Muslim profiling is a recipe for insecurity | Ed Husain

The profiling of ordinary Muslims loses the support of the very people we need to contain al-Qaeda

Here we go again. Another botched terrorist attack, and a much-needed excuse for some agenda-driven American ideologues to demand opening "new fronts" in the "war on terror", with "profiling" of Muslims at airports expected to be at the core of the airport security review announced yesterday by Gordon Brown. I am sorry, but that thinking is wrong, flawed, and will make matters worse.

Yemen is not a willing home to al-Qaeda – it is victim to an ideology exported from neighbouring Saudi Arabia. In our desire to blame and, eventually, bomb, let us not forget the other Yemen: one of the last bastions of traditional, serene Islam. Yemeni Sufis have been imparting their version of normative Islam for centuries through trade and travel. Hundreds of British Muslims have been studying in Yemen's pristine Islamic institutions. They have returned to Britain connected to an ancient chain of spiritual knowledge and now lead several Muslim communities with the Sufi spirit of love for humans, dedication to worship, and service to Islam.

For me, empowering and supporting this Yemeni Islam against the rigid, literalist, supremacist Wahhabite ideology of our Saudi allies in Riyadh is a sure recipe for eventual victory. But will we dare upset the House of Saud? It seems unlikely. President Obama literally bowed before the Saudi king in London last year.

We are now being told that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) runs terrorist camps and this justifies "pre-emptive strikes" on Yemen. But what is AQAP except leading Saudi terrorists – Naser al-Wahishi and Said al-Shihri – who have now set up shop in Yemen, with a ragtag army of 200 men? Who is Osama Bin Laden except a Saudi who wanted political reforms in his own country, failed, and then turned his guns on the western backers of the Saudi regime?

Time and again, from September 11 to the attempted Detroit-bound airline attack last week, there are Saudi fingerprints – ideological and practical – on terrorist attacks and yet western powers stab in the dark in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now possibly Iran and Yemen with the unconvincing language of making us safer in our streets here.

In both Britain and America demands for profiling all Muslims at airports are increasing in volume. This mindset not only fails to understand that most Muslims around the world detest al-Qaeda, but this outlook also cannot comprehend how terrorists are always one step ahead of the game. If it is Muslim-sounding names that are to be stopped, would a name like Richard Reid – the infamous shoe bomber – have been detected? If it is Asian men that are to be stopped, then we will see an increase in white men recruited for terror?

After all, al-Qaeda's English spokesperson is Adam Gadahn, a white American. If it is men who are stopped, we will see women terrorists emerge. Let us not forget Palestinian groups' repeated use of single women as suicide bombers. Do not underestimate the power of terrorists to recruit serving airline pilots and other aviation personnel. Where there is a will, there will always be a way.

The profiling of ordinary Muslims not only opens other avenues for al-Qaeda, but results in the harassment and potential loss of support from the very people we need on our side to contain al-Qaeda: ordinary Muslims. Without mainstream Muslims on side, western powers cannot deal al-Qaeda and its associates the blow that it deserves. After all, it was the Muslim father of the Nigerian would-be plane bomber who alerted the US embassy in Lagos six weeks before last week's attempted attack. Muslim families are our first line of defence against terrorism. Can we afford to lose that unseen, unappreciated buffer against extremists?

In the end, this is a battle of ideas. No amount of drone attacks in Pakistan, troops in Afghanistan, occupation of Iraq and air raids in Yemen will stem terrorism. Violence breeds violence.

The strongest weapons available to our enemies are ideas of religious supremacy and perennial confrontation, backed with logistical networks, and repressive political conditions that help strengthen their narrative and network. Unless we in the west can combat their ideas with better ideas, puncture the alluring narrative of victimhood politics, question their self-assured martyrdom, and end perceptions of incessant enmity with non-Muslims then we will be confined to dealing with symptoms of terrorist attacks rather than healing the underlying causes. Nearly a decade after 9/11, when compared with military budgets, where is investment in these soft-power, counter radicalisation projects? The silence says it all.


Ed Husain

The GuardianTramp

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