A man takes part in a special morning prayer at a mosque.
Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty

Does Profiling Muslims Really Stop Terrorism?

Last week, The New York Times reported on a highly-anticipated draft memo regarding racial profiling practices at the U.S. Department Of Justice. According to the report, the changes don’t amount to much. While the new rules would expand the definition of profiling to include religion, gender and sexual orientation, they would also allow the FBI to continue many of the controversial strategies opposed by the civil rights community. These strategies include the mapping of ethnic populations and then using that data to recruit informants and open investigations.

Meanwhile, the New York Police Department announced that it has closed a once-secret unit that – for more than a decade – dispatched undercover officers to spy on Muslim neighborhoods throughout the city. According to 2011 investigative reporting by the Associated Press – which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize – the Department coordinated with the C.I.A. and used informants known as “mosque crawlers” to monitor sermons. The program included detailed files about exactly where Muslims ate, prayed, and shopped – based solely on their religion and ethnicity. According to the Department’s own testimony in federal court, the program never generated a single lead.

But you’d never know that listening to House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King.“The reality is the threat is gonna come from the Muslim community,” King said Wednesday on“Morning Joe.” 99 percent—99.9% of Muslims are good Americans. But the fact is the the terrorist threat comes from the Muslim community and good detective work means knowing who is in that community.”

However, knowing who is in that community doesn’t necessarily mean spying on that community. A survey of terrorist attacks by the Muslim Public Affairs Council found that Muslim communities helped prevent nearly 2 out of 5 al Qaeda plots that have threatened the country since September 11th.The source who notified police about the attempted car bombing in Times Square in 2010—perhaps one of the most significant threats to NEW YORK CITY safety in the last decade—was  a Muslim street vendor named Aliou Niasse. As one top FBI official said when the program first became public, “We’ve worked very hard to build that relationship and build trust [with Muslim communities] and now that trust is being challenged, those relationships are being strained. And it’s the trust and those relationships that provide the true security against terrorism.”