As Muslims in the West, we are locked in a constant struggle to preserve our Islamic heritage, identity, and most importantly, our beliefs. We are challenged on multiple fronts, and the constant ideological, political and socioeconomic attacks make it difficult for some Muslims to hold on to their Islamic beliefs.
As a minority, there is a lot that we can learn from another group which also strived to defend their right to exist: the Black Liberation Movement of the 1960s.
Now, when I say there’s “a lot that we can learn,” I am not referring to the way the civil rights movement organized and mobilized resistance. What I’m referring to is learning from the way the FBI infiltrated and destroyed the movement from within. If one understands the methods by which these agencies work, one also understands how to effectively guard against them and how to avoid the same failures that destroyed the Black Liberation Movement, allowing it to be usurped by intelligence community.
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COINTELPRO (which stands for “Counterintelligence Program”) was a set of disruptive programs carried out by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from 1956 to 1971, with the express aim of discrediting and neutralizing organizations that were considered as being subversive to U.S. interests and domestic stability. The most serious of these programs were those directed against “Black Nationalists” and is well-documented:
“The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavor is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership, and supporters, and to counter their propensity for violence and civil disorder.”
Agents were instructed “to inspire action in instances where circumstances warrant” and to take action in order to discredit these groups, both within the community and outside.
Agents were instructed to “take an enthusiastic and imaginative approach to this new counterintelligence endeavor,” and were directed to use “established local news media contacts” and other “sources available to the Seat of Government” to “disrupt or neutralize” these organizations and to “ridicule and discredit” them.
When the COINTELPRO documents slowly surfaced into the public limelight during the 1970s, one of the most remarkable revelations was how the FBI targeted black groups by attempting to incite murderous attacks.
A COINTELPRO memo mailed November 25, 1968, informs recipient offices:
“A serious struggle is taking place between the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the US Organization. The struggle has reached such proportions that it is taking on the aura of gang warfare with attendant threats of murder and reprisals. In order to fully capitalize upon BPP and US differences as well as to exploit all avenues of creating further dissension in the ranks of the BPP, recipient offices are instructed to submit imaginative and hard-hitting counterintelligence measures aimed at crippling the BPP.”
During the 1960s, the FBI continuously employed agent provocateurs to incite violent acts such as disruption of meetings and demonstrations, attacks on police, bombings, and so on. Meanwhile, government agencies financed, helped organize, and supplied arms to right-wing terrorist groups that carried out firebombings, burglaries, and shootings—all with the knowledge of the government agencies responsible. It got to the point where one FBI provocateur decided to resign after being asked to arrange the bombing of a bridge in such a way that the person who placed the bomb would be killed. It was also revealed that FBI infiltrators had been engaged in arson, terrorism, and the bombing of universities and civic buildings.
Since the 1960s many details have come to light, showing how the government was involved in campaigns of terror and disruption, in part through right-wing paramilitary groups organized and financed by the national government but primarily through the “much more effective means of infiltration and provocation.”
A Lesson for Contemporary Muslims
The above stories all demonstrate to us, and very vividly so, the lengths to which the US intelligence community was willing to go during the 1960s in order to stifle and disrupt dissent, utilizing means that were unlawful and downright vile.
Now just imagine the lengths to which they’d be willing to go in order to sow discord between Muslims—between organizations and groups—in order to weaken Muslim opposition against liberalism, feminism and LGBT. It is of paramount importance for us to know these things and how they have operated in the past so that we can easily recognize when the same tactics are being used against the Muslim community. Although we are not being targeted as aggressively as dissident groups and black nationalist movements were in the 1960s, the same level of repression may likely reach us if we become as serious a threat to the status quo that the Black Liberation Movement, pioneered by Malcolm X, was during the 1960s.
We witness different Muslim organizations, especially in America, being promoted as “tolerant” and “diverse” and praised for their “leadership” by federal agencies. We need to be aware of how we are being used and co-opted as part of a strategy to moderate and mellow down our critique of U.S. policies and also of their agenda to conform Islam to their image of Western secularism.
Though COINTELPRO was exposed and officially terminated in 1971, things like espionage and their methods and programs certainly haven’t. To a large extent, they have actually become a lot more sophisticated. It is crucial that we educate ourselves on the past so that we stand a better chance at surviving the challenges of the future.
* All of the above quotes (except where noted otherwise) were taken from the Church Committee Report, book II, which can be accessed here: http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports_book2.htm
- US Organization, or Organization Us, is a Black nationalist group in the United States founded in 1965. ↑
- Dave Dellinger, More Power than We Know (Garden City, NY: Doublesday, 1975); Gary T. Marx, “Thoughts on a Neglected Category of Social Movement Participant: The Agent Provocateur and the Informant,” American Journal of Sociology 80:2 (1974), pp. 402-442. ↑
- Dellinger, op. cit., and Frank J. Donner, ”Hoover’s Legacy,” Nation (June 1, 1974). ↑
- Noam Chomsky, Domestic Terrorism: Notes on the State System of Oppression. New Political Science, Volume 21, Number 3, September 1999, p. 311. ↑
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HndpbV3Zj08 ↑