by Jon Dillingham
It is not a good time to be a Muslim in the United States. McCarthy-like congressional hearings, FBI infiltration, prosecution of political dissent, anti-mosque rallies (not limited to Park 51) and downright Islamophobic hatred are all targeting American Muslims.
An NPR investigative report Thursday night added one more brick in the wall: a pair of Communications Management Units (CMUs) — secretive prisons where more than two-thirds of the inmates are Muslims. (Only 6 percent of the national prison population is Muslim, according to the article.)
In these CMUs, inmates have almost zero communication with the outside world — less than half the phone and visit time of “supermax” prisons — and everything they say, do and write is recorded via a new $14-million dollar surveillance system.
The CMUs were first brought to light by the alternative media, but NPR adds four crucial layers to the story: 1) the prisoners are denied the right to group prayer, 2) they are denied the right to challenge their placement at a CMU, or even to view the evidence that has landed them there, 3) officials quoted in the NPR story claim the inmates have been put in CMUs because they have recruited or radicalized other inmates, and 4) the prisoners are recruited by authorities after their release to snitch on other Muslims (read part two of the story).
Even if we were to ignore lawyers' and inmates' claims that the CMUs were opened illegally, and that many prisoners are innocent, and that even those who are guilty are not dangerous threats, just the fact that Muslims are being targeted for neutralization and persecution should give us pause. NPR has done its job by taking the time to tell this cautionary tale. All too often the press defers to sources who would have us treat Muslims as guilty until proven innocent, and this deference is even more pronounced in the case of Muslim prisoners. But compassionate investigative reporting keeps us on the level: even if Muslim convicts are guilty of murder and terror, they are not below the law, and deserve its protection.
Watch this video of an anti-Islam demonstration in Orange County. If you already did, it merits a second viewing. When our Muslim citizens are called terrorists, wife-beaters and rapists, and the vengeance-fueled mob that spits these violent epithets is endorsed by an elected official who suggests that local Marines should kill Muslims, is the persecution of Muslim Americans something the press can afford to ignore? Revealing such abuses, even (or maybe especially) when the abused are incarcerated, is the news media's job. Thankfully, NPR got it right this time.
Jon Dillingham has written about a range of issues — from the legacy of war to local sports — as a journalist based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. He's now studying propaganda in foreign policy coverage as an M.A. candidate in Specialized Journalism at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.