September 11th, 2013
09:24 AM ET

Since 9/11, U.S. policy enforces Islamophobia

Opinion by Nathan Lean, special to CNN

(CNN) - The attacks of September 11, 2001, were unthinkable, and are rightfully memorialized with the somber reflection that marks other tragedies of our nation’s past.

From the Oval Office that Tuesday evening 12 years ago, President George W. Bush addressed the stricken nation with a message of hope.

“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America,” he said. “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace.”

Sadly, though, out of that dark hour came more darkness.

Throughout the past 12 years, government agencies and local law enforcement have often turned inward, eroding the liberties of ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

In the name of defending national security, they’ve fractured relationships with American Muslim communities and undermined the foundations of freedom on which this land was built.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States has not only manifested itself through mosque arsons, assaults, murders and invariably hostile rhetoric from society’s extreme fringes. It has also become a permanent fixture of the very institutions that should provide safeguards against those things.

A long view of the response to terrorism since 9/11 suggests that Islamophobia — an irrational fear or suspicion of all Muslims and Islam based on the actions of a few — is increasingly legislated and enforced.

The most recent example of this comes from the city that bore the brunt of the 9/11 attacks.

READ MORE: My son died as a first responder on 9/11

Revelations surrounding the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim communities in Brooklyn and Manhattan show that, without specific evidence of criminal activity, police officers teamed up with the CIA to form a clandestine intelligence program that spied on ordinary Muslim Americans.

The program sent “rakers” into Muslim neighborhoods to observe restaurant owners and shop keepers, deployed “mosque crawlers” into Muslim houses of worship to monitor sermons, and planted undercover agents on a university rafting trip in Buffalo where they took notes on how many times Muslim students prayed each day.

It gets worse.

The NYPD parked a yellow taxicab, bugged with cameras and voice recorders, outside a popular mosque in Brooklyn, hoping to capture Friday prayer-goers mumbling something about terrorism.

They also designated all mosques in the city as terrorist organizations, meaning that anyone who attends worship services is a potential subject for investigation, and they attempted to infiltrate the board of the nonprofit Arab American Association of New York, labeling the group a “terrorism enterprise.”

The six years of surveilling American Muslims led to no arrests or leads, the head of the NYPD's Demographics Unit admitted in court testimony.

The NYPD says its surveillance programs are lawful and orchestrated to keep the city safe from "those who are intent on killing New Yorkers."

The FBI criticized the NYPD spying program, however, saying that it produces a “negative impact” and makes their job harder than ever.

But it was the FBI who, in 2010, paid informant Craig Monteilh more than $11,000 a month to disguise himself as a convert to Islam, infiltrate Southern California mosques, and have sex with Muslim women. The plan was to entrap young Muslims by initiating conversations about “jihad” and terrorism.

In the end, the very people he was spying on reported him to the FBI — the organization that sent him there. Last year, Monteilh expressed his regret for participating in the sting operation, saying, “There is no hunt. It’s fixed.”

The FBI said its program, called "Operation Flex," was "focused on fewer than 25 individuals and was directed at detecting and preventing possible terrorist attacks."

The FBI came under fire again in August of this year as we learned about a covert security program in conjunction with U.S. immigration authorities.

The American Civil Liberties Union reports that the FBI and immigration officials have the authority to blacklist law-abiding Muslim Americans who have applied for citizenship, flagging their applications on the basis of “national security concerns” and sidelining their path to nationality for years on end.

Those applications are primarily docked on the basis of the applicant’s name, their country of origin, or as a result of their travels to countries on a watch list.

The U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services says its reviews comply with immigration laws.

READ MORE: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

Anti-Muslim prejudice is institutionalized at the state level, as well.

Over the past two years, lawmakers in 32 legislatures across the country have targeted Muslims by moving to ban Islamic law, or “Shariah.” Seven states (most recently North Carolina) have signed the proposed ban into law, despite the inability of legislators to name a single specific case in which a court ruling based on Shariah law was allowed to stand.

Additionally, mosque construction projects in states like Oklahoma, Tennessee, California and Minnesota have faced backlash from local lawmakers who, failing to thwart their construction by advancing arguments about Shariah or the supposed threat of radicals, resorted to pretenses like traffic patterns, zoning regulations, parking restrictions and noise ordinances to block the building permits.

This cannot be our response to tragedy.

We’ve lost our way, and the path that we are traveling down today is hardly representative of the sacred foundations that our founding fathers envisioned.

Surely we can, and we must, remain vigilant in our effort to combat those who threaten us, but we cannot be so overly zealous in our aim to root out potential perpetrators that we abandon our national values and strip our fellow citizens of their unalienable and constitutionally protected rights.

