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Opinion: Revisit post-9/11 policies that harm Muslim Americans

Twenty years after the tragedy of 9/11, Americans need to reassess the collateral damage to our civil liberties in the name of national security and evaluate how we can begin to right wrongs toward law-abiding citizens and innocent families. 

With emotions running high after 9/11, a plethora of politicians and pundits on both sides of the political aisle called for tougher national security measures in the name of protecting Americans. Former President George Bush declared, “Americans understand we fight not a religion; ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. Ours is a campaign against evil.”

His stated “war on terror,” however, set in place policies and law enforcement practices that still inflict harm on Americans today, Muslims in particular.

The Patriot Act, which was passed in October 2001, effectively undermined the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution by giving the FBI a proverbial blank check to violate the privacy of American citizens' communications in the name of surveillance. 

This was followed by the National Security Entry-Exist Registration System, which was basically a Muslim registry. NSEERS instituted special registration program for persons who immigrated from 25 nations, 24 of them being Muslim majority.

NSEERS led to about 14,000 persons being put into deportation proceedings, many who were eligible for legal permanent residency. In this same timeframe, federal law enforcement agents came to homes in Dearborn to question Muslims about their ties without reasonable predication.

Though the Obama administration dismantled the program which had led to the splitting up of thousands of families including some that I personally know, problematic no-fly and selectee watch lists that target Muslims expanded significantly under his administration. 

In 2014, CAIR-MI filed a lawsuit against the federal government relating to these watch lists after it was revealed that, per capita, Dearborn had the highest percentage of citizens on watch lists. Watch lists deprive citizens of due process by providing them no information about why they are on them while also denying those citizens the opportunity to face evidence against them, if there is any to begin with.

On Aug. 23 of this year, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell wrote the directors of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security regarding their management of the so-called “terrorism watch list” which have ensnared many innocent Americans including her Muslim constituents who have been deprived of due process.  

Beyond this particular concern raised by libertarians and members of Congress , the erosion of privacy rights conjoined with misplaced focus of federal law enforcement have led to gross mismanagement of tax-payer funded resources and failed to truly keep our republic safer. 

In 2009, when DHS analysts sounded the alarm that our nation faced a growing threat to national security from White supremacists and White nationalists, not from American Muslims, their analysis was met with backlash from members of Congress. 

Fast-forwarding to Jan. 6 this year, we witnessed the presence of some law enforcement and ex-military members who are connected to White nationalism at the U.S. Capitol.  We can only imagine how different the zeal of Congress and federal law enforcement would be had a sizeable percentage of those violent extremists been Muslim.

The tragedy of 9/11 was a catastrophic event, the trauma of which is still felt. Now that emotions are not running as high now as they were two decades ago, we should honestly assess our missteps and how to make things right. 

It is time to acknowledge that American Muslims add value to our society and are not a threat to the well-being of America and instead focus on elements and persons who are the primary threats to domestic tranquility and national security.

Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) and a member of the Imams Council of Michigan.