the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. As preventitive arrests are being made, it is important to hold tightly to standards which protect the arrested from over-zealous protective measures.