Archive for Civil Rights

Personalizing civil liberties abuses

Posted in Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by loonwatch

(cross-posted from Salon)

By Glenn Greenwald

It’s sometimes easy — too easy — to think, talk or write about the assault on civil liberties in the United States, and related injustices, and conceive of them as abstractions. Two weeks ago, the Editorial Page Editor of The New York Times, Andrew Rosenthal, wrote that ever since the 9/11 attacks, the United States has created “what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims.” That should be an extraordinary observation: creating a radically different — and more oppressive — set of rules, laws and punishments for a class of people in the United States based on their religious affiliation is a disgrace of historic proportion. Yet here we have someone occupying one of the most establishment media positions in the country matter-of-factly observing that this is exactly the state of affairs that exists on American soil, and it prompts little notice, let alone protest.

There are many factors accounting for the willingness to tolerate, or even approve of, this systematic persecution, most of which I’ve written about before. But one important reason I want to highlight here is that — as is true of America’s related posture of endless wars — its victims, by design, are so rarely heard from. As is true for most groups of humans who remain hidden, they are therefore easily demonized. This invisibility also means that even those who object in principle to what is being done have difficulty apprehending in a visceral way the devastation that is wreaked in the lives of these human beings who have done nothing wrong. Their absence from our discourse can confine one’s understanding of these issues to the theoretical realm, and thus limit one’s ability to truly care.

I spent the last week traveling to several cities where, without planning to do so, I met dozens of people whose lives have been seriously impeded or fully wrecked by the abuses carried out in the name of the War on Terror. This happens whenever I travel to speak at events, and it’s one of the reasons I do it. Meeting such people isn’t the reason for my travel. These meetings usually are unplanned. But the decade-long abuses carried out in the post-9/11 era are so pervasive, so systematized, that no matter what city I visit, it’s very common for me to end up meeting people — usually though not always Muslims — whose lives have been unjustly and severely harmed by these state actions. And it’s not only the targeted individuals themselves, but entire communities of people, whose lives are substantially damaged. Being able to meet and speak with people directly affected personalizes the issues for me that are most frequently written about here, and so I want to describe several of those encounters I had just in the last week.

* * * * *

On Thursday, I was in Ottawa to speak at St. Paul University on civil liberties, secrecy and militarism as it affects the U.S. and Canada. Ottawa happens to be the long-time home of Maher Arar. Arar is the Canadian-Syrian citizen who was abducted by the U.S. Government (with the help of Canada) in September, 2002, at JFK Airport, when he was about to board a connecting flight back home to Ottawa after a vacation. After being held for two weeks in solitary confinement and denied access to a lawyer by the U.S., they “rendered” him not back to his home in Canada, but to Syria (where he hadn’t lived for 15 years). He was imprisoned in Syria for the next year, ten months of which was in extreme solitary confinement. As the U.S. knew would happen, he was continuously interrogated, beaten and tortured. Because (as everyone now admits) Arar had no involvement of any kind with Terrorism, he had nothing to tell his Syrian captors, which caused them to beat him ever more harshly. Once even the Syrians concluded that he was innocent, they released him back to Canada.

While the Canadian government publicly accounted for its role in this travesty, apologized to Arar, and paid him a substantial monetary sum for what was done to him, all of Arar’s efforts to obtain justice from the U.S. Government in American courts have been denied. The Bush and the Obama DOJ both insisted that allowing Arar’s claims to be heard in a U.S. court would risk disclosure of vital “state secrets,” and American federal judges — as they almost always do in cases involving Muslim defendants — meekly complied with the government’s directives. Arar continues to be banned from entering the U.S., thus ensuring he cannot travel to this country to speak about what was done to him.

When I met with him, Arar explained to me the lingering effects of being snatched away from your own life for no reason and being shipped halfway across the world to be brutalized and tortured without any charges of any kind and without any end in sight. At the time that happened, Arar was working as an engineer — he has a Masters degree in engineering from the University of Quebec — and he lived with his wife, a Ph.D in Finance who works as a college professor, along with their two small children. His wife, Monia Mazigh, wrote an incredibly moving book about the devastation this “rendition” wreaked on their lives and her battle to free him.

