On the evening of October 16, 2014, Dr. Arun Kundnani, the author, defended Islam from the accusation that it could in be, in any way, responsible for terrorism. This included a Q and A discussion (which can be found in a second blog-post)
Dr. Kundnani is an Adjunct Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University and terrorism studies teacher at John Jay College.
(In the book)”Kundnani gives a critique of counter-radicalization strategies, focusing particularly on the surveillance of American Muslims and exposes the hypocrisy of the states fighting terror and their misguided attempts to stem the tide of radicalisation.”
Part One is the author’s presentation. Length of lecture was 45 minutes [approx] Part Two – Q and A was one hour [approx.]
From The Silent Majority (TSM) : I transcribed the lecture as best I could. There were occasional spots where I couldn’t catch a word or phrase. I have indicated this with (??… ??)
The librarian, NOT surprisingly, began with a reference to RACHEL MADDOW. Validating how important and timely this topic of Islamophobia has been made by a current program of Maddow’s.
From the intro to Kudnani’s book, The Muslims Are Coming, “Government is no longer imagining the threat (?) foreign terrorist sleepers living among ordinary American Muslims; now that the radicalization of ordinary Muslims themselves (??) ”
In support of this statement she refers to a Rachel Maddow podcast (MSNBC political talk show host) Regarding Maddow, ” Two weeks previous to this event, Maddow referenced a story where the FBI distributed a photo to the public of a mass terrorist, American- native born”. She feels this shows how the FBI tells us we should now FEAR ordinary Americans.
Referring to the reviews of the “Muslims are Coming” (on Islamophobia and the domestic War on Terror) the claim is made that the book is, “the most comprehensive study yet on how governments fight Terrorism on both sides of the Atlantic.” He took several years to research this book. He interviewed FBI agents working on counter-terrorism and .. ?? (1:58)
He said that he actually did some of the research for this book “here in this very building“. He briefly explains the motivation for the book.
“The debate on ? … ?? from the time Obama was elected, beginning of his first term, the debate about terrorism in the United States was starting to look very different from how it did in the “Bush Years”. The “Bush Years’- very dramatic. highly critical debate. people talking about the Iraq war. torture. Abu Ghraib.
Under Obama: EVERYTHING WENT QUIET. at least for the first term. (He claims what happened) was that Obama normalized the War on Terror. (even if he wasn’t using that phrase any more) [4:25]
He suspected that the way we were doing Domestic Counter Terrorism in the United States was FLAWED; even discriminatory. Many of the assumptions being made in how we understand terrorism and what causes it, were misguided.
2010. Dr. Kundnani traveled the U.S. New York. Minnesota. Michigan. Texas. Virginia. Wash, DC.
Interviewed FBI agents working on counter terrorism with local police departments. Security Officials. Homeland Security. National Security Council in the White House. His goal: to get a sense of HOW they understood this counter-terrorism work that they were doing. The thinking behind it.
He also had interviews with COMMUNITY ACTIVISTS in Muslim Communities around the U.S. AND he interviewed a small number of people who actually were being accused and labeled as Islamic extremists. (to try to get an understanding of their stories as well) He spent a year doing this.
Kundnani traveled England doing similar interviews over there.(5:51) Book is mainly about U.S. This evening he was going to give us three personal stories that he wrote about. To give us a feel for the issues he wants us to think about. (one of the stories -#2- is not in the book)
First story (6:29) Jesse Curtis Morton – Interviewed 2011, shortly before he was arrested.Younus Abdullah Muhammad, aka Jesse Curtis Morton– (NY Daily News-June 22, 2012) A Muslim convert from Brooklyn was sentenced Friday to nearly 12 years in prison for posting online threats against the creators of the “South Park” television show and others he deemed enemies of Islam.
Morton (33 yrs old) founded the now-defunct Revolution Muslim website. [9:03]
Morton’s site inspired a variety of would-be jihadis, including “Jihad Jane” Colleen LaRose; Antonio Benjamin Martinez, who plotted to bomb a military recruiting station; and Jose Pimental, who plotted to assassinate members of the U.S. military returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. He also corresponded with American al-Qaida member Samir Khan on writing an article for use as al-Qaida propaganda.
Morton’s prosecution was relatively novel under a law enacted in recent years that makes it a federal crime to use the Internet to place another person in fear of death or serious injury. Morton was arrested last year in Morocco, where he moved after Chesser’s arrest.
