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Trump wants to surveil Muslims in the U.S.—and why we should all be concerned

News & Commentary  |  By Dina El-Rifai, Feb 16, 2018
Photo: AFSC / Larry Gindhart

Last week, Foreign Policy published a draft report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that indicated the Trump administration plans to undertake long-term surveillance of Sunni Muslim immigrants in the United States. The report identified a broad group of individuals—including permanent residents and U.S. citizens—that DHS considers “vulnerable to terrorist narratives.” 

Which Sunni Muslim immigrants fit “at-risk” profiles, according to DHS? Those who are young, male, and from “the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.”

If this description doesn’t already sound broad enough to you, consider that Sunnis constitute up to 90 percent of the Muslim population worldwide.

This is the latest in the Trump administration’s racist attacks on Muslims disguised as promoting national security. And it should fuel our commitment to stand against discriminatory policies and practices that continue to dehumanize and strip away the rights of the Muslim community.

These policies also communicate to the public that they should fear their Muslim neighbors—further feeding Islamophobic sentiment that has led to a rise in incidents of intimidation and violence against Muslims.

Since 9/11, every administration has disproportionately targeted Muslims in the name of national security—including racial and religious profiling under the “PATRIOT Act” and forcing Muslim non-citizens to undergo fingerprinting and enhanced background checks through a discriminatory policy known as the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS).

The Trump administration is rapidly building on that shameful legacy of perpetuating Islamophobia in U.S. policy. Trump’s heinous Muslim ban—now being challenged in the courts—would bar immigrants from mostly majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S. In Trump’s State of the Union, he announced his plans to keep open Guantanamo Bay, the most explicit example of anti-Muslim violence and torture.

This recent DHS report is not simply the government’s plan to openly surveil the world’s largest sect of Muslims. It signals a clear repressive attack on the freedoms of people whose social, political, racial, and ethnic identities do not align with the Trump administration's white supremacist agenda. And we won’t even get into the fact that white Americans are actually responsible for the majority of mass attacks in the U.S. 

This allows the government to target anyone working toward racial and religious justice and equality and to employ violent tactics against them. That reality should alarm all of us, not just Muslims.

Government has continually used surveillance tactics to criminalize political activists—particularly people of color—in the United States. Last year, documents obtained from DHS and the FBI revealed government surveillance and monitoring of the Black Lives Matter movement. An FBI report also revealed that the agency had invented the designation “Black Identity Extremists,” which it characterized as an “emergent domestic terror threat.” Many noted that this was eerily reminiscent of COINTELPRO, an FBI program in the 1960s that secretly and illegally surveilled the civil rights movement to disrupt political organizing. Tactics used against activists included wiretapping, harassment, smear campaigns, and blackmail—leading to multiple prison sentences for political activists and the killing of Black Panther Fred Hampton by Chicago police.

As we have throughout our history, we must continue to stand up to racist policies and any attempt by the government to suppress our First Amendment rights. We must continue to work for a world where all people can live and pray in peace. A growing number of activists around the country are doing just that.  

Every day, I’m heartened to hear about individuals, communities, and organizations working to stop the surveillance and profiling of Muslims. In Los Angeles, for instance, community members are organizing to pressure the mayor and City Council to refuse federal funding for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), a DHS program that targets and surveils Muslims. Follow the #StopCVE hashtag to learn more about organizing efforts across the U.S.

You can take steps to join our efforts to end surveillance and confront Islamophobia in all of its forms:

About the Author

Dina El-Rifai works with AFSC's Communities Against Islamophobia project. She has also served as Public Policy Fellow in AFSC's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.

 

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