Since then, the stigma of what happened to him follows him wherever he goes. He found it difficult to resume his engineering career. He was reluctant to speak in any detailed way, but was clear that this horrific experience, even nine years later, affects him emotionally and psychologically in all sorts of profound ways. He spends most of his time working on an excellent online political journal he founded in 2010, Prism Magazine, where he and a group of writers report and comment on civil liberties and foreign policy.

He’s extremely smart, knowledgeable, articulate, passionate and engaged. He attempts to direct the anger over what was done to him into constructive causes: in particular, using his platform to highlight the dangers of untrammeled government power and the ongoing erosion of core liberties in the name of Terrorism. But it’s not hard to see that the severe abuse he suffered at the cooperative hands of the U.S., Canadian and Syrian governments — the complete loss of one’s sense of security from being arbitrarily snatched out of one’s life by unaccountable forces which, in the case of the U.S., continue to view him as some sort of threat — will be a central part of his identity and internal life probably forever.

* * * * *

On Saturday, I was at the University of Chicago for an event to discuss humanitarian intervention and empire. One of my fellow speakers was Tariq Ramadan, the highly regarded Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford. He’s one of the world’s most accomplished scholars in his field. For almost six years — from 2004 until 2010 — Ramadan was banned from entering the U.S. In 2004, he had accepted a tenured position at Notre Dame University, but was forced to resign it when, nine days before he was to move with his family to Indiana, his visa was suddenly revoked by the State Department pursuant to the “ideological exclusion” provision of the PATRIOT Act. Ramadan had been an outspoken critic of violence carried out by Muslims against civilians in the name of the Koran, as well a vigorous opponent of violence carried out by the U.S. Government in the Muslim world; for the latter act, he was accused by the U.S. Government, with no charges or trial, of being a Terrorist sympathizer and a threat to national security. Only once the ACLU sued for years on his behalf and the State Department was ordered by a federal court to more fully justify the exclusion in 2010 was he granted a visa. After years of living with the cloud of “Terrorist sympathizer” over his head, he is now finally able to enter the U.S. again to speak and attend academic conferences.

One of the sponsors of that University of Chicago event was the school’s Muslim Students Association, and one of the undergraduate student leaders of that group is Ali Al-Arian. Ali is the son of Dr. Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian whose ongoing persecution by the U.S. Government is one of the most repellent and unjust of any in the post-9/11 era. I can’t begin to convey all or even most of the extreme injustices that have been imposed on him.

In 2003, while working as an engineering professor at the University of South Florida, he was indicted by the Ashcroft DOJ on multiple counts of “material support for Terrorism.” Al-Arian was an outspoken advocate for Palestinians and a steadfast opponent of the Israeli occupation. The U.S. government had been monitoring all of his telephone communications for more than a full decade, yet obtained no evidence that he was involved in any way in plotting any sort of violence. The indictment was all based on his alleged support for Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group that has nothing to do with the U.S. or Americans, but is instead focused exclusively on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. While awaiting his trial, he was held for almost three years in extreme solitary confinement.

When his trial finally took place in 2006, the government’s evidence against him consisted almost entirely of his speeches, the list of books he read, the websites he visited, the magazines he edited, the rallies he attended: in sum, the U.S. Government — as it so often does with Muslims — tried to prosecute him as a Terrorist by virtue of his political views and activities. Even with a judge extremely hostile to his defense, the Central Florida jury acquitted him on half of the counts, and deadlocked on the other half (10 out of 12 jurors wanted to acquit him on all charges). This was one of the very, very few times a Muslim in the U.S. has been acquitted when accused of Terrorism. Rather than be subjected to a new trial that could send him to prison for life, he pled guilty to a single count of “contributing services” for the benefit of a designated Terrorist group (far, far less than what is being provided right this moment by a glittering bipartisan cast of Washington officials to the MEK, also a designated Terrorist group). In an extremely unusual move, the federal judge presiding over the case disregarded the prosecutor’s sentencing recommendations and sentenced him to a longer prison term than what the plea agreement called for: the maximum permitted by law.

