The Intercept has a careful profile of five American Muslim leaders who have been targeted by the NSA. It makes clear that absolutely nothing in the public record suggests that these five men are suspected of or are guilty of any crime, or are “agents of a foreign power”. Over at Lawfare, they’re busy arguing that we aren’t allowed to see the secret evidence contained in the FISA warrant applications against these men, and that therefore we can’t tell that they are innocent. Those of us who are more familiar with bedrock legal principles realize that actually, if you can’t cite any actual evidence that someone is guilty, that’s what being innocent means.
Asim Ghafoor, a civil rights lawyer who has defended terrorism suspects, is on the list; but other, non-Muslim attorneys who defended the same cases are not on it. It seems clear that being Muslim has something to do with being on the list. NSA flacks have argued defiantly that the five were not targeted “solely” on the basis of First Amendment-protected activities, but that means almost nothing. They could have been targeted on the basis of their dark skin in addition to their religion, and what the NSA is claiming would technically be true, but that wouldn’t make it right. The article also shows the NSA demonstrating its respect for one of the world’s biggest religions by using for its sample suspect profile the name “Mohammed Raghead.”
Those who are calling this a new form of red-baiting have a point. But let’s dig into that comparison more closely. What’s wrong with both red-baiting and Muslim-baiting is that, in an attempt to counter an external threat, the intelligence agencies have become unmoored from any fidelity to the truth, the Constitution, or to norms of civilian democratic control. “Preventing the next 9/11” is the watchword, and in its name any abuse becomes justified.
But there is also an important way in which this persecution of Muslims is not like what has gone before. The red-baiters, however misguidedly, were trying to combat a meaningful external threat. Stalin and Mao were brutal mass-murdering dictators backed by nuclear weapons, enormous natural resources and hundreds of millions of people. By comparison, the territories controlled by Muslim extremists today are small, remote and poor, able to pose almost no threat to our domestic peace and prosperity. It’s a measure of how much safer the world is now than it was then, that we can afford to pay any attention to this murderous fringe movement. It is utterly absurd to use that murderous fringe movement to waste trillions in taxes and mount an all-out assault on the Bill of Rights.