Morton and Zachary Chesser used the Revolution Muslim website to deliver thinly veiled threats against the creators of the “South Park” television show for perceived insults to the prophet Muhammad, by depicting him in a bear costume. (Chesser earlier received a 25-year sentence, but he also tried to travel to Somalia to join the al-Shabab terrorist group.)
Typically, Morton was well educated. He had a Masters Degree from Columbia. Reverts to Islam. Credits Islam for saving him from drug addiction. Becomes a drug abuse Councilor.
Spends time in Saudi Arabia where he encounters the same materialism that alienated him from US society. American commercialism was being imposed around the world. He wants to save the world from Western Capitalism. Revolutionary, anti-Globalist politics version of Islam; a religious conservatism.
His point made: This is very different from how most American Muslims think about religion.
(Morton) Claims they were not directly trying to incite violence but then they quoted Bin-Laden: “If there is no check in the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions.”
QUESTION from author, Dr. Kundnani – What led him (Morton) to this radical form of Islam? Was it his abusive upbringing that produced his rage that was projected on to American Society as a whole? Was it to escape his drug addiction? A religious longing for a utopia where his life’s struggles could be redeemed?
Why did his ideological journey take the particular form that it did? The author’s attempt at an answer leads to the War on Terror and BUSH. Kundnani posits that Abdullah Morton’s own belief’s mirrored the War on Terror’s (fascist ??) civilization.
Did Morton accept on ‘face value’ the BUSH administration’s official narrative [12 :37] that Radical Islam is an existential threat to an American Society that he has come to despise. He gets his labels of Good and Evil from the Official War on Terror.
[FromThe Silent Majority: I have pictures on-file from 2008, when I captured the “Death to all Juice” poster in the hands of Carlos Almonte, the NJ Jihadi, who was convicted and sent to prison. Revolution Muslim (the organization) was there, at the same protest.]Continuing with Dr. Kundnani. He jumps (with no real conclusion) EXAMPLE, #2, which is not in the book. From Nation Magazine. [13:00]
An example of the FBI setting up a Muslim, with threats, to be an FBI Informant. Spying on fellow Muslims. Ayyub Abdul-Alim from Springfield, Mass. 36 years old. He founded and ran the Quran and Sunnah Community Center that provided a meal service in Springfield and helped with prison visitations.Abdul-Alim grew up in NYC. His father was a Black Panther, his mother a Puerto Rican Young Lord radical. He was raised as a Muslim. After he went to SAUDI ARABIA on a “three-week religious trip to Mecca”, Abdul-Alim got repeated visits from the FBI, pressuring him to be an informant (which he refused.)
He wound up marrying a woman who, unbeknownst to him, turned out to be an FBI informant. [she was supposedly paid almost 12,000 by the FBI)
Abdul-Alim claims that when he was arrested on Dec. 9, 2011, the police placed a gun on him. This was then followed by a visit from the FBI. Pressured again to be an informant so he can avoid a possible 10 years in prison on trumped up charges. He chose to go to trial.
At his trial-Ayyub cleaned up “real good”His trial was April of 2014. “… In the post-9/11 era to recruit Muslim informants… He sought justice through the legal system and, as with every other post-9/11 case in which a Muslim in the United States has mounted an entrapment defense, was unsuccessful.“
A black man with previous conviction (a 2003 conviction for cocaine trafficking) he was convicted again.This time he was found guilty of “possession of ammunition without a license and possession of a firearm without a license.” 6 years. Police also say they found another bag of guns that are his and could add 10 years to his sentence.
Kundnani says THIS is an example of the FBI tactics used to recruit informants. The implication being that Abdul-Alim was framed. (17:14)
THIRD Story. Black Muslim from Detroit. [17:21] Abdullah Luqman (also listed as Imam Luqman Abdullah) A revert to Islam in the 1980’s was “murdered” by the FBI in October 2009. FBI characterized his group as “radicalized Sunni, Black Americans, looking to create a separate Islamic State, within the borders of the United States, governed by sharia law.”
Sympathized with al-Qaeda, viewed the US government as an oppressive government, and the Imam called on his followers to organize a protest against it. Members of Abdullah-Luqman’s mosque also carried guns.Question asked by Kundnani, were they just small-time hustlers who were set-up by the FBI, who infiltrated the mosque and entrapped the Imam in a warehouse sting.As he concludes his presentation, Kundnani’s claim that these cases are textbook examples of the taunting of people, not for their actions, but for their ideology, with agents and informants acting as provocateurs.
