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Spying on Muslims is bad policy

By Brian Nussbaum and Victor Asal, Commentary

Published 5:31 pm, Monday, May 23, 2016

http://www.timesunion.com/tuplus-opinion/article/Spying-on-Muslims-is-bad-policy-7940739.php

During the presidential primary, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz suggested increased surveillance and policing of Muslim neighborhoods in the United States. This suggestion has rightly provoked the ire of many people across the political spectrum. Even more than being out of step with American values, these strategies are counterproductive to good counterterrorism policy.

But that is not the main reason to deplore them. Imagine what they say to a 15-year-old Muslim boy or girl growing up in the United States about what their country — or at least some of their politicians — think about their role in our society.

We were happy to see New York City Police Chief William Bratton strenuously object to such misguided suggestions. Bratton rightfully noted that the 900 Muslim NYPD officers, many of whom have also served in the military, were shining examples of patriotism and service.

In fact, they have contributed far more to U.S. security than the candidate who has called for such generalized suspicion. Bratton rightfully called out the silliness of the proposed solution, but the criticism should go a step further and critique the underlying diagnosis of the problem.

One of the most untold stories of the "war on terror" is the extent to which U.S. Muslim communities have not only eschewed the radical ideology that jihadists have pushed globally (ideologies that have taken hold in some places in Europe, like the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek), but even more important, such communities have worked extensively with law enforcement to help root out those in their midst who would lead children astray.

While a few communities in the U.S. have made the news because members of them have gone off to be foreign fighters abroad — such as the Somali community in Minneapolis — the same news media have wildly underplayed the extent to which those communities have worked extensively with law enforcement to secure themselves from the corrosive presence of radicals.

Muslim-American communities are like many other hyphenated-American communities in the United States, filled with hardworking, patriotic and civically engaged individuals and families who want nothing more than to benefit from living in one of the most dynamic and exciting societies in the world.

We feel well-suited to comment on this controversy, given that we are scholars who study terrorism and counterterrorism, but also because we work extensively with counterterrorism professionals, and one of us formerly served as an intelligence analyst on such issues.

We are not Pollyannas about terrorism, and we take it very seriously. There are real bad actors out there, who really do want to kill lots of people. The question is how can we, as a society, most effectively deal with this very real problem.

Generalized suspicion of communities has historically proven itself ineffective, and, more importantly, has led to national disgraces like the internment of Japanese-Americans. Terrorists attempt to use spectacular violence to coerce societies into changing policy, often by making governments seem impotent or by making them do counterproductive things that anger their citizens or damage their reputation.

Surveillance and policing of particular religious communities would be just such a counterproductive response, playing into the hands of the radical fringe. If we do that, the terrorists actually do win.

Brian Nussbaum is assistant professor of public administration and policy at the University at Albany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, and a former senior intelligence analyst with the state Office of Counter Terrorism. Victor Asal is chair of the public administration and policy department at Rockefeller College, co-director of the Project on Violent Conflict, and is affiliated with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence.

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