Minority Report · (Noun) · a separate summary presented by members of a group that disagrees with the majority Every time a terror suspect is nabbed, I duck and cringe – in fear that (s)he will turn out to be a Muslim. And each time my fears come true, a part of my broader Muslim identity feels undermined and under fire. But I remember being dumbfounded the day Nafis, a 21-year old Bangladeshi, was arrested during an attempted terror attack. The shrapnel from this news hit home closer and I realized that my Bangladeshi identity was much more immediate and familiar.
Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis was arrested in New York – about a year ago – in an FBI sting operation. Bureau officials said the young man targeted the Federal Reserve Building, drove an explosive-laden van to it and tried to set off the 1000-pound bomb using a remote device. The FBI said that Nafis had instructions on how to make a bomb out of household items and recordings of the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Lawyers on both defense and state sides argued that Nafis had become radicalized in his Bangladeshi university and had come to the US with aspirations of ‘Jihad’. In short, he had come prepared. His family was astounded. They had Skyped with the young man just hours earlier. The father said, “He used to take someone to go the roof at night. I can’t believe he could be part of it (the plot).” To make things worse, Nafis was what the FBI calls ‘lone wolf actors’ – would-be terrorists without ties to any terrorist outfits. How does that happen to a 21-year old who looked just as if he had just emerged from a fast-food joint? How does that happen to a boy who had gone to university in Dhaka, a few kilometers from where I live? It’s the kind of story that we want to distance and disassociate ourselves from. Yet it’s also precisely the type of thing we need to wake up to.
My initial anguish was fractionally assuaged by the fact that the bomb never went off and no one was hurt. Nafis’ attempt was a victimless crime – barring the emotional trauma & disgrace of his family and scores of Bangladeshis. But as we quickly learnt: everything, except Nafis’ sinister motive and motivation to detonate the bomb, was fake. But that hasn’t saved him from a sentence of 30 years in prison, handed out this month. In a 5-page letter to Judge Carol Bagley, he wrote, “I truly hate my actions and I know that I will never pursue such behaviour again that is not only un-Islamic, but also destroyed my family and my life.” Thus, Nafis – a seemingly-timid boy from a middle-class family and with a university degree –ended up as another statistic in the database of Islamist Terrorists. It’s uncertain if this incident was random or part of an emerging pattern. We need to analyse if such incidents can become a staple for our country. What does it take to create an individual ready to detonate a WMD? Part of that understanding can’t come without clarity about the ‘not entrapment’ strategy of US security agencies. Shamiur Rahman, a 20-year old Bangladeshi-American, has shed some light on the matter.
In 2012, Shamiur was excused from drug possession charges in return for working as an NYPD informant spying on Muslim neighborhoods. “We (NYPD) need you to pretend to be one of them,” Shamiur recalled the police telling him. “It’s street theatre.” For up to $1000 a month, he took pictures inside mosques and spied on imams. His orders were to “bait” Muslims into saying provocative things. The NYPD was interested in buzz words such as ‘jihad’ and ‘revolution’. In this strategy – called ‘create and capture’ – the NYPD employs hundreds of informants who get paid when they set up a suspect. Shamiur has since left his career as an informant behind. It was ‘detrimental to the constitution’ he told The Associated Press. He may be one of the luckier ones.Adam Goldman of Huffington Post wrote, “Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques – known informally as ‘mosque crawlers’ – tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there’s no evidence they committed a crime.” It’s based on this raw intel that potential terrorists are zeroed in on and eventually approached.
In 2010, Newburgh, NY saw the highly-publicised trial of four men in the Bronx Terror Plot. Each had been promised a payment of $250,000 and a BMW automobile by a fast-talking FBI informant. The defense lawyers, in an attempt to show how unlikely targets they were, said that the four men neither had cars nor driving-licenses. Incidentally, in criminal law, a law enforcement agent inducing a person to commit an offence that the person would otherwise have been unlikely to commit – is known as ‘Entrapment’ (Sloane 1990). Eventually, the Entrapment defense did not hold up and the defendants received 25 years each. But this time, the Government faced criticism too.