The FBI provides the plans for the alleged terrorist plot, but also the means and opportunity. Supplying money and weapons, the accused would not have had the capability to carry out the plot. The FBI was able to manipulate vulnerable people.
Supposedly, WE (the FBI, etc) were actually fantasizing in to existence the very threat of Domestic Terrorism that we claimed to be fighting.
“The ONLY rationalizing in this case is the FBI’s OWN.”
“On both sides of the Atlantic, so-called terrorism experts,with theories of radicalization, claim to be able to identify those who may not be terrorists now, but will be at some later date.” (23:23)
Kundnani ASKS,”How do you identify tomorrow’s terrorist, today?”
He mentions Spielberg’s futurist film”The Minority Report“, using the film as an allegory to debunk counter-terrorism within the United States right now.
He says of our own Security Officials, “They turn to Academic Mortals that claim scientific knowledge of a process by which ordinary Muslims are supposed to become terrorists. They CLAIM certain behavioral, cultural and ideological signals can reveal who is at risk to become a terrorist at some point in the future.”
They claim there are 4 stages on the way to becoming a terrorist:
2. Identification (growing a beard, wearing Islamic clothing, alienated from one’s former life)
3. Indoctrination (increased activity in a pro-Muslim group)
Claiming that some form of religious ideology is the root-cause of terrorism.
“In the last decade the government has spent MILLIONS of dollars TRYING to prove that there is some form of connection between religious ideology and terrorist violence.“
Kundnani claims that “when studied rigorously“, as he has tried to do in his book “The Muslims are Coming”, “these assumptions don’t actually stand up to scrutiny.” (he mentions again the film “The Minority Report”)
2008 the FBI had 15,000 paid informants. But, even though he admits he does not know how many were from the Muslim Community, he makes the claim that he finds it reasonable to assume there must have been at least 10,000 PAID informants of those 15,000 from the Muslim Community.
Their job, he says, was “to look for ‘warning’ signs of radicalization, not ‘suspected’ criminal activity.”
Mentioning, also, what he says is the “NYPD surveillance of every aspect of Muslim Life: mosques, restaurants, cafes and Muslim Student organizations; identified by the NYPD as ‘hot-spots’ NOT because there is any evidence of criminal activity, but based on their religious OPINIONS or expressing political opinions.”
[NYPD THOUGHT Police-actions] where under-cover officers take NOTES on what people are talking about) From 2008-2012 NO criminal actions was revealed. [28:16]
“Lost in the debate about having an informant in the (Muslim) community, is that this is way more pernicious in under-mining relationships of trust.
As government officials and the ‘so-called’ terrorist experts have repeatedly invoked this concept of radicalization, has become part of our everyday language. This had led to the situation where there is a wide-spread assumption now that the root-cause of terrorism lies in some kind of Islamic ideology.
Actually, this is NOT a particularly plausible way of thinking about TERRORISM…..we have this (?) reflex that links terrorism to Islamic belief. The evidence to support this is (surprisingly ?) weak.”
“Having a belief in (let’s call it) extremist Islam, or however you want to define that, does not correlate with involvement with terrorism” . “A simple STATISTICAL fact”.
“The many good reasons for objecting to reactionary interpretations of ‘religion’, but the idea that religious ideology (??) is causing terrorism, is not one of them. (30:00)
We see these ‘errors’ being made now in how we understand ISIS…we’ve totally misunderstood what’s led to its emergence…we’d like to think that there’ s something called Islamic extremism which can be used to explain everything bad that Muslims do.”
Kundnani continues, “The ‘reality’ is that it’s POLITICS not religious ideology that drives terrorist violence.
ISIS is the product not of religion but, POLITICAL decisions made by our allies, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and by our own government. It’s a product of a legacy that we’ve created in (Iraq?…??) [30:47] shows how deeply we’ve held on to this myth, Islamic extremism. How quickly we’ve forgotten the lessons of the last Iraq War.”
[TSM- Bill Maher and his argument with Ben Affleck was mentioned next]
“Bill Maher has this problem about Islam causing terrorism. Ben Affleck said that’s racist.” Kundnani says, “This is a debate that has been playing out since at least 9-11.“.
Someone says, “Islam is a Religion of Peace, it’s not inherently violent. You have this minority who misinterpreted Islam in an extremist fashion.”
Kundnani says, “This is a standard argument. Each side trades quotations from the Quran, out of context, which doesn’t really solve anything. We can ALL trade quotes from the Quran.”
