Sunday, May 11, 2014

Our Struggle against Islamic Fundamentalism

Since 9/11, various levels of the American government have sought, not only to prevent another attack by Islamic fundamentalists on U.S. soil, but also to combat the inroads made by Islamic law overseas. In today’s news, three stories highlight different frontlines of this battle, as well as the limits and miscalculations of American power and influence to undercut the influence of Islamic fundamentalism.

First up to the plate is the report by Joseph Goldstein in the New York Times that NYPD detectives make regular trips to the city’s jails, not to investigate crime, but rather to recruit Muslim informants. Mr. Goldstein reports that detectives routinely question numerous individuals, who were incarcerated for mostly minor criminal offenses, in an effort to spy on mosques throughout the city. According to the article, the Citywide Debriefing Team “interviewed” some 220 suspects in the first quarter of 2014. Although city officials claim that the program is modeled on other programs to recruit informants to investigate crimes such as drug trafficking, the program raises several red flags on both the individual and societal level. On the individual level, the program intrudes on the suspect’s liberty and privacy interests. First, because the potential informants are often held for a longer period of time, if only a few hours, until a member of the debriefing unit arrives, the program interferes with the suspect’s liberty interests. Second, because the detectives gather information on the suspect’s family, religious practices, and immigrant communities, the program is yet one more example of how the state has extended its reach into our private lives. Finally, in some respects, the program is more coercive than plea bargaining, as some informants may feel pressured into surrendering their privacy and information about their family lives, in exchange for the dismissal of petty charges.

On the societal level, a report by NYU’s Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, points to several problems with law enforcement’s use of Muslim informants. First, this policy assumes that most Muslims living in the U.S. have some ties to terrorism. Using similarly flawed logic, these policies assume that the U.S. faces a real threat from homegrown Muslim terrorists. Perhaps, most disturbingly, because the policies are based on a preventative, rather than a reactive, model of policing, they threaten to create crime through police entrapment with little oversight or accountability.

The second story of interest involves the boycott by movie industry executives of the famous Beverly Hills Hotel.  The primary motivation for the boycott is the fact that the hotel is owned by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei who recently adopted a harsh form of Islamic law.  The “new” laws, which went into effect on May 1st, calls for gays and adulterers to be stoned and thieves to be punished by having their limbs amputated. Both the International Commission of Jurists and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have condemned the new laws.  Brunei is not alone in embracing Sharia law as it continues to influence legal norms in 12 other countries throughout the world including Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although boycotts can be an effective way of publicizing an issue, the small scale of this boycott is unlikely to provoke Brunei to rewrite its legal codes.

The final article highlights one of the side effects of our country’s recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq-the human cost of battle. Barry Meier’s article, “A Soldier’s War on Pain,” we are reminded of the human cost of war.  Four years ago, Sgt. Shane Savage was seriously injured in Afghanistan when his armored truck was blown apart by a roadside bomb. After battling chronic pain for several years after the blast, the Sgt. has found a way to handle his pain without the use of narcotics. The lifetime of pain that the Sgt. must likely endure is one reminder of the long-lasting costs of our misguided and largely counter-productive military adventures.  One subtext of the article is the fact that Sgt. Savage found his path to healing through an innovative, but not widespread, multi-disciplinary pain treatment program developed by the VA hospital in Tampa, Florida. While many members of Congress quickly voiced support for our war efforts, upgrading our veteran’s medical care is not a top political goal of either party.

These three articles underscore our country’s continued concern with Islamic fundamentalism and the threat that fundamentalism poses to human rights. At the same time, they also highlight the limits and human costs of the use of American power. Most disturbingly, they shine the light on the fact that our policies reflect our overconfidence in the use of power and leverage on our own soil-most notably exploiting our criminal justice system’s most glaring systemic weakness-the exploitation of the rights of our most powerless residents.


Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, “Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the Homegrown Threat in the United States,” (2011). Available online at:

Michael Ciepely, “Brunei Ownership Casts a Shadow on a Beverly Hills Hotel, New York Times, May 9, 2014.

Joseph Goldstein, “New York Police Recruit Muslims to be Informers,” New York Times, May 11, 2014.

Luke Hunt, “Brunei Imposes Sharia Law,” May 2, 2014, The Diplomat-Blog. Available online at: 

Barry Meier, “A Soldier’s War on Pain,” New York Times, May 10, 2014.

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