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Muslim Americans and US law enforcement: not enemies, but vital partners

But first, both Muslim Americans and law enforcement have to change the way they interact.

By Alejandro J. Beutel / December 30, 2009


The stigma on Muslim Americans worsened in 2009. The latest events, including arrests of the Newburgh Four in New York, Michael Finton in Illinois, and Hossam Smadi in Texas; then the Fort Hood, Texas, massacre by Nidal Malik Hasan; and most recently the arrest in Pakistan of five young Muslim men from Virginia attempting to join a militant group there have only added to difficulties.

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Each of these events was unique. The first three involved the questionable use of FBI informants, one case involved a man going on a violent rampage, and another involved youth seeking violent adventures abroad.

Yet, at a time when terrorism remains a challenge to US national security, these events feed into the false and dangerous fear that Muslim Americans cannot be trusted.

America can’t afford that.

The US must identify and apprehend terrorists while avoiding the alienation of its mainstream Muslim communities. And it is critical that tactics used by law enforcement agencies to achieve the first goal do not undermine the second, as it is not only contrary to the values of a free and democratic society, it creates counterproductive counterterrorism.

In the current climate of fear, it’s difficult to gain trust. In order to heal relations between Muslim American communities and law enforcement, and create a more effective barrier against terrorists, both sides need to revise their respective approaches to extremism and violence.

Many Muslims Americans are concerned by news that paid FBI informants, including ex-con men such as Craig Monteilh in southern California and Shahed Hussain in New York, have been targeting impressionable Muslim Americans to incite and then entrap them. The Muslim community is also concerned by reports that law enforcement agents are coercing Muslim Americans to serve as informants in exchange for immigration ease.

This should matter to all Americans, because fearful communities are less willing to talk to law enforcement – and we need all the help we can get from Muslim Americans. After years of building trust with local law enforcement, the Pakistani community in Lodi, Calif., is trying repair relations that were tattered by the highly questionable use of an FBI informant in a counterterrorism investigation just after Sept. 11.

Muslims themselves have helped authorities in two recent cases. The Virginia men in Pakistan were detained and the Detroit-bound airline bomber was flagged because family members bravely stepped forward to tell law enforcement about suspicious activity.