Extraordinarily important observations about a phenomenon that has been far too little noted by law enforcement and government officials.
“Are Acts of Staged Controversy an Islamist Strategic Tactic?,” by Madeleine Gruen and Edward Sloan for IPT News, February 27:
On November 20, 2006, six imams boarded a US Airways jet that was about to depart from Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport for Phoenix, Arizona. They had attended a three-day conference of the North American Imams Federation. Three only had one-way tickets and no checked luggage. Various witnesses reported observing the group praying in an unusually loud way in the waiting area prior to boarding. One of the witnesses, a clergyman who was familiar with Islamic practices, described their behavior at the gate as “atypical.” This same witness was later seated next to one of the imams on the plane and intentionally engaged him in conversation. The imam initially expressed to the witness that he was in the United States to do work related to his Ph.D. Later in the discussion, he admitted he was not doing academic work but instead intended to “represent Muslims in the United States” by generating support for Shari’a law.
Upon boarding the plane, the imams dispersed. Two sat in the front of the plane, two in the middle, and two in the rear. The flight crew and passengers observed them changing seats, and several of the men requested seat-belt extenders. Crew members thought the request was odd, as none of the imams appeared overweight. Although the extenders were provided, they were never used and were left on floor of the plane. One passenger stated that she believed that the imams deliberately acted out as a part of an attempt to intimidate airline employees. Another passenger said, “I can’t explain it, but it was like they were definitely trying to raise suspicion.” The flight was delayed and the imams were removed from the plane by the airport police, questioned, and released after their plane had already departed.
CAIR filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation, and a separate civil suit in federal court on behalf of the imams against US Airways and the Metropolitan Airports Commission, citing civil rights violations. CAIR also sued the “John Does” who alerted the aircrew and authorities after becoming alarmed by the imam’s behavior in the terminal and on the plane. While the “John Doe” provision of a bill (designed to protect citizens who report possible terrorist-related behavior from being sued, and to protect officers acting in an official capacity to prevent terrorist attacks) was moving through Congress, CAIR persisted with its lawsuit, claiming the right to discover whether the complaints were actually made “in good faith” or if they were racially motivated.
President George W. Bush signed the “John Doe” provision into law on August 3, 2007 and CAIR dropped its claims against the “Does.” There may be a residual “chilling effect,” however, that would prevent concerned citizens from reporting suspicious incidents for fear of getting sued. Causing reluctance to report suspicious incidents in which Muslims are involved may be an aspect of Islamist strategy to reduce resistance to the Islamization of society.
In January 2009, the U.S. Department of Transportation ruled that US Airways did not discriminate against the imams and that the airline’s actions were reasonable. The civil suit is scheduled to go to trial in August, 2009.
During a football game September 19, 2005 at Giants Stadium, five Muslim men were questioned by FBI agents after they prayed near the stadium’s main air intake duct located in a sensitive area. Former President George H.W. Bush attended the game and security was high. After approximately 20 minutes of questioning, FBI agents determined that the group did not pose a threat and allowed them to return to the game.
This group may have acted completely innocently. The issue, however, was not dropped by the men, and a few weeks later, on November 2, 2005, the group joined forces with the New Jersey-based American Muslim Union and the New York City chapter of CAIR for a joint press conference concerning the incident. At the conference, the men complained that they had been humiliated at Giants Stadium, and that their “main aim [in publicizing the episode] was to bring to light and educate people about what it is we’re supposed to do.” They also took the opportunity to promote a campaign called “Pray for Understanding,” which the executive director of the New York office of CAIR described as a way to teach people about Islam. The tie-in to the “Pray for Understanding” campaign at the press conference suggests the possibility that the incident at Giants Stadium may have been staged to create a platform to promote an ulterior public relations agenda.
What Islamists Might Gain from “Acts of Staged Controversy”
The Minnesota Imams and Giants Stadium incidents are just two examples where unusual but overt behavior has been investigated, dropped (because there was no clear indication of wrongdoing), and subsequently taken up and intensified by CAIR or by other Muslim groups. Due to the involvement of Islamist advocacy groups, news stories are generated and controversy stirred.
