Since time immemorial, nations have used derogatory terms to denigrate and thus dehumanize foes, making it easier to destroy them. Recent terms such as krauts, gooks, slopes and chinks are just a few that come readily to mind. The war on terror of the past dozen years has yielded its own brand of offensive terminology. Recently the White House has instructed US security agencies to review their training and policy materials for racial or religious bias. Some documents leaked by Edward Snowden showed training material for the intelligence agencies referring to “Mohammed Raghead”.
In a related matter, a report in the Intercept of last week revealed that the NSA and FBI spied on the emails of five prominent US activists and attorneys with Muslim backgrounds. The White House is said to be taking the accusation of the slurs “extremely seriously” according to spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden. She said,
”Upon learning of this matter the White House immediately requested that the director of national intelligence undertake an assessment of intelligence community policies, training standards or directives that promote diversity and tolerance, and as necessary make any recommendations, changes or additional reforms.”
Included in this review is the subject of offensive language. This is just the latest in a series of embarrassments befalling the Obama administration of late and yet another instance of it trying to play catch-up in the spin game.
Hayden declined to elaborate on the scope or length of the investigation. What is worrisome, this is not the first time the White House has had to intervene with the vast spy networks to eliminate inflammatory training material which singled out Muslims for special surveillance. This atmosphere of bigotry is evident in FBI parlance and practice, according to a 2011 story appearing in Wired.
The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream (sic)” American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is akin to a “funding mechanism for combat.” They also characterize degrees of religious fervor- i.e. the more “devout” the individual, the more likely he is to be “violent”. Moreover, the destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, the Bureau literature opines.
The Obama administration has striven to reconcile the vast counter-terrorism bureaucracy with its policy declarations that the US is not at war with Islam. Thus far it has been unsuccessful, making a mockery of its contention that it is the “most transparent” government in US history.
The Intercept report by former Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald, Murtaza Hussain and Josh Meyer , paints a poignant picture of counter-terrorism in which the mixture of Muslim heritage or faith and political activism attracted the attention of US security agencies despite First Amendment protections. The five prominent activists and attorneys spied on by the security apparatus have not been charged with a crime. These actions threaten to impair the delicate relationship between US law enforcement and American Muslim communities.
In a joint statement, the NSA, Justice Department and the office of the Director of National Intelligence refute allegations of impropriety. “It is entirely false that US intelligence agencies conduct electronic surveillance of political, religious or activist figures solely because they disagree with public policies or criticize the government, or for exercising constitutional rights.” A senior US official surmised that the individuals in question may not have been targeted but rather caught up in mass data-collection dragnet. Why is that not an encouraging prospect?
An offshoot of such sketchy surveillance plays into the hands of real terrorists such as AL Qaida. America diminishes itself and its capacity to fight terrorism by focusing on the behaviour of American citizens instead of the proven indicators of criminal activity. Stockpiling of weapons, and shady financial schemes come to mind.
By zeroing-in on American activists, it makes it more likely that the FBI and other security agencies will miss or misinterpret the real warning signs of terrorism. This would be a tragic mistake- another in a long line by the Obama administration.