That doesn’t make us stronger; it makes us weaker, and more vulnerable.

Nathan Lean is the editor-in-chief of Aslan Media and the author of four books about the Middle East, including "The Islamophobia Industry." Follow him on Twitter at @nathanlean.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 9/11 • Discrimination • Islam • Muslim • Opinion • Sharia

soundoff (372 Responses)
  1. Muneef


    December 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
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    November 27, 2013 at 11:29 pm |
  3. Eddie Fonseca

    Billy Joel the singer who wrote a song in the 70's or late 80's about his favorite cultured city in the United States of America, the Big Apple or New York City with it's hustle and bustle of people who crowd the Time Square at one o clock in the morning looking for the latest fashion or that Middle East place to have a great meal with their gilfriend or wife. His passion for the city can be heard in the song, but on that dark day in America when terriost's killed innocent New Yorkers and American's on 9/11 America's hatered for Muslim American's had reached a new level with all American's on that dark day. I do agree we should feel hate for the ones who killed our loves one's, but we should not put all Muslim American's in one box and call them all terriost's because that's not right and goes against our vaules of freedom which we fought for all these years. Our policy towards Muslim American's has to be a policy which does not inculde hard working American Muslims who could be our car mechanic or bus driver who just here to earn a hard honest paycheck to support his family, we need a policy that does sterotypical lable all American Muslims as being terriosts by working with the Arab community's to build trust with them. Being an American who has traveled in the Middle East and has lot's of American Muslim friends, they are the most open minded people and they don't mind having a conversation about different soccer teams, and how the terriost's have affected their lives in America and across the world. New York has been a place which been a melting pot where different cultures have alway's come together to share their backgrounds, from Arab Americans to everyone else from their food and music tastes as well. Freedom and justice is what the American life is all about but for those heros who gave up their lives, to deffend this great city of our's they would not like to see a policy created to hate the wrong American Muslims but punish those terriost muslims who created such fear on that dark day of 9/11 that is the justice we must seek for all Americans and people across the world for years to come.

    September 19, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  4. Mary Smith

    I think the authorities are right to keep table on religious extremists - ALL religious extremists. Extremist religious groups have proven again and again to be breeding grounds for violence.

    September 15, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Douglas

      Excellent Mary,

      Any religion that encourages 50 year old men to marry pre-pubescent, primary school age
      girls and deflower them with drastic consequences is nothing short of criminal.

      September 17, 2013 at 2:36 am |
      • sam stone

        not to mention Europe's NAMBLA chapter, called The Vatican

        September 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm |
  5. John

    In the past ten years I've bee shot at and bombed. I've had friends killed. In every case it was a Muslim who tried to kill me or who killed and wounded my friends.

    September 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      where was ya, john?

      and, how could you be sure that it was muslims?

      September 17, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  6. Singh

    Justified. This is the fastest growing religion in the world, as well as in US. The majority of the people from these religion are uneducated, intolerant to other religion. Their objective is to surpass others with high birth rate. Their madrasas (Islamic education centers) are the breeding ground of intolerant youths who eventually turns into terrorism.

    September 15, 2013 at 12:14 pm |
  7. NavinJay

    It's based on fear. People are irrational when they let fear consume them and take over their actions. Just like when they added "Under God" to the Pledge. It was fear based, as well, and so explains why the irrational statement was allowed to be inserted into the Pledge. We can do better than to allow fear to guide us. But, it's unlikely we're strong enough as a nation to do so.

    September 15, 2013 at 2:23 am |

    Outlaw islam because muslims are outlaws & terrorists.

    September 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • sam stone

      go for it, outlaw

      September 17, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
  9. Sara

    "Over the past two years, lawmakers in 32 legislatures across the country have targeted Muslims by moving to ban Islamic law, or “Shariah.” Seven states (most recently North Carolina) have signed the proposed ban into law, despite the inability of legislators to name a single specific case in which a court ruling based on Shariah law was allowed to stand."

    And the author's suggestion would be to wait until some judge does allow such a ruling to stand, setting precedent? Ignorance of what is happening in other countries is bad, ignorance of the law is bad, but a combined ignorance of both is either dangerously irresponsible of an intentional act of deception. Certainly these states should ban all non-secular law, but the restrictions need to be in place.

    September 14, 2013 at 6:20 am |
  10. Sara

    "They also designated all mosques in the city as terrorist organizations"

    This is simply not true, and it doesn't become any more true as more ignorant media outlets repeat it. On the other hand SOME mosques fit the description of terrorist organization, and it is right to label them as such. Being a religion doesn't get you off the hook for normal social responsibilities.

