Sahar F. Aziz
America's founders passed the First Amendment, protecting the right to dissent
was the objective.
experienced a repressive English state, they understood the hallmark of
authoritarianism lies in the absence of freedom of thought, speech and
Trump's promise to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation
runs contrary to these fundamental American values. The consequence could be
devastating for American Muslims' civil liberties.
two decades, the US' Middle East authoritarian allies and domestic Islamophobes
(many of whom now serve as advisors in the Trump administration) have been
advocating to criminalise "political Islam". This vague and
pejorative label is frequently used to delegitimise Muslim activists, scholars
and religious leaders who hold dissenting political views.
the dictators and Islamophobes have different targets in mind, their goal is
the same - to criminalise dissent and quash political opposition.
dictators seek US approval for their violent crackdown against their strongest
political opposition movement - the Muslim Brotherhood.
Islamophobes want to criminalise Islam. The designation could unleash material
support to terrorism prosecutions of non-violent, religious American Muslim
activists who challenge unconditional US support for Israel, oppose
Islamophobe's anti-Sharia campaigns, and defend religious freedom rights of
goes through with designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, the
grounds of criminality will not be engaging in or directly supporting
terrorism. Rather, it will be political beliefs. The government, therefore,
would be unfettered in criminalising a wide range of views it disfavours.
secularism, supporting faith-based government policies informed by Islamic
values, or opposing US support of dictators who deny political rights to
nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood members abroad could trigger prosecutorial action
against American Muslims.
academics attending international conferences in Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and
Kuwait; Muslim organisations inspired by their Islamic faith to challenge the
political order; and Muslim journalists critical of human rights violations of
members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East could find themselves
under investigation for supporting terrorism.
investigations legally authorise asset freezes, which is the death knell of an
organisation. They could also lead to "material support for
terrorism" charges that do not require the government to prove the accused
engaged in violence. So long as there is evidence the accused knew the Muslim
Brotherhood was designated as a terrorist organisation, their nonviolent actions
can be criminalised.
Muslims seeking asylum from persecution by Middle East dictators could be
denied on the mere suspicions they are "political Islamists". The
same reasoning would expand national security grounds for denying applications
for US citizenship by law abiding, practicing Muslims living in the United
the freedom to dissent guaranteed by the First Amendment will not apply to
Muslims. This totalitarian outcome is not accidental.
multi-million dollar Islamophobia industry, with members currently in the US
government, has aggressively advocated for deporting, banning and criminalising
Muslims. These right-wing extremists have defamed Muslims as inherently
violent, incapable of practicing democracy, and savage as part of a broader
"clash of civilisations" narrative.
narrative has inundated Americans with propaganda warning them practicing
Muslims are a suspect fifth column. Praying, fasting during Ramadan, donning a
beard, or wearing a headscarf are portrayed as evidence of an illicit
"Islamisation of America." Admitting Islam informs how you live your
life is treated as treasonous.
to American Muslims is clear: If you want to evade the heavy hand of the
national security state, then you must secularise, assimilate into White
Protestant normalcy, and dare not challenge American hegemony in the
secularised Muslims will be tolerated on condition they blindly support
government policies or depoliticise altogether.
criminalise "political Islam" were on full display in a July 2018
Congressional hearing entitled The Muslim Brotherhood as a Global Threat.
Jasser, a darling of the Islamophobia industry and right wing politicians,
testified "[m]aking the Muslim Brotherhood radioactive would allow the
light to shine upon their most potent antagonists in Muslim communities - those
who reject political Islam and believe in liberty and the separation of mosque
his testimony, Jasser condemned political Islamists and articulated the agenda
of his Islamophobic backers - to abuse counterterrorism laws to deny American
Muslims their constitutional right to hold unpopular political views. The only
"good Muslims" are those who uncritically support the status quo and
blindly parrot US government propaganda.
counterterrorism laws to silence dissenting minorities is certainly not new.
Hoover targeted the Black Panther Movement and Nation of Islam on account of
the FBI's determination that black nationalism was a national security threat.
Their ideas, not violence, consequently drove anti-terrorism enforcement.
Americans who vocally criticised the United States as an oppressive White
Supremacist state found their organisations subjected to aggressive
surveillance, informant infiltration, sting operations and prosecutions.
Muslims have been experiencing these aggressive state tactics since 9/11, a
designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist will make it much easier for
the Trump administration to target more Muslims in an already racialised
counter terrorism regime.
while, alt-right and white nationalist groups can continue to spew vile,
hateful speech that inspire violent racists to shoot synagogues, mosques and
churches. Calls to criminalise their ideas are rebuked by pointing out that
anti-terrorism policies based on a fear of ideas, rather than proven violence,
is "alien to the traditions of a free society and to the First
But if the
Middle East dictators and American Islamophobes have their way, these same
rights will not be afforded to American Muslims. And America will creep closer
to the authoritarian state the founders sought to avert.