The real meaning of this debate is not actually what each side says, but this hidden assumption that Islamic ideology is the KEY to understanding WHY terrorism happens“ [32:25]
The argument Kundnani makes in the book, “The Muslims are Coming”, is that “Islamic ideology is largely irrelevant in trying to understand the causes of terrorism.
What we consider to be commonsense, is what we’ve been ‘told’ to believe by people we consider to be ‘authorities’ in this area. To systematically associate Islamic belief with terrorism, in this way, leads…to Islamophobia!” [32:57] A form of structural racism directed at Muslims.”
He now tells us more about his research for the book. About a town in Texas and a mosque. He tells us that he was in a restaurant in this town and that there was poster of a famous photograph of a lynching. He claims that instead of a black face, there was now a stereo-typical face of an Arab, with the caption, “Let’s play cowboys and Arabians.”
Showing how such a poster connects a long history of racism in the United States (a reworking of racism) to Islamophobia (and the genocide of indigenous peoples in America and a reference to Jim Crown segregation-lynching.)
It’s also analogous to anti-Semitism . He mentions late 19th c Jewish conspiracy theories. Jews were turned in to sub-humans and yet at the same time, super-powerful people.
He claims this is the same structure we have now with Islamophobia; conspiracy theories and secret Muslims controlling the world and Sharia Law in the White House.
“This is NOT to imply to criticize Islamic Belief, it is somehow ‘racist’.
[36:47] “What it means is that WE need to pay attention to opposing the kind of social and political processes by which Islamophobia is acted out in violent attacks on the street which we’ve seen increasing in the last few years in the U.S.“ [37:03]
All institutionalized in government profiling. Civil rights abuses.
[37:14] Looking at the official way that terrorism is understood, leads us to the role of government in foreign policy, fostering political context. This idea that we can blame terrorism on Islamic belief is convenient, it allows us to talk about religion and NOT politics, including the politics of our own government.
[37:40] Some terrorists may use religion to articulate their particular propaganda, but (he insists) it’s POLITICS that is the underlying cause (of terrorism)
EXAMPLE: Hamas uses religious language to legitimize its violence. Uses religious language to legitimize its cease-fires. (he insists) that this indicates (somehow) that it is NOT the religion that drives them to use violence, What’s driving its decisions is (Hamas’) assessment of the political context (Israeli ‘occupation) [38:16]
Claims THIS is consistent with the WHOLE history of terrorism of the last 150-200 years. Terrorism is DRIVEN by political content.
Example – assassins of the late 19th c- ‘working class movement‘ – takes over Paris – 10’s of thousands killed by the army – some of survivors say it is legitimate for us to use dynamite. Context creates that decision.
NEXT example– British- Catholics-Irish- violent conflict that unfolds for decades
SOUTH AFRICA- students protesting that their classes have to be taught in Afrikaans. Not their language. Students shot by the apartheid state. African National Congress resorts to bombs in retaliation. He claims this is a pattern that repeats itself.
Kundnani jumps to 2003 to 2006 (2009) a dramatic surge in terrorism. It is the process that we need to understand.
Their ideology hasn’t change from moderate to extremist Islam. What’s changed is being exposed to the NEWS of 100’s of thousands of people dying. We are in a cycle of violence. BUT, we ONLY see the violence of OTHERS.
Quotes Brendan Behan (to paraphrase) the guy with the big bomb is the government ( little bomb – the terrorist). He claims, that Government violence is always seen as normal, necessary, rational. [42:19]
In actual fact, both forms of violence FEED each other in this cycle of war and murder. Words. Terrorism. Extremism. Radicalization. encourage us to seek only half an evaluation.
[42:39] He now claims to quote Dr Martin Luther King (1967) King said as he spoke to the angry young men across the country about a non-violent approach to protesting American racism, he felt like a hypocrite.
He could never raise his voice against the violence and oppressed in the ghettos, without speaking clearly against the greatest purveyor of violence IN THE WORLD, “my OWN government”. (Kundnani refers here to the Viet Nam war)
Kundnani’s conclusion: Violence is NOT just about the Angry Young Men, it’s about the Governments. They both feed each other.
That point is as valid today as it was then in the War Against Terror. Ground strikes, bombings and the way we entrap people within the United States itself, and put them in prison for decades, for the opinions they hold. [End of presentation 44:01]
End Part One – The Presentation
The next post : Part Two is The Q and A. The audience now had a chance to ask questions of Dr. Kundnani. Some even dared to ask him for comments regarding the recent beheadings .
TSM asks: Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to oppose ‘beheadings”??