The day after 9/11, Texas police arrested two Indian Muslim men riding a train and carrying about $5,000 in cash, black hair dye and boxcutters like those used to hijack four planes just one day earlier.
[The police held the pair initially on immigration charges (their U.S. visas had expired); when further inquiry turned up credit card fraud, that kept them longer in detention. But law enforcement's real interest, of course, had to do with their possible connections to Al-Qaeda.]
To investigate this matter - and here our information comes from one of the two, Ayub Ali Khan, after he was released - the authorities put them through some pretty rough treatment.
Khan says the interrogation "terrorized" him. [He recounts how "Five to six men would pull me in different directions very roughly as they asked rapid-fire questions. . . . Then suddenly they would brutally throw me against the wall." They also asked him political questions: had he, for example, "ever discussed the situation in Palestine with friends?"]
Eventually exonerated of connections to terrorism and freed from jail, Khan is - not surprisingly - bitter about his experience, saying that he and his traveling partner were singled out on the basis of profiling. This is self-evidently correct: Had Khan not been a Muslim, the police would have had little interest in him and his boxcutters.
Khan's tribulation brings to attention the single-most delicate and agonizing issue in prosecuting the War on Terror. Does singling out Muslims for additional scrutiny serve a purpose? And if so, is it legally and morally acceptable?
In reply to the first question - yes, enhanced scrutiny of Muslims makes good sense, for several reasons:
In the course of their assaults on Americans, Islamists - the supporters of militant Islam - have killed nearly 4,000 people since 1979. No other enemy has remotely the same record.
Islamists are plotting to kill many more Americans, as shown by the more than one-group-a-month arrests of them since 9/11.
While most Muslims are not Islamists and most Islamists are not terrorists, all Islamist terrorists are Muslims.
Islamist terrorists do not appear spontaneously, but emerge from a milieu of religious sanction, intellectual justification, financial support and organizational planning.
These circumstances - and this is the unpleasant part - point to the imperative of focusing on Muslims. There is no escaping the unfortunate fact that Muslim government employees in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps need to be watched for connections to terrorism, as do Muslim chaplains in prisons and the armed forces. Muslim visitors and immigrants must undergo additional background checks. Mosques require a scrutiny beyond that applied to churches and temples.
Singling out a class of persons by their religion feels wrong, if not downright un-American, prompting the question: Even if useful, should such scrutiny be permitted?
If Americans want to protect themselves from Islamist terrorism, they must temporarily give higher priority to security concerns than to civil-libertarian sensitivities.
Preventing Islamists from inflicting further damage implies the regrettable step of focusing on Muslims. Not to do so is an invitation to further terrorism.
This solemn reality suggests four thoughts:
First, as Khan's experience shows, Muslims are already subjected to added scrutiny; the time has come for politicians to catch up to reality and formally acknowledge what are now quasi-clandestine practices. Doing so places these issues in the public arena, where they can openly be debated.
Second, because having to focus heightened attention on Muslims is inherently so unpleasant, it needs to be conducted with utmost care and tact, remembering, above all, that seven out of eight Muslims are not Islamists, and fewer still are connected to terrorism.
Third, this is an emergency measure that should end with the War on Terror's end.
Finally, innocent Muslims who must endure added surveillance can console themselves with the knowledge that their security, too, is enhanced by these steps.
Arrests and Convictions
Following is a partial listing of those arrested in the United States in connection to militant Islamic terrorism:
Eagon, Minn. August 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of being the intended 20th hijacker on 9/11.
Detroit and Dearborn, Mich. September 2001: Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, Farouk Ali-Haimoud and Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi (Abdella), accused of being part of a sleeper operational combat cell for a militant Islamic movement allied with al Qaeda. Specifically, they are accused of trying to cause economic harm to the United States, recruit and train terrorists, set up safe houses and gather intelligence about terror targets.
