Assimilation and Rejection

March 11, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

On July 31, 1997, a six-man Emergency Services Unit (ESU) [of the NYPD] raided the apartment of two Middle Eastern terrorists who were in possession of bombs that they planned to detonate in the New York subway that morning.
So begins Seven Shots, An NYPD Raid on a Terrorist Cell and its Aftermath by my colleague Jennifer Hunt and recently published by U. of Chicago Press.

The police had been tipped off by a Pakistani immigrant, Mohammed Chindluri. Had he not said anything, it’s very likely that scores of New Yorkers, hundreds perhaps, would have been killed during the morning rush hour.

Why did Chindluri inform on the men who had been his roommates? It seems only natural. You know that someone is planning to bomb a subway station, you go to the police.

That was in 1997. But here is what I worry about now. I imagine a Mohammed Chindluri today. He has seen and heard the demonstrations in New York saying that his religion does not have a right to construct a house of worship on Park Place in lower Manhattan. He has heard that a New York congressman is holding hearings to show how Muslims are a terrorist threat to the US. Will this Mohammed Chindluri feel the same human impulse to save Americans whose lives are in danger? Or might he think, “They have drawn a line and put me on the other side; I owe them nothing”?

I wish I knew of some good research on what happens to people who find themselves vilified because they share some characteristic (ethnicity, religion) with a few people who are a real danger. My concern is not just academic. The people who are stirring up the fear and hatred against Muslims may be making themselves feel virtuous (patriots defending their country), but they may also be raising the actual risk of terrorism. But those unintended consequences will not be borne by the demonstrators. Most of the people riding the Muslims-are-terrorists bandwagon don’t take the subway. They live in places that are unlikely to be targets. No, the risks will be borne by those of us who live in cities and use public transportation. Thanks, guys.

Of course, Rep. King’s hearings could persuade American Muslims to be even more vigilant and to root out and inform on all possible terrorist recruits. But maybe not.

Suppose that Rep. King held hearings on other groups who rank far above Muslims on the FBI’s list of terrorist threats: militia/patriot groups, freemen/sovereign citizen, extreme anti-tax, and extreme anti-immigrant. How about Christian Identity?

Congress to Hold Hearings on Terrorist Threat Posed by Christian Identity

How would Christians react, especially those who knew people in the movement and perhaps even had some sympathy for some of their ideas? Would they assimilate to mainstream views, turning on (and turning in) their Christian Identity friends? Or might they reject the accusers? Might they even have a new respect for their movement acquaintances (“Maybe that stuff about the government being out to get us wasn't so nutty after all”)?

UPDATE: 9 a.m.: The Democracy in America blog at The Economist made a similar point yesterday about right-wing parties here and in the Netherlands. (I think the blogger is Will Wilkinson, but I can’t find a by-line on the page.) Calling Tea Partiers racists or comparing the Dutch PVV to Nazis (a comparison that Wilkinson (?) says is “not a wholly absurd rhetorical exercise”) serves only to rally the troops. Solidarity thrives on perceived injustice.


Arnie said...

These two links will enable you to access articles describing Peter King's hearing:

jch said...

In the wake of 9/11, federal government agencies were pushing local police departments to join them in interrogating Muslim residents regarding their knowledge of terrorism. The acting Chief of the Portland Police Department refused as did the Chief of the Seattle P.D. Other police departments took different approaches. Some cooperated and some agreed to be present but refused to ask their Muslim community members present.

In Seven Shots, retired Chief Bill Morange, nicknamed when he was a precinct CO, "The White Prince of Harlem," was adamant about Chindluri's courage and bravery. Years later, when one of the main characters in Seven Shots asked me for information about the 1997 raid to help him put together a talk for a SWAT conference, I emphasized Chindluri's courage in coming forward, something I felt that some of the rank and file officers didn't fully realize.

The officers incorporated my suggestions in to his talk and, in so doing, clarified his openness to new understanding and orientation to what he had experienced in the past.

In this weeks NYTimes, there as an encouraging article about the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and its efforts to build trust in the Muslim community.

Let's hope that more police departments follow this model. If they don't, there is no hope that terrorist plots will be aborted before they begin.

As you note, there is also a strong chance our country will begin to spawn new terrorist ranks from within - composed of Muslims who have been labeled criminals and treated by such.

History repeats itself - in a new form of Japanese Internment camps.

jch said...

In the wake of 9/11 The FBI pushed local police departments across the country to work with them, interrogating members of Muslim communities regarding their knowledge of terrorism. The acting Chief of the Portland P.D. refused as did the Chief of the Seattle P.D. One police department decided to take a more passive stance, by having its officers accompany the feds but refusing the ask any questions.

Recently, as you probably know, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department has developed a program that attempts to build trust with members of the Muslim community. Officers drink chai with community leaders and help mediate parental concerns.

In one case, officers assured a father that his boy's effort to assert his Muslim identity did not represent a threat.

In Seven Shots, I write about retired Chief Bill Morange. He had great respect for the Muslim community. Indeed, he was nicknamed "the white prince of Harlem" by community members when he was CO of a precinct that included many Middle, African, and African American Muslim members.

One of the main characters in the book was giving a talk about the 1997 raid at SWAT conference several summers ago. He asked me to review his outline and, after we'd talked, he included a lengthy discussion about Chindluri's courage in coming forward and alerting the police to the plot.

This reminded me how important it is to remind police that "winning hearts and minds" and respecting those individuals who dare to come forward and speak to the police of their concerns is the only way that we will be able to minimize the likelihood of a terrorist attack.

Key to this process is police officers and detectives who do not overreact to information and or people's fears in a way that turns anxiety into fact,