That prison sentence was to end in 2007, after which he would be deported. Yet al-Arian was never released from prison. He continues, nine years later, to be denied his liberty by the U.S. Government, with no end in sight. Shortly before he was to be released and deported, he was subpoenaed to testify in a separate criminal case — one involving an Islamic think tank in Northern Virginia — by Gordon Kromberg, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Virginia who is notorious for his bigoted anti-Islamic zealotry. Fearful that any testimony he gave would be seized on by Kromberg to prosecute him again, al-Arian refused to testify, and was then imprisoned on civil contempt charges for the maximum 18-month period permitted by law. Once that 18-month period ended, Kromberg, in 2008, indicted him on criminal contempt charges.

In response to this new criminal indictment, al-Arian’s lawyers, in 2009, asked the federal district judge to dismiss the criminal indictment. While the motion was pending, the judge ordered him confined to house arrest. That was 3 years ago. But the judge has simply never decided the motion. It just sits there, for years now, undecided. And al-Arian thus continues to be confined to house arrest, not permitted to leave without express permission of the court, which is rarely granted (he has left his small apartment only twice in the last 3 years, to attend the weddings of his two daughters). In the meantime, the criminal case for which he was subpoeaned to testify has been dismissed. But no matter. Al-Arian is in a frozen zone: denied his most basic liberties but without any ability to contest the charges against him. He’s now been imprisoned in one form or another since 2003, all stemming from extremely dubious charges that the U.S. Government, less than two years after the 9/11 attack, could not even get a Central Florida jury — with a very hostile judge — to convict him on. In reality, al-Arian has been persecuted for one reason only: because he’s a Palestinian activist highly critical of the four-decade brutal Israeli occupation.

It was al-Arian’s son, Ali, who drove me back to my hotel after the University of Chicago event was concluded. He recounted the harrowing details of his father’s plight, much of which I knew, but also explained, in stoic though very affecting tones, the ways in which the lives not only of his father but also his own and his brothers and sisters have been torn asunder by the ongoing persecution taking place. Dr. al-Arian’s five college-age children, all highly accomplished and educated in their own right, have worked steadfastly on the injustices to which their father is still being subjected, but there’s little they can do: each time it appears that his plight will finally be over, the U.S. Government concocts a new process to ensure that he remains a prisoner.

* * * * *

Last night, I spoke in Washington at the annual event for the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, a group formed in late 2010 to work against these Terrorism-justified travesties that are now embedded in the American judicial system. Seated at my table was James Yee, the Muslim chaplin at Guantanamo who complained in 2003 about the treatment of detainees, and shortly thereafter was arrested, charged with sedition and espionage, and held in intense solitary confinement: in other words, subjected to the very same treatment as the Guantanano detainees to whom he had been ministering. Ultimately, the U.S. military decided to suddenly drop all charges against him, though to date has never apologized for what was done to him. He described the ongoing psychological harm from this ordeal, and the battery of medication needed to treat it. Adorning the wall of the event was an exhibit showing the names of dozens of people — mostly, though not all, Muslims — who have been prosecuted overwhelmingly due to their political views, not because of any violent acts they undertook. For the entire three-hour event, a Muslim male dressed in an orange jump suit sat alone in a tiny makeshift cell at the front of the room as a reminder of the hundreds of prisoners, held in indescribably oppressive conditions, who have been prosecuted “pre-emptively” in the post-9/11 era: due to their political beliefs.

On the afternoon before the event, I met with Gulet Mohamed’s brother, Liban. Gulet is the Somali-American who last year, at the age of 19, was detained in Kuwait at the behest of the U.S. Government, beaten and tortured while interrogated, and then blocked from returning home to the U.S. I still vividly recall, as though it were yesterday, calling Gulet on his illicitly obtained cell phone while he was in Kuwaiti detention and hearing the extreme levels of fear and confusion in his voice over why this was happening to him. His brother described to me the numerous ways that Gulet continues to be affected by that experience: all ones you would expect if you put yourself in the position of being 19 years old and having that happen to you. I then had the pleasure to meet Gulet himself at the event that evening, and he appears to be a normal now-20-year-old — except that he was detained without charges and beaten and tortured at the behest of his own government.

