Like something out of a Robert Ludlum novel, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Columbia Law School have released a report on a series of “sting operations” conducted against Muslim Americans by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The report reveals how the FBI targeted persons on the basis of their ethnicity and religion, and approached them through undercover agents in a bid to ensure preemptive prosecutions. In many cases, the undercover agent acted as the key player rather than as a mere participant or an abettor. During one of the trials, a judge had observed, “the government came up with the crime, provided the means, and removed all relevant obstacles, and had, in the process, made a terrorist out of a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in scope.” HRW claims that the FBI specifically targeted vulnerable people, with low intelligence and mental issues.

It is quite clear that the FBI viewed these Muslim Americans as “terrorists-in-waiting”. Many of these people neither had any links with a designated terrorist organisation nor were they planning to carry out any terrorist activity on their own. In some cases, the FBI even offered large sums of money to financially troubled individuals in order to convince them to act on the plans neatly laid out before them. It is reasonable to assume that the FBI, by employing the very same tactics used against Muslim Americans, could have just as easily tricked pro-life white Americans into blowing up abortion clinics or environmentalists into attacking a pollutive oil refinery. There is not much we can do about what goes on in someone’s head other than educating them to think differently. The real concern is if they will ever act on those thoughts. Now, we can either wait for them to make the wrong choice, and hold them accountable for it. Or, we can deliberately push and bait vulnerable people into making bad decisions, and remove all lawful barriers that prevent the crime from taking place.

This is yet another example of creating false perceptions which may help the US government to sustain a discriminatory ‘anti-terrorism’ policy, but not without turning the clock back on human rights and civil liberties. It also runs the risk of further inducing feelings of injustice, resentment and anger amongst Muslim citizens who are clearly being victimised under the garb of national security. If nothing else, it is a complete waste of time. Should the FBI really be creating threats out of nowhere only to counter them and appear active while real threats still exist elsewhere? How is the FBI behaving any differently than an al-Qaida operative who preys on the vulnerabilities, emotions and simplicity of otherwise innocent individuals and recruits them as terrorists?