British authorities grabbed media headlines on August 10, claiming to have foiled Muslim terrorists caught in the act of harboring suspicious liquids in their homes–sending U.S. and British airports into an anti-terrorist frenzy. But the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was simultaneously zeroing in on yet another alleged conspiracy: men of “Middle-Eastern descent” who were scooping up cell phones at Wal-Mart stores in Ohio and Michigan.
On August 8, two such suspects, Ali Houssaiky and Osama Sabhi Abulhassan of Dearborn, Michigan, were arrested in Marietta, Ohio after a traffic stop—when arresting officers discovered 12 cell phones, $11,000 in cash, and “airplane passenger lists” in their car.
The men told authorities that the passenger lists were left by a relative who worked at an airport and that they were buying the cell phones in order to resell them at a profit. They were nevertheless charged with supporting terrorism.
Within days of the Ohio arrests, three Palestinian men from Texas–Adham Othman, Louai Othman and Awad Muhareb–were arrested in Caro, Michigan with 1,000 cell phones in their possession, along with digital photos of the Mackinac Bridge (the five-mile bridge linking Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas). They were charged with gathering material related to terrorism (the cell phones) and surveillance of a vulnerable target (the Mackinac Bridge).
These men said they were selling cell phones for a profit and merely took photos of the bridge as visiting tourists. But CBS News informed viewers that the “Texas Trio” had been charged with “collecting or providing materials for terrorist acts and surveillance of a vulnerable target for terrorist purposes.”
Within days however, the government’s allegations quietly unraveled, when all of the accused were proven to have told the truth and all terrorism charges were dropped.
But the damage had been done. As Arsalan Iftikhar, legal director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, noted, “They don’t stop white guys with a bunch of cell phones. If they did that, there would be an uproar. But do it to Arab-Americans and nobody says anything.”
Ratcheting up racism
President George W. Bush denied in the months after the September 11 terrorist attacks (having declared “either you are with us or against us”) that the world’s Muslims were an enemy of the U.S. But he has seemed less concerned with this matter as the U.S.’ Middle East war aims continue to backfire, from Iraq to Lebanon. Indeed, since Israel’s debacle in Lebanon, Bush has amplified an anti-Muslim message—using the term “Islamic fascism” to describe America’s enemies (including both the Hezbollah resistance in Lebanon and that of Hamas in Palestine) on at least two occasions in recent weeks.
Bush argued on August 14 that Lebanon is a front in the “global war on terrorism.” He continued, “Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, Hamas kidnapped another Israeli soldier … We must not allow terrorists to prevent elected leaders from working together toward a comprehensive peace agreement in the Middle East.”
Yet Israel, ostensibly the only “democracy” in the Middle East, is now holding captive five Cabinet ministers of the Palestinian Authority and has kidnapped more than two dozen elected members of the Palestinian parliament in recent months.
By invoking the war on terror abroad, Bush has emboldened the cause of racial profiling against Arabs and Muslims at home. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asserted just days ago, “all young Muslims should be subjected to more scrutiny than Granny [at U.S. airports]. And we should blend some Israeli screening procedures with our own.”
A significant minority of Americans apparently agree. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll conducted in late July showed nearly 40 percent of Americans said they harbor prejudice against Muslims. The same percentage supported requiring all Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry a special ID “as a means of preventing terrorist attacks in the United States.” Nearly one in four—22 percent—said they wouldn’t want Muslims as their neighbors.
An early-August poll by Cornell University found that 44 percent of Americans support limiting Muslim-Americans’ civil liberties, while 27 percent supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register with the federal government and 22 percent favored racial profiling of Arabs and Muslims for security purposes.
To be sure, recent U.S. polls tail trends in Israel, where an October 2005 Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies’ opinion poll showed 46 percent of Israel’s Jewish population favor “transferring” (i.e., ethnically cleansing) Palestinians from Israel’s occupied territories, and 31 percent supported transferring Israeli Arabs out of Israel’s borders. But the parallels are clear.
Resistance is not terrorism
Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. Hezbollah is not. It is a genuine resistance movement against Israeli invasion and occupation.
Nor does Hezbollah seek to establish an Iranian-style Islamic state in Lebanon. In an interview with Adam Shatz, writing for the New York Review of Books in 2004, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah clearly stated his views:
“We believe the requirement for an Islamic state is to have an overwhelming popular desire, and we’re not talking about fifty percent plus one, but a large majority. And this is not available in Lebanon and probably never will be.”
It is high time to make a clear distinction between legitimate resistance operations—movements of self-defense against imperialist invasion—and “terrorism”.
For good reason, 87 percent of the Lebanese population supported Hezbollah during the recent war, while an early-August poll by Near East Consulting, based in Ramallah, showed that 97 percent of Palestinians also supported Hezbollah—including 95 percent of Christian Arabs in the Palestinian Authority.
With civil war looming in Iraq, the media has paid much less attention to the Iraqi resistance—but the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi troops has doubled since January. “The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels,” commented a senior Defense Department official. “The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time,” he added.
According to the New York Times, “An analysis of the 1,666 bombs that exploded in July shows that 70 percent were directed against the American-led military force, according to a spokesman for the military command in Baghdad. Twenty percent struck Iraqi security forces, up from 9 percent in 2005. And 10 percent of the blasts struck civilians, twice the rate from last year.”
The U.S.’ military strategy in the Middle East may be in tatters, but its culture war against Islam is advancing spectacularly—on the domestic front, if nowhere else.