In both Chicago and Washington, I also spoke with several people, all American Muslims, who have been placed by the U.S. Government on its no-fly list. That means they are barred from boarding an airplane. None has been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime. They were never notified that they were being placed on the list. They learned of it when they tried to fly and were denied boarding at the airport. They are unable to obtain any explanation for why they have been so barred. They have no idea who made the decision to place them on this list, what the basis was for that decision, or when they might be removed. For many of them, it means they cannot visit family members in other countries. They have simply been decreed as Security Threats by their own government with no explanation or transparency of any kind, and have no recourse to challenge the designation.

Those I spoke with were unwilling, at least for now, to speak out publicly by name out of fear that the U.S. Government will retaliate against them if they do. This fear is well-grounded given how many Muslims who have protested the government’s treatment of them have ended up being accused of unrelated crimes, or have had close family members similarly targeted. Just this week, a Pittsburgh resident, Kalifah Al-Akili, was scheduled to hold a press conference to complain that the FBI had introduced a dangerous and unstable person into his life in order to entrap him into joining an FBI-created Terrorist plot; once al-Akili refused, and sought to complain publicly, the FBI — on the day before he was to hold his Press Conference — arrested him on a completely unrelated and old firearm violation, thus ensuring his silence.

Then there’s the systematic infiltration of American Muslim communities, mosques and other groups by the U.S. Government. Just today, the Associated Press won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for exposing the pernicious surveillance program of the NYPD aimed at Muslims suspected of no wrongdoing whatsoever (except for being Muslim). Also today, The Washington Post has a very good article detailing the FBI’s chronic use of informants to target young Muslims and use every conceivable inducement — money, psychological manipulation, peer pressure — to cajole them into joining the FBI’s manufactured Terrorist plots. This is all done so that the FBI can swoop in at the last minute, praise themselves for stopping a Terror attack, keep fear levels among the American population high, and then send the targeted Muslim to prison for decades (and not just any prison, but usually to the uber-repressive wing at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana — “GITMO North” — a living, inhumane hell). The federal judge who presided over the most recent of these FBI-concocted cases — the tough-on-crime, former federal prosecutor Colleen McMahon — said in open court: “I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition.”

This constant government surveillance, infiltration, and use of informants — many who are paid large sums of money by the FBI and who themselves have a history of violent behavior and lying — predictably create extreme levels of fear and suspicion in American Muslim communities. They are instantly suspicious of any new person they meet. Because so many of these prosecutions have relied on the political statements and views of the accused Terrorist supporters, they are petrified to express their views about American foreign policy, let alone to engage in meaningful activism around those views. They fear speaking out when they are targeted or otherwise victimized by state injustices.

* * * * *

In sum, these are American citizens whom the rest of us have allowed to be subject to such an intense, limitless climate of fear and intimidation that any Constitutional guarantees are purely illusory for them. And they know it: they know that if the U.S. Government acts unjustly against them — if government agents even utter the word Terrorist in their direction — huge numbers of their fellow citizens will automatically assume that there must be some justification for the accusations. As Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum recently explained, he simply assumes that when the Obama administration accuses someone of involvement in Terrorism that there must be some solid basis for the accusation — even if they don’t reveal what that basis is — because President Obama is too good of a person to be involved in the baseless, bad faith punishment of someone on Terrorism allegations.

Many of the Muslims with whom I spoke know that many of their fellow citizens — the ones who are never subjected to these abuses — “reason” in a similar manner. Most are wallowing in the authoritarian assumption that the U.S. Government, while not infallible, is well-motivated and honest. Many Muslims thus know that they will stand almost entirely vulnerable if they are so targeted; few others will object or even care. That the Obama administration — in concert with Peter King — has been repeatedly insistingthat the primary threat is now “homegrown Terrorism,” and has thus been importing War on Terror framework onto U.S. soil, means that citizenship is no longer any shield from even the most egregious abuses. So they are afraid, and are tempted to avoid doing anything, including exercising their most basic rights of free speech and assembly, to avoid attracting attention.

As is always the case, the government abuses justified in the name of Terrorism have expanded far beyond the Muslim community to which they were first applied. Domestic peace activists have been targeted by abusive applications of the Patriot Act; American advocates of WikiLeaks have been legally harassed in all sorts of ways; and just last week I detailed the persecution of filmmaker Laura Poitras for the crime of producing