If the objective of Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, is to establish Islam as the dominant global societal doctrine, then how would creating acts of controversy – or seizing on opportunities to create controversy – further their strategy to achieve their objective? If they intend to achieve their objective through non-violent means then it is logical to conclude that they would want Muslims to embrace their perspective and to eschew democratic principles..
For example, acts of staged controversy could be used to:
* Cause Muslims to feel disaffection for the democratic system by promoting feelings of betrayal and abandonment.
* Convince Muslim Americans that they are not accepted as Americans. Acts of staged controversy provoke a response from authorities that can foment an “us vs. them” rift between Muslims and non-Muslims.
* Incite political divides that may ultimately cause political instability.
* Influence legislators to call for laws to outlaw profiling and/or repeal existing laws such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Patriot Act.
* Draw attention from foreign media in an attempt to show that the U.S. rhetoric about acceptance is hollow.
Acts of staged controversy could also be exploited by groups who seek to use violence. For example, acts of staged controversy could be used to:
* Desensitize security personnel by making activity that common sense would deem suspicious instead seem routine and not worth any special effort.
* Intimidate security personnel and citizens by threatening lawsuits; making them reluctant to report suspicious behavior.
Handling Acts of Staged Controversy
Unfortunately, hatred, bigotry, and mistrust exist in the United States, and it is the role of civil rights groups to respond appropriately when acts of hatred do occur. It is the duty of responsible officials to monitor political, religious, and social tensions so that violent acts motivated by hatred can be prevented. The long view for homeland security, however, cannot be compromised by hasty responses to ambiguous situations. It is possible that some Islamist groups may exaggerate the occurrence of anti-Islamic discrimination in order to validate the premise that “Islamophobia” is rampant. According to FBI statistics, out of a total 7,624 hate crimes reported in the United States in 2007, 115 were motivated by anti-Islamic bias. By contrast, 2,658 were motivated by bias against blacks, 749 were anti-white, 1,265 targeted people based on sexual orientation and 969 of the hate crimes reported were motivated by bias against Jews.
Law enforcement and security personnel, airline and airport managers, legislators, politicians, media, and private citizens all have roles to play to prevent the spread of extremist ideology, which could lead to radicalization and, ultimately, a possible terrorist event.
Response at the Federal, Law Enforcement and Media Levels
Politicians must acknowledge Islamist ideology is being promoted in the United States, recognize who is promoting it, and understand the subtle tactics used by the Islamist groups before they can introduce effective counter-measures against terrorism. Politicians must realize that Islamist groups are competing for hearts and minds in the United States, so commitment to democratic values cannot be taken for granted.
How does law enforcement play a role in acts of staged controversy if there is no apparent crime committed? It is unlawful to conspire and to deliberately disrupt or interfere with the legitimate activities of law enforcement and security personnel. Engaging in deliberately suspicious behavior in order to distract security and law enforcement authorities is a tactic that has been discussed on Islamist message boards. Of course, in ambiguous situations it is hard to prove the actual intent of the actors. Difficult though it may be, investigations should be conducted and cooperating witnesses sought and developed. The stakes are high, especially when the results of these incidents are considered in the aggregate and not individually.
Associations with terrorists or terrorist groups are not evidence of a crime, but are valuable data points in evaluating the true nature of an incident. If there are nefarious or questionable associations or prior activities that could shed light on possible motivations for ambiguous acts, they should be made known as much as possible. For example, one of the six imams involved in the Minnesota airport case, Omar Shahin, raised money for the Holy Land Foundation and for the Illinois-based KindHearts Foundation, which the government shut down last year for alleged support of Hamas.”
Additionally, the media should be aware of the possibility that it is being used to further an Islamist agenda. Media cooperation and extensive coverage is a key element of successful acts of staged controversy. Historically, global political Islamist groups have skillfully manipulated the media as part of their effort to circulate their message. Statements made by spokespeople representing Islamist groups are often taken at face value by the media, and past involvements and associations often go unmentioned. Just as it is for law enforcement, it is important for the media to consider incidents in the aggregate.[…]
Read it all. There is much more, plus references for all the endnotes, at the IPT News site.