Many Americans stand ready to accuse all Muslims of supporting terrorism and waging jihad. Those folks claim that the U.S. government should engage in active profiling of all Muslims, even if they are loyal Americans.
But the recent arrest of 19-year-old Mohamed Mohamud, who wanted to blow up a Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, shows how important it is for U.S. legal authorities to treat Muslims with respect and to cultivate their support. According to Time magazine, the FBI only knew about Mohamud’s activities because his family turned him in.
Mohamud’s mother and father and his two sisters have remained silent since his arrest. (The Oregonian identified the parents as Mariam and Osman Barre; they reportedly split up a few years ago.) However, a prominent member of the Somali community in Portland (estimated to number 8,000) says a relative played some role in helping to put the FBI on the young man’s trail — though that relative was almost certainly unaware of the scale it would assume. “Before this happened, the father informed Homeland Security and the FBI that something was going on with his son,” claims Isgow Mohamed, executive director of the Northwest Somali Community Organization, who says he knows Mohamud’s family well and had been in touch with them. “This a good family. The father is an engineer at Intel. This is not somebody who is on public assistance. He is a family man, a businessman, a religious man, a soccer player.”
Mohamed said emphatically that Mohamud’s alleged plot should not be seen as representative of Somali Americans. “First of all, we’re really sorry, we do not support terror,” he tells TIME. “We came to live here and not bother anyone. We left a civil war.” Mohamed says he believes that Mohamud was influenced by things on the Internet and that the Somali community in Portland will continue to do its part: “We are not going to hide them. We are also Americans.” (There does not seem to be a link to Somalia’s al-Shabab, the militant group that says it is allied with al-Qaeda and which some security experts fear may be trying to expand its influence beyond the Horn of Africa.)
In our ongoing battle against religious extremists, one of the scariest developments has been the emergence of homegrown jihadists who are intent on destroying the U.S., which has given them refuge and opportunity. It’s disgusting.
But we cannot fight them effectively by turning the U.S. into a police state which unfairly rounds up patriotic citizens based on their religion. We don’t need a re-run of World War II, when loyal citizens of Japanese ancestry were interned. We need to continue what we’ve been doing — showing Muslims that they are valued citizens who will be treated fairly. That earns their trust and cooperation in the battle against terrorists.