Hyper-vigilance toward Muslims only serves to alienate them from the law

Hani Hamdan
Hani Hamdan, DDS lives in Burnsville, Minn. and practices dentistry in Lakeville, Minn.
Submitted photo

By Hani Hamdan

Some time ago, a friend told me a story about his workplace. A Sudanese client came in for a visit. One of my friend's colleagues met the client, and afterward described him as "a very smart guy." He said it as though it were a cause for concern.

My friend understood where his colleague's concern was coming from. "He's not Muslim," said my friend. "He's a Christian Sudani." Relieved, his coworker said: "Oh, good, because I was thinking of reporting him."

My friend and I had a laugh about the story, and after that I didn't think much about it. At that time, I had heard of a few cases where anonymous callers would report their Muslim acquaintances for bogus charges and how that would wreck the lives of these Muslims. But I never thought that such an occurrence might be widespread.

Recently, however, a report by the Washington Post described how law enforcement agencies are hiring people with little knowledge about Muslims and little counterterrorism training to give consultation or lectures to law enforcement agents on the monitoring of Muslims. The report states:

"Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies."

In other words, the sort of people who like Glenn Beck and post hateful comments on Internet discussion forums have been getting hired by the government to watch Muslims -- including me and my family -- legally.

That might explain why the INS, according to the Washington Post report, "stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime." Extremists think that all Muslims are suspect until proven otherwise, leading to a deluge of needless reports and profiles. This wastes time and money and in effect makes America less safe, not more.

A colleague of mine, Daniel Bernard, has written a paper citing one example where an unqualified person was asked to give "expert advice" on Muslims here in Minnesota. Here is an excerpt:

"Former FBI-Minneapolis head [Deborah S.] Pierce recounted that in trying to improve relations with Minnesota Muslims, she received advice from experts. Pierce named two. One was Dr. Hamdi El Sawaf, director of the Islamic Center of Minnesota, who was active in interfaith attempts to prevent hostility after 9/11. The other was Dr. Nancy H. Kobrin, a St. Paul psychoanalyst who has written about Muslim terrorists. Kobrin ... gave Pierce a copy of her 2003 journal article, 'Psychoanalytic Explorations of the New Moors.' Pierce skimmed the article, discussed it with Kobrin, and later said the meeting was 'very good for understanding the big picture.'

"In the article, Kobrin ... wrote that the theology of Islam 'encourages black-and-white thinking and the need to have enemies against whom one defines himself as a believer.' Kobrin's article described terrorism not as a form of political extremism but as a group psychosis arising from subconscious conditions affecting all of Muslim culture. Kobrin theorized that jihadists attack the West because Muslims in general are still angry that the Muslim Moors lost possession of territory in Spain 500 years ago."

To a Muslim, this "psychoanalysis," in addition to being a generalization bordering on hate speech, is based on a deep lack of understanding of both Muslims and world history and politics. But when it is taken seriously by the head of the FBI in Minneapolis, it stops being funny in a hurry.

Another thing that is spooky to a Muslim is that there has been an alarming increase in cooperation in counterterrorism training between U.S. officials and the Israeli military. The Israeli military is not exactly scrupulous in avoiding human rights violations. Its long record of excessive violence, unwarranted detentions, home demolitions, extensive surveillance and strong anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment make it a less than ideal ally in the fight against terrorism.

Hiring people who believe that Muslims are trying to impose sharia law in the United States or that all Muslims should be under surveillance only serves to alienate Muslims from law enforcement. It also takes away a big chunk of their freedoms when they have to watch every innocuous thing they do or say in public, worrying that it may be used against them in some way. Taking photographs outdoors, going hunting, showing interest in flight school, or any public display of religion are all brave and adventurous things to do if you are Muslim.

It would be safer for Minnesota to embrace Muslims and keep good connections with local mosques. Muslim Americans would love to help however they can to thwart any attempt at harming Americans.

----

Hani Hamdan, DDS, lives in Burnsville and practices dentistry in Lakeville, Minn. He is a contributor and editor of Engagemn.com and a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.