The National Commission on Terrorism recently issued its first report intended to offer approaches to preventing and punishing terrorism on American soil, particularly those related to the Middle East. I was nominated to that commission last year, only to have my name withdrawn after campaigning from Zionist organizations because I did not agree that terrorism applied only to Arab or Muslim perpetrators; I believed terrorism also applies when Israelis are the perpetrators.

But American Muslims are apprehensive about the direction this commission has taken and about the potential for backlash on both the civil-rights and international-relations fronts. They feel the recommendations, and the ensuing legislation or directives made by the government, will continue to target them, using Islam as the scapegoat for a serious and complex problem.

The report's proposals are, unfortunately, deeply flawed. The commission has given us the same formula for counter-terrorism that has been prescribed for the last 20 years: more funding, more military involvement, and more surveillance.

Such a policy did not prevent the bombing of the East African U.S. Embassy bombings or the World Trade Center bombings. The current focus of our counter-terrorism policy on the Middle East and now, to a lesser degree, on South Asia disregards terrorism committed by domestic groups. Under this framework, those responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing will go undetected because terrorism only applies when a certain ethnic or religious group is involved.

And the new policies recommended by this commission only serve to reinvigorate stereotypes, target individuals, and fail in actually producing a plan to combat terrorism.

A particularly ominous part of the commission's report calls for the monitoring of foreign students. Any student who changes his or her major from English to nuclear physics will be flagged by the government. Not only is this an assault on academic freedom, but it is also targeting a segment of American society. A source close to the commission said the original recommendation targeted Arab and Muslim students.

Amnesty International has already condemned the commission's decision to encourage dealings with unsavory characters in order to gather information about terrorists--a sort of plea-bargaining mechanism for international outlaws. Past experience has shown that these of relationships only damage the interests and image of the United States.

The commission also recommended military involvement in responding to terrorism on American soil. As if taking its cue from the movie "The Siege," it has opted to erode the tradition of civilian rule and bypass law enforcement agencies.

On the international front, the commission suggested that Greece and Pakistan, while not known to be state sponsors of terrorism, head a list of countries that have failed to cooperate adequately with the United States in combating terrorism. Now that these countries have been humiliated by a U.S. government panel, we can rest assured there will be less cooperation, as their hardliners have another opportunity of accusing the United States of bullying them. If the objective of such a measure is to get Pakistan to help capture Osama bin Laden and to get Greece to reign in the terror of the Marxist group November 17, then this panel just helped shut the door on both possibilities.

In the case of Iran, the commission is off the mark again, warning that U.S. support for reformists in Iran can be interpreted as support for terrorism. They are accused as agents of the West by their right-wing members of government, and now they are viewed as meaningless by American hardliners. The commission is thereby calling for more isolation of these reformers and, in effect, more isolation of America from the masses of the Muslim world. Effective counter-terrorism policy should isolate terrorists and radicals, moderates in the Muslim world.

If the Middle East is the focal point of terrorism, then it would have been logical to utilize the human resources of millions of American Muslims who can help determine the root causes of violent extremism in the Muslim world and incorporate these critical understandings in the report.

But of the 146 witnesses who testified to the commission, not a single American Muslim or leader of an Islamic movement was asked for a presentation. Exclusion and discrimination took place in both the establishment of the commission and in the process of deliberations.

If anything positive came out of the report, it is the call for modifying the use of secret evidence in U.S. courts. Based on a clause in the 1996 anti-terrorism law, the defendant, the defense lawyer, and the judge cannot review the charges by the prosecution or the identity of the accusers in a case involving speculation of terrorist activity. The commission does seem to have recognized that, much as McCarthyists overreached in combating communism, we are overreaching in our attempt to find effective measures in combating terrorism.

Frankly, there has been a financial expansion of the "counter-terrorism industry," and those who have a vested interest in maintaining the expansion don't seem to care to hear from those who want to consider different approaches. The commission seems determined to maintain the status quo of confrontation, targeting a segment of American society and the world. Alternative voices need to be heard for a serious counter-terrorism policy to have any chance of success.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad