Neoconservative hawks and requisite jihad watchers on the Right have been sounding the alarm on the coming “Islamofascist” invasion at the country’s southern border since 9/11.
Now they see an opportunity to exploit the growing intensity of the immigration issue within the Tea Party movement and among Red State Republicans in order to advance their own agenda, which is, as Newt Gingrich said last month, a “long struggle against radical Islamists” or simply put, an ideological, if not armed, conflict with Iran, Islam and the greater Arab world.
But will this new political gambit work – or is it as desperate as the war hawks have become, trying to keep our giant military boot print firmly planted in the Middle East?
“The hysteria over terrorism infiltration on the border … is an attempt to merge and consolidate the prejudices of some conservatives and Tea Party members whose agendas might not automatically overlap (anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant factions),” offered M. Junaid Levesque-Alam, who writes and publishes the Crossing the Crescent blog.
Tom Barry, who runs the TransBorder Project for the Center for International Policy, said he’s been talking to property owners and law enforcement on the border for years. He insists the Muslim invasion talk is more hot air than a reality.
“There is nothing to base it on, there is nothing but exaggeration here,” he told Antiwar.com.
But there he was in a debate last month, right wing radio jock and Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner, talking about the “thousands of prayer rugs and Korans” found strewn along the southern border, presumably left in haste by Islamic terrorists-to-be.
Even the believers know this is baseless bluster. And Kuhner is by no means a Minute Man. He is a hyperbolic pro-Israel bulldog who has used his soapbox in the media not only to castigate Muslims, but to call out non-Muslim Americans who don’t get with the program – particularly on war with Iran. “I believe deep down (President Obama) wants the Jewish state to be extinct, I believe that secretly he wants the Israelis and Jews to be wiped off the face of the earth … if Obama is doing nothing to stop this Hitler of our time, draw your own conclusions,” Kuhner raged on the radio in June.
So it is no surprise that Kuhner is trying to leverage the ferment among conservatives on the volatile border security issue. Demagogues like Kuhner who are committed crusaders against global jihad have never been at the forefront of the anti-illegal immigration movement, but they now recognize an opportunity to employ it as the ultimate wedge. And the political climate, well, it’s sizzling like an isotope.
So not surprisingly, after invoking prayer rugs and Korans strewn about the border, Kuhner says to his audience, “the issue is then, do we fight them there or so we fight them here?”
Alison Weir, who has made it her life’s work to counter such provocations, says much of the rhetoric is targeted at “Israel’s neighbors,” particularly in defense of Israel against Iran, though it does not serve America’s interest to make what’s happening on the border today a reflection of the crises in the Middle East nor any broader global terrorist threat.
“That agenda … portrays all Muslims and Arabs as the enemy, the enemy of the United States,” said Weir, a former journalist and author who is now the president of the Council for the National Interest. “All of us want to protect our families and our country – it’s a natural response – but they are trying to manipulate that natural and decent response into having us pursue policies that are not natural and not decent and are not in our national interest.”
But in fairness, it’s not too difficult for Kuhner and others to manipulate and find common cause with the neo-liberty movement, because many of those conservatives, particularly in the Red States, have been hyping the threat of radical Islamists jumping the border since 9/11. They also get plenty of help from politicians and federal and local law enforcement officials who have their own agendas, like keeping their jobs and attracting more federal resources.
Republican pols are particularly good at this. J.D Hayworth, who is running in a bitter primary race with Sen. John McCain in Arizona, was quoted back in May about “people who definitely mean to do us harm who have crossed that border.” Others are still referring to a 2006 report commissioned by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, entitled, “A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border,” which suggests that “members of Hezbollah” have been smuggled into the country, citing two incidents since 9/11, one in 2005 involving a certain Mahmoud Youssef Kourani, who later pled guilty to fundraising for Hezbollah while hiding out in Dearborn, Michigan.
Most of the support for the report’s section on “vulnerability to terrorist infiltration,” however, is based on “statements made by high-ranking Mexican officials prior to and following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks” and disputed government reports about the level of Islamic influence in Latin America.
“There is a lot of self-interest in mind,” among the various charges, pointed out Barry. The nexus of all of these varying interests couldn’t be more acute: the hawks are worried about waning national interest in war. The Tea Partiers are engaging in major political warfare in which they must make the administration and controlling Democratic Party look weak on security ahead of key elections. Then there is the government bureaucracy, i.e. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Agency, the military and county sheriff’s offices, which take advantage of these political struggles to seek more attention and funding amid a highly competitive fiscal atmosphere.
But where does that leave the American public? Woefully uninformed, as usual.
No one doubts that since 9/11, individuals with less than noble intentions have attempted and succeeded to enter the United States illegally from Muslim countries connected to terrorism. There just isn’t a lot of hard data on how many. According to statistics provided by the CBP to Homeland Security Today Magazine, nearly 6,000 “Special Interest Aliens” (SIA) “from just a handful of Muslim countries” were apprehended trying to sneak into the U.S between 1999 and 2010. The largest number were from Pakistan (1,222), followed by Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen.
Considering that at its apparent peak in 2005, the CBP apprehended some 500,000 individuals in one year coming into the country illegally (most of them Mexican), the Muslim contribution to this equation doesn’t appear too menacing. Especially since there is no way to know how many of those 6,000 Muslim SIAs were actually trying to get away from religious and political violence in their homelands, rather than pursue it here.
But thoughtful parsing seems to have no place in this debate. So when there is news about an illegal Somali with purported al-Shabaab connections on the loose, it merely ratchets up the talk about 9/11 and Holy War, rather than sparking real questions, like, does al-Shabaab pose a direct security threat against America, or is it here to recruit soldiers for its own fight against the government in Somalia? Should we pursue their border incursions and smuggling schemes as criminal acts or military/ terrorist incursion?
Members or affiliates of al-Shabaab, a radical Islamist organization that has been fighting the internationally-imposed central government in Somalia while terrorizing the Somali people with draconian religious laws and violence, have indeed made concerted efforts to enter this country, according to CBP and the U.S Justice Department. In May, authorities were looking for a Somali with supposed “al-Qaeda ties” who skipped the border. At the same time, the CBP were looking for an al-Shabaab-connected American who allegedly smuggled more than 200 Somalis into the country. The justice department announced just this month that it had charged 14 Somalis with aiding the organization.
But even STRATFOR, a private intelligence service with normally hawkish inclinations, warns against jumping the gun on al-Shabaab’s intentions.
“Somalis have also been involved with the al-Qaeda core for many years, and al-Shabaab has sworn allegiance to Osama bin Laden – the reason we consider them an al-Qaeda regional franchise group.
“That said, we have been watching al-Shabaab closely this year to see if they follow in the footsteps of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and become a transnational terrorist group by launching attacks against the West rather than just a group with a national or regional focus. While some al-Shabaab members, like American-born Omar Hammami – who sings jihadi rap songs about bringing America to its knees – have threatened the West, it remains unclear whether this is rhetoric or if the group truly intends to attack targets farther afield. So far, we have seen little indication that al-Shabaab possesses such intent.
“Due to this lack of demonstrated intent, our assessment at the present time is that al-Shabaab has not yet made the leap to becoming transnational.”
Such nuance doesn’t matter in an emotional debate, however. CBP officials recently told Homeland Security Today magazine that al-Shabaab is “very active [in Texas]” which sounds pretty scary (though interestingly, none of the 14 Somalis charged in the August sting were allegedly based in Texas). Kuhner, on the other hand, suggested in the aforementioned debate that al-Shabaab had planted a July bomb in Uganda to target Christians, which is a bald-faced deceit. Al-Shabaab targeted the Ugandans because Ugandans have been serving in African Union peacekeeping forces against al-Shabaab in Somalia.
Nonetheless, “we have no choice but to operate on the very real likelihood that some of [the Somalis who were smuggled into the country] are terrorists who are loose here right now!” exclaimed an unidentified counterterrorism official in the Homeland Security Today report.
Individual CBP sources seem pretty assured of the threat, and being on the border everyday gives them an authentic perspective others do not have. But officially, the reality is less definitive. While top intelligence officials and even a 2009 GAO report have strongly suggested otherwise over the years, grumbling arose from the right wing in April when the US Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center hedged on the issue, saying that even though people from special interest countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan have been smuggled in, “none have been documented to be known or suspected terrorists.”
The findings also contradict notions in a parallel narrative that al-Qaeda is working with narco-terrorists in Mexico and America’s socialist enemies in Latin America, including the FARC and even the Venezuelan government, to raise money and smuggle agents into the U.S. But again, a closer look there reveals that much of the evidence for that is largely circumstantial. So many agendas, particularly among competing federal agencies, counter-terror groups and politicians, hew to a murky and inconclusive trail at best.
Federal officials, when put to the question, seem alternatively provocative and coy, but ultimately non-committal about the extent of the problem. You have former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who told congress in 2005 that law enforcement “is concerned about special interest aliens entering the United States” (meaning al-Qaeda), though notice he did not say it was actually happening. More recently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who as a former governor of Arizona knows best the volatility of the border security issue, admitted that terrorists could “potentially” enter the U.S from Mexico, but still would not conclude they already have.
But this is a leap that jihad hunters like Kuhner and the self-described civilian defense forces and Tea Party activists now manning the southern border are willing to make themselves. They embrace any evidence – whether it be first (and more likely, second and third) hand accounts of left-behind Korans and prayer rugs, or Islamic jacket patches or Arabic tattoos found on Latin American gang members – as proof of an “invasion” we ignore at our own peril.
So it is up to the rest of America to get the facts and maintain some equanimity over what is a valid but emotionally charged debate about immigration and border security. Most importantly, we must resist this latest contrivance by the war hawks to keep us pinned down and looking for more war overseas.