2009: Volume 2, Issue 1, pp. 25-40

Racial Profiling and Moral Panic:
Operation Thread and the Al-Qaeda Sleeper Cell that Never Was

Felix Odartey-Wellington



In August 2003, Canadian and international media broke news of Operation Thread, executed by the Canadian state security apparatus to apprehend 23 South-Asian Muslim members of a “possible Al-Qaeda sleeper cell” in the Greater Toronto Area. After exposing the suspects to domestic and international opprobrium, the state security apparatus conceded that the allegations of terrorism were unfounded. Using material from the National Postand The Globe and Mail, this paper interrogates the mass mediation of Operation Thread as a case of racial profiling situated in a moral panic over “Islamic terrorism” that was created by a section of the Canadian news media and the state security apparatus. Particularly, it shows that the media contested the discourse of the state security apparatus, thus reflecting the contested nature of news as a social power resource. However, there is still a need for the media to be more critical when dealing with cases such as Operation Thread that are informed by racial profiling post September 11.



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