Reframing Radical Religion
Written By: Vanita Selma Snow
Like a thief in the night,1 politicians have stolen religion for their deceptive vices, using the term “radicalization” or “terrorism” to meet their needs.2 They have snatched the power of the church, synagogue, and mosque by framing religion as an attack on American ideals.3 Words matter. The social constructs associated with “radicalization” and “terrorism” matter even more because the terms have been used to justify discriminatory policies and surveillance practices using the pretext of national security.4
Masking government discrimination with security concerns is nothing new. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) responded to the Black Panthers with the Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO),5 an initiative designed to infiltrate Black organizations and subvert leadership.6 By framing Black leaders as threats to national security, the FBI gained support to arrest, prosecute, and, in some instances, kill Black Panther, Nation of Islam, and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members.7
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1. The biblical thief in the night metaphor serves to remind believers that Jesus’ return will come as a sur- prise, like an unexpected thief entering a house at Matthew 24:36-43; 1 Thessalonians 5:2 (King James). Here, the metaphor represents the gradual erosion of religious freedom under the Trump administration.
2. See Sahar Aziz, Caught in a Preventive Dragnet: Selective Counterterrorism in a Post-9/11 America, 47 GONZ. L. REV. 429, 481 (2012) (discussing how a police report equates “Muslim religiosity with radicalization toward terrorism”); David A. Bosworth, American Crusade: The Religious Roots of the War on Terror, 7 BARRY L. REV. 65, 65 (2006) (noting that American news and popular culture often portray religious people as “narrow-minded big- ots out to destroy everything good and decent”); Ned Ryun, After NYC Terror Attack, Let’s Use Common Sense to Protect Ourselves from Radical Islamic Terrorists, FOX NEWS (Nov. 3, 2017), https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/after- nyc-terror-attack-lets-use-common-sense-to-protect-ourselves-from-radical-islamic-terrorists [https://perma. cc/Q7XK-5LZH] (describing Muslim people as radical and terrorists to advance a conservative agenda).
3. See Amara Chaudhry-Kravitz, The New Facially Neutral “Anti-Shariah” Bills: A Constitutional Analysis, 20 WASH. & LEE J. CIV. RTS. & SOC. JUST. 25, 33 (2013) (describing the American Public Policy Alliance’s efforts to portray Islamic Shariah Law); Richard M. Esenberg, You Cannot Lose if You Choose Not to Play: Toward a More Modest Establishment Clause, 12 ROGER WILLIAMS L. REV. 1, 2 (2006) (noting modern liberals tend to see religion as something to be placed on the “sidelines of public life”) (citation omitted); https://advance.lexis.com/api/ document/collection/analytical-materials/id/4N6N-DY80-00CV-X053-00000-00?cite=12%20Roger%20Williams%20U.%20L.%20Rev.%201&context=1000516; Ryun, supra note 2 (claiming “accurate language” requires stating the United States has “suffered violent assaults in the name of Islam”).
4. See Cyra Akila Choudhury, Shari’ah Law as National Security Threat?, 46 AKRON REV. 49, 92 (2013); Hilal Elver, Racializing Islam Before and After 9/11: From Melting Pot to Islamophobia, 21 TRANSNAT’L L. & CONTEMP. PROBS. 119, 144 (2012); Hugh Handeyside, Leaked DHS Report Uses Junk Science to Argue for Surveillance of Muslims, ACLU (Feb. 7, 2018, 3:15 PM), https://www.aclu.org/blog/ national-security/discriminatory-profiling/leaked-dhs-report-uses-junk-science-argue [https://perma.cc/ Y2BA-X4HT].
5. See JEFFREY HAAS, THE ASSASSINATION OF FRED HAMPTON: HOW THE FBI AND THE CHICAGO POLICE MURDERED A BLACK PANTHER 143, 176 (2010); Angela A. Allen-Bell, A Prescription for Healing a National Wound: Two Doses of Executive Direct Action Equals a Portion of Justice and a Serving of Redress for America & the Black Panther Party, 5 U. MIAMI RACE & SOC. JUST. L. REV. 1, 2-3 (2015).
6. Allen-Bell, supra note 5, at 2-3.
7. HAAS, supra note 5, at 82, 143, 159-60, 176-81; see also S. SELECT COMM. TO STUDY GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS WITH RESPECT TO INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES, INTELLIGENCE ACTIVITIES AND THE RIGHTS OF AMERICANS, S. REP. NO. 94-775, vol. II, at v, 10-11 (2d Sess. 1976).