    September 14, 2013 at 6:16 am |
  11. children of Israel

    The twelve tribes of Israel are alive and scattered into the four corners of the earth. They will become as one with the most high God. (Lamentations 4:22) What is rebellion? They rebel against the lion of the tribe of Judah *1st Samuel 15:23*

    September 14, 2013 at 5:50 am |
    • Reality # 2

      Au Contraire !!!

      Only for the new members:

      Putting the kibosh on all religion in less than ten seconds: Priceless !!!

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

      • As far as one knows or can tell, there was no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

      • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

      • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

      • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

      • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

      • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated/reborn Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

      • A constant cycle of reincarnation until enlightenment is reached and belief that various beings (angels?, tinkerbells? etc) exist that we, as mortals, cannot comprehend makes for a no on Sikhism.

      Added details available upon written request.

      A quick search will put the kibosh on any other groups calling themselves a religion.

      e.g. Taoism

      "The origins of Taoism are unclear. Traditionally, Lao-tzu who lived in the sixth century is regarded as its founder. Its early philosophic foundations and its later beliefs and rituals are two completely different ways of life. Today (1982) Taoism claims 31,286,000 followers.

      Legend says that Lao-tzu was immaculately conceived by a shooting star; carried in his mother's womb for eighty-two years; and born a full grown wise old man. "

      September 14, 2013 at 7:47 am |
    • sam stone

      quoting an iron age comic book is only so effective as an argument technique

      September 14, 2013 at 10:47 am |
  12. Agnostickids

    How the heck did Jesus find guys named Peter, John, James, Matthew, Andrew, Philip, Thomas and Simon in the Middle East???

    Think about it.

    September 13, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • Meredith S.

      Anglicized names from the Greek translation. Did you post this on all of the blogs?

      September 13, 2013 at 5:17 pm |
  13. Josh

    Better idea ban all the wacky religions Christianity Islam Judaism etc. Replace religious teaching with science and we will have a much more enlightened society.

    September 13, 2013 at 3:02 am |
    • sam stone

      ban religion?

      how do you propose banning an idea?

      September 13, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Dyslexic doG

      that'd be the perfect world Josh.

      September 13, 2013 at 10:45 am |
      • Bill Deacon

        A 'perfect world" is such a religious idea don't you think?

        September 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
        • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

          Yes, it's completely nonsensical.

          September 13, 2013 at 1:29 pm |
        • Sara

          I think it's mostly just hypothetical. Very few religions ever expect this world to be perfect.

          September 13, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that

      Banning religion = retarded and/or megalomaniacal.

      September 13, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • Snow

      Religion is just one of the ways people use to make the "I am better than you because..." statement. if you ban religion, they will just find something else to fill in the blank.. Human nature, sadly.

      September 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • Meredith S.

      I respectfully disagree. We should no more ban religion than we should codify religion into our laws.
      Believe/don't believe as you like. I will do the same.

      September 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  14. Reason

    Well, Excuse Me if I don't think that someone practicing Shariah law is attuned to our modern societal values.

    September 13, 2013 at 1:57 am |
    • Sara

      Certainly anyone who supports replacing our laws with Sharia or any other religious or ideological laws should be excluded. This should be a basic part of immigration questioning, and anyone found to have lied about it should be open to revocation so long as they still hold citizenship in their country of origin. Once a citizen, however, anyone is free to change their mind. But no sane country invites in people who plan to overthrow the system of government.

      September 13, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  15. Douglas

    Any religion that invites 50 year old men to marry 6 year old girls and puncture their uterus on the "wedding night" so the girl bleeds to death is out of touch with God.

    There is nothing phobic about the rejection of this depraved practice.

    Women and girls are not objects for male pleasure, abuse and discard.

    Break the silence...now!

    September 12, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Cheryl Magnuson

      Yeah, you want to do what exactly? Get over yourself.

      September 12, 2013 at 9:30 pm |
    • Roger that

      "is out of touch with God."

      How do you know? Does God talk to you? Your statement essentially describes morality in line with that of the Bible god.

      September 12, 2013 at 11:38 pm |
      • karie

        Problem, moron? Your faith is based on nothing. No science supports your ridiculous, stupid, childish daydreams, honey. Your god ain't cutting it

        September 13, 2013 at 3:12 am |
        • Roger that

          I don't know if you have clicked the wrong reply button or if you have jumped to the wrong conclusion. I'll refrain from calling you a moron.

          September 13, 2013 at 4:10 am |
        • Trollspotting 101

          Karie > death, but not by much.

          September 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Antigone

      Is it the practice of child rape you are condemning, or Islam? Please clarify.
      One is correct and just, and the other is religious bigotry.
      I suspect that your graphic post, designed for shock value, contains more of the latter than the former.

      September 12, 2013 at 11:44 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.