As violence escalates in the Middle East, ordinary Muslim Americans watch in fear. The sprawling post-9/11 surveillance and counterterrorism architecture is ramping up again in response to the Israel-Hamas War, protests in the United States, and fears of an increased terrorist attacks. Persistent failures to reform overly broad U.S. counterterrorism laws and policies suggest that safeguards against rights abuses may well prove inadequate. And once again, it is Muslim American communities who will suffer.
Testifying before Congress earlier this month, both the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expressed concern that the conflict in Israel and Gaza increased the risk of a terrorist attack in the United States. FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the violence in the region had raised the potential for an attack in the United States to “a whole other level,” comparing it to the ISIS-inspired attacks of the previous decade. DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas similarly raised the alarm about foreign terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, executing attacks on U.S. soil.
These types of “high threat” environments make it all too likely that security agencies will overreach as they have in the past. After 9/11, the FBI sent agents into Muslim American communities and mosques across the country—not because it suspected criminal activity but in order to learn about their political and religious opinions. It created “maps” of minority communities, including Muslims, across the United States. In its efforts to recruit informants among the mostly immigrant Muslim American diaspora, the FBI has threatened to block immigration benefits and dangled promises to ease immigration problems or forgive crimes.
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