Preemptive prosecution and Islamophobia

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The religion course on Islam I am taking has been a challenging one for me. Sometimes this class makes me proud of how Islam has tremendous beauty in it as a way of living, not a religion, but there are other times that fill me with bottomless sadness seeing Islamophobia around the world, especially in the United States.

One example of this sadness is that neither I nor any of my classmates had ever heard of the idea of preemptive prosecution.

The United States presents itself as the icon for human rights. But, after 9/11, a resolution was passed that says “if there’s a one percent chance that a person might engage in terrorism in the future, the government must preempt it now by convicting the person of some contrived crime.” This is basically saying the government can incarcerate thousands of innocent people in order to arrest one potential terrorist. Not only are these innocent people in captivity for 20 to 50 years or sometimes a lifetime, most of the families also lose the only breadwinner of the family, which results in emotional and financial breakdown. It is the total violation of human rights.

Preemptive prosecution is an illegal act, wrapped around a planned trap by authorities such as the FBI. If a Muslim has commented in a pro-Palestine way on social media, or posted their thoughts on certain issues (which should not be a problem because we all do it: it’s freedom of speech), they could be prosecuted. Based on the comments on social media, the FBI concocts a plan “to incarcerate the suspicious Muslim on some pretext to prevent a possible crime in the future.” A plan is drawn to entrap the suspicious person. The government gives the judge secret evidence from its illegal investigation. The judge is the only one who sees this evidence. Even the defense is not allowed to see it. Such secrecy in the administration of justice is highly questionable.

Hundreds of innocent people are behind bars for false accusation. One of the innocent figures is Erick Hendricks. He was convicted of being an ISIS sympathizer. The interesting thing about Hendricks’s case is that the FBI as a paid informant employed Hendricks himself.  He writes “After a while, I noticed a disturbing pattern with the counter-terrorism information that I was giving my handlers: the people that I would provide information about would slowly disappear. Even the ones that I did not have a solid lead with . . .  My moral conflict was that I was very concerned that the FBI handling of suspects was far too broad. I voiced my concern to my handler about this several times. I told him that I felt innocent people were unjustly being targeted. He assured me that he would relay my concerns to his superiors. . . One year and a half later, the FBI knocked on my door and told me they had a warrant for my arrest.” Hendricks is one of the thousands of victims of preemptive prosecution; there are hundreds of stories of people like this.

The fact that neither I nor my classmates had ever heard of this vicious crime is very strange. That people do not know about preemptive prosecution says a lot about how unjustly a certain group of people can be treated when the media fans the flames of Islamophobia. There are organizations like the Coalition for Civil Freedoms that are helping to create awareness about preemptive prosecution. I am playing my role by spreading awareness. Once people know about it, they will rise for justice because no one on earth deserves to spend years in jail because government fears they might commit a crime, while under open sky crimes like gun violence is killing many innocent people. We need to question the system.


Noor Bibi (‘21)

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