What is radical is the administration’s premise: As framed by the president and attorney general Eric Holder, it is a “false choice” to posit that we must either encourage more proactive policing or be prepared to suffer more attacks. Instead, the administration insists, there’s a third option: Have the police “empower local partners” — which is to say, have the police delegate their intelligence-gathering duties to Muslim community leaders.
The second flawed premise shared by the administration and the AP is their insistence that “strong religious views” are being unfairly equated with the promotion of “violent extremism.” In point of fact, what promotes terrorism is Islamist ideology. In the strict sense, Islamist ideology is not a religion. It is a political program. Yes, it has some spiritual elements, but its main goal is to consume our secular space: to supplant Western culture with Islamic culture and American constitutional principles with sharia, Islam’s legal and political framework.
To be sure, there is an apolitical interpretation of Islam — a Westernized adaptation. Regrettably, it is a work in progress, no matter how many times we tell ourselves it is really mainstream and popular and comfortably consonant with Islamic scripture. In this reformist construction of Islam, adherents honor Islam’s spiritual principles but resist the insinuation of sharia tenets in civil society. That
Islam is not a political program. It is a creed more consistent with religion as we understand it in the West, and no one is conflating it with “violent extremism.” What is conflated with violent extremism is Islamist ideology, for the simple reason that the latter endorses the former.
With this as background, let’s consider the AP’s sleight-of-hand. Mr. Goldman contends that the NYPD is using covert operatives “to canvas the Islamic population of America’s largest city.” This, he claims, has “put huge numbers of innocent people under scrutiny as they went about their daily lives in mosques, businesses and social groups.” This is nonsense, betraying either willful deception or a woeful grasp on how law enforcement works.
It is simply a fact that crime, particularly concerted criminal activity, tends to have cultural or ethnic commonality. Let’s put Islam aside. When the mafia was more of a force in New York City than it is today, the police and the FBI dispatched informants and undercover agents into parts of the Italian community. They were not canvassing the city’s Italian population; they were pursuing leads and collecting intelligence in what were notorious hotbeds of Cosa Nostra activity and support.
Relative to the comparatively small number of people who were eventually prosecuted, one might well say that “huge numbers of innocent people were placed under scrutiny.” “Scrutiny,” however, is a misleading term. Very few of those people were what prosecutors call “targets” of the investigation — people virtually certain to be charged. Some were what’s known as “subjects” — people whose activities were being investigated to determine whether they were criminally culpable. The vast majority were innocent people, neither subjects nor targets but ordinary citizens (the bank teller, the pizza-delivery guy, the witness who happened to be in the parking lot when the heroin was delivered) whom investigators necessarily came across in trying to get to the bottom of what the crooks were up to.
In the investigations on which I worked over the years, it was not unusual to have hundreds of these innocent people cross into our investigative lens. In the 1984 Pizza Connection case, which we investigated for years before finally indicting three dozen Mafiosi, it was no doubt well over a thousand. A high percentage of those people, naturally, were Italian. But in no sense were we canvassing the Italian population. We were conducting an investigation of a secret criminal organization in which Italian heritage was a membership requirement, and we were going where the evidence took us.
Islamist terrorists and the Islamist firebrands who inspire them are Muslims. They contend that they are compelled to act aggressively, and at times violently, by their ideology. (Again, I don’t think it’s accurate to call it a religion just because they say so.) They are anchored in Muslim neighborhoods, they have sympathizers in those neighborhoods, and they use mosques, Islamic community centers, and Muslim-controlled businesses to plot, recruit, raise funds, and draw other material support. You can’t investigate them or gather intelligence about their machinations without crossing paths with many innocent people, as well as not-so-innocent people, who are Muslims. That is not canvassing, profiling, or Islamophobia. It is competent police work, if the mission of the police is to prevent attacks.