Peoria, Ill. December 2001: Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, accused of falsely denying his contacts with Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, one of the 9/11 organizers based in the United Arab Emirates;
Ann Arbor, Mich. December 2001: Rabih Haddad, accused of funneling money to terrorists via the Global Relief Foundation;
Northern Virginia and Georgia. March 2002: 15 warrants executed against several businesses (including MarJac Investments, Mar-Jac Poultry, Reston Investments, SAAR Foundation, Safa Trust and Sterling Management Group); nonprofit organizations (including the Fiqh Council of North America, Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, International Institute of Islamic Thought, International Islamic Relief Organization and Muslim World League), and four homes, all connected to M. Yaqub Mizra, accused of laundering money for al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
Justice, Ill. April 2002: Enaam Arnaout, accused of funneling money to al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations;
New York. April 2002: Mohammed Yousry, Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Yassir Al-Sirri accused of passing messages between Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman (serving a life sentence for his part in an attempt to blow up New York City landmarks) and his followers;
Chicago. May 2002: Jose Padilla, accused of being an al Qaeda member who was plotting to release a dirty bomb in a U.S. city;
Sunrise, Fla. June 2002: Adham Hassoun, suspected of organizing al Qaeda operatives in the United States;
Detroit. July 2002: Omar Abdel-Fatah Al-Shishani, accused of smuggling $12 million in bogus cashiers checks into the United States, possibly on behalf of al Qaeda (his name appeared on documents found in Afghanistan);
Seattle. July 2002: James Ujaama, accused of conspiracy to provide material support and resources and resources to al Qaeda;
Paterson, N.J. August 2002: Mohamed Atriss, accused of connections to known terrorists;
Lackawanna, N.Y. September 2002: Yahya Goba, Shafal Mosed, Yasein Taher, Taysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri and Sahim Alwan, accused of providing material support to al Qaeda, and several of them are accused of training in al Qaeda camps. Taysal Galab has confessed;
Portland, Ore. September 2002: Mohamed Kariye, accused of financial links to al Qaeda via the Global Relief Foundation;
San Diego. September 2002: Syed Saadat Ali Faraz, Muhammed Abid Afridi and Ilyas Ali, accused of trading drugs for Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to sell to al Qaeda (and caught in Hong Kong, then extradicted to the United States);
San Diego. October 2002: Syed Shah, Muhammed Apridi and Ilyas Ali, accused of conspiring to distribute illegal drugs and to provide material support and resources to a foreign terrorist organization;
Portland, Ore., and Detroit. October 2002: Jeffrey Battle, Patrice Ford, Ahmed Bilal, Muhammad Bilal, Habis Al Saoub and October Lewis, accused of forming an al Qaeda suspected terrorist cell to levy war against the United States, conspiring to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda and to contribute services to al Qaeda and the Taliban and possessing firearms.;
Orlando, Fla. November 2002: Jesse Maali, accused of ties to Middle East groups advocating violence;
Buffalo, New York. December 2002: Mohamed Albanna, Ali Albanna, Ali Elbaneh, accused of operating an illegal money transfer business to Yemen.
There have also been two major arrests connected to rogue states.
Richardson, Texas. December 2002: Five brothers—Ghassan, Bayan, Basman, Hazim and Ihsan Elashi—accused of selling computers and computer parts to Libya and Syria, both designated state sponsors of terrorism;
Seattle, Nashville, St. Louis, Dallas, Phoenix and Roanoke, Va. December 2002: Hussein Al-Shafei, Ali Noor Alsutani, Kaalid Amen, Salam Said Alkhursan, Ali Almarhoun and Malik Almaliki, accused of sending $12 million in cash and goods to Iraq via AlShafei Family Connect Inc. of Seattle.
In addition, there has been at least one conviction:
Hollywood, Fla. August 2002: Imran Mandhai and Shueyb Mossa Jokhan, pleaded guilty of planning to engage in jihad by destroying electrical power stations, Jewish institutions and other targets in southern Florida with the goal of attracting other Islamists, linking up to al Qaeda and creating a state of anarchy. At the appropriate moment, they would issue their demands, which included no help for Israel, freeing all Muslims in U.S. jails and U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East.