“The essence of what occurred here is that a government, understandably zealous to protect its citizens from terrorism, came upon a man both bigoted and suggestible, one who was incapable of committing an act of terrorism on his own,” said U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon. She said the defendants were “not political or religious martyrs,” but “thugs for hire, pure and simple.” In his book “The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism,” author Trevor Aaronson writes that the U.S. government is responsible for “hatching and financing more terrorist plots in the United States than any other group.” He has been studying the 500+ defendants in terror-related charges in the decade since 9/11. Most of those picked up in the so-called ‘foiled attacks’ (e.g. the case of Nafis) are caught through operations with undercover FBI agents or paid informants posing as a terrorist operative. This ‘operative’ can give the suspect money, (fake) bombs, transportation and even the ‘idea’ for the terrorist attack. And when the suspect pushes a button to detonate – agents rush in to charge and arrest him. Aaronson has gone as far to suggest that the majority of the foiled attacks are really only foiled attacks because the FBI made the attack possible in the first place. The defendant is often not as central to the operation as are the undercover agents, paid informants, their passion to go through with it and the Federal resources they bring. Aaronson says that the would-be terrorists have, at best, a vague idea for violence, no means, no weapons and no connections to international terrorist groups.
One online news outlet revealed that according to raw statistical data – Americans have a significantly better chance of being struck dead by lightning than of being killed in a terrorist attack at home. It also said that only 1 percent of the terrorists caught by the FBI are real. If these accounts are anything to go by – what we often have is ‘simulation’. Terror plots on Petri-dishes – scoped out, planned, initiated, briefed, fed and monitored by the FBI each step of the way. Without the FBI, its persuasion and resources – defendants couldn’t have done it. But why would the FBI conceivably exaggerate Terrorism statistics? Once again, Aaronson has a theory: the FBI receives $3 billion in counter-terrorism budget for which, it needs to show results, he suggests. Or they face budget cuts. That is translated into pressure on field-offices and individual agents to ‘deliver’ (terrorists). There is, in effect, a law-enforcement pyramid-scheme at work where, at the bottom, informants get commissions every time they successfully set someone up. This elaborate system of commissions, budgets and bureaucracies is contingent upon regular attempts at Terrorism and ensuing arrests. Following 9/11 and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, many had wagered on waves of Islamic terrorist attacks. But the fears were unfounded. Prof. Charles Kurzman of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and author of ‘The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists’ – shows that 36 Americans have died from such attacks since 9/11. To put it into context, some of the other reasons vis-à-vis Islamic terror statistics are, murder (5000 times more), mass shootings (7 times more), white supremacist violence (5.5 times more). In 2011, the Kurzman report showed that US security agencies and the American Muslim community had helped arrest the same number of terror suspects (48 each). All evidence suggests that Islamic terrorism is not on the rise and that the American Muslim community is just as dedicated – even efficient – as the security agencies in combating terrorism. Homeland Security is a new type of commodity in the post-9/11 world – paid for by curtailed freedoms, murky legal & law-enforcement regimes and unprecedented surveillance. A specific example of the price paid is the PRISM surveillance program, perfectly supported by the FISA Courts. On the outside, private security & defense contractors, arms producers and energy companies all have a stake in the War on Terror. In fact, the multibillion-dollar counter-terror sector organizes an Expo in London. This new way of governing and selective prosperity can’t be sustained without a steady stream of terrorist attacks and the ensuing panic.
The global War on Terror is fueled by geopolitical and economic motives and is unlikely to fizzle out soon. This puts pressure on security agencies to ‘create and capture’, exaggerate or otherwise boost their success rate. And what Shamiur’s story tells us is that – in a world judging ideology by ethnicities – Bangladeshis in the West will always run the risk of getting sucked into the commotion over Terrorism. So, Bangladeshi communities will continue to be scoured, Bangladeshi youths lured into sting operations or God forbid, actual terrorist plots. And the worst part is that there are local political (radical and otherwise) forces that are eager to supply fodder for Terrorism and the War on it. Their target is not only ideological but also related to hefty overseas aids and military assistance. Overly simplified, it’s all a vicious, global demand-supply model with Acts of Terrorism as the intersecting point. And I daresay that both sides’ motivation can be understood through the words of the sociologist Ulrich Beck, who wrote, “Properly exploited, a novel risk is always an elixir to an ailing leader”. This refers to both waning superpowers and fading (self-proclaimed) saviors of creed. I will leave readers with this concluding thought: boys like Nafis are suffering the consequences of their vile actions. But they’ve been brought to that by lies: lies of radical clerics, lies of rakers & informants, lies of special agents and lies of invisible political forces that benefit from fomenting Global Terrorism. They have been vulnerable to these lies because the non-violent Truths of their tradition hadn’t been taught to them properly. And as long as misinterpretation of Religion can cause real damage – its correct understanding will yield real benefits. The real solution isn’t in trapping ideologically and emotionally vulnerable youths in staged sting-operations – it lies in equipping these young souls with the knowledge of their respective religions and traditions, so they can’t be manipulated. The proverbial ball …is in our court.