By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
June 17, 2002
The instant Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that Abdullah Al Muhajir, aka Jose Padilla, was being held on suspicion of plotting to devastate a city, probably Washington D.C., with a radioactive “so-called “dirty bomb,” terrorism experts had a field day speculating that the former Chicago street gang thug’s diabolical hatred of the U.S. was fueled by his prison conversion to militant Islam. The Nation of Islam was quickly fingered as one possible domestic Muslim organization that could have aided and abetted Padilla’s anti-U.S. hatred.
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s well-publicized volleys against U.S. policy toward Arabs and Muslims, and his cozy tie with Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafi is hardly a secret. It’s also no secret that thousands of blacks, and apparently some Hispanics, such as Muhajir, have converted to militant Islam in droves while serving stretches behind bars.
But how many could that be? Some experts estimate that there are two million African-American Muslims, and about 30,000 Hispanic Muslims. Prison converts to Islam, however, make up only a minuscule percentage of the number of African-American and Hispanic Muslims. And, even the Nation of Islam no longer commands the numbers and influence it did in past years. Its numbers have dwindled from 100,000 a decade ago to an estimated 25,000 members at present. The overwhelming majority of African-American Muslim leaders are orthodox or Sunni Muslims and they have repeatedly denounced the Nation of Islam’s past brand of racial exclusiveness as antithetical to the racially egalitarian tenets of Islam.
African-American Muslims, and that includes Farrakhan, also vigorously condemned the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. There are hundreds of black Muslims in the U.S. military, and there have been no reported acts of disloyalty on their part. Many African-American Muslims are infuriated at the media’s refusal to make distinctions between their philosophy and practices and those of Muslim immigrants.
In most urban areas, African-American Muslims have established their own mosques, and rarely socialize or interact with immigrant Muslims. Many gripe that immigrant Muslims often display the same racial prejudices and insensitivities as many whites toward blacks, and that includes black Muslims. While intra-religious misunderstandings likely can be chalked up to cultural differences, and not racism, African-American Muslims, unlike immigrant Muslims, still regard the issues of police abuse, failing public schools, HIV-AIDS, gang and drug violence as their major issues of concern. The Arab-Israeli conflict, and the war in Afghanistan are way down on the totem pole of their priorities.
Further, African-American Muslims quickly joined with other Americans in deep mourning at the murders of the thousands in the September 11 terror attacks. They noted that many of the victims were African-Americans and Muslims. If indeed Padilla intended to carry out his dirty bomb attack on a Washington D.C. neighborhood, a sizeable number of African-Americans would have been maimed and murdered too.
Some news reports say there are about 400 Americans suspected of having trained in terror camps in Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Yet with the possible exception of Muhajir and the American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, scheduled for trial August 26 on charges of conspiracy to murder Americans, none of these other American recruits have been publicly identified as having re-infiltrated back into the U.S. with the intent to mount terror attacks in American cities. American blacks, Hispanics and African-American Muslim leaders have been near unanimous in their denunciation of Lindh as a traitor and a renegade to Islam.
It’s not inconceivable that with the proliferation of prison gangs, some blacks in their warped, and misguided misreading of Islam, may nurse private hatreds toward the U.S. government and out of that hatred could be tempted to wreak their brand of divine retribution on other Americans. In fact, Muhajir is not the first Chicago gang member accused of attempting to carry out a terrorist act on U.S. city streets. Jeff Fort, a founder of the El Rukn street gang, allegedly planned terrorist acts at the instigation of the Libyan government. Fort was convicted for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts. But he and Muhajir are extreme, and isolated cases. African-American Muslim leaders condemned Fort and they will condemn Muhajir if indeed he did attempt to maim and kill Americans.
Still, with the arrest of Muhajir, many African-American Muslims are frankly worried that this could cast greater suspicion on them, or worse yet ignite a disastrous witch hunt against Muslims, and that includes African-American and Hispanic Muslims. Let’s remember, that a major aim of the terrorists is to sow rancor, discord and suspicion among Americans; in short, to turn Americans against each other. If we allow that to happen, dirty bomb or no dirty bomb, they’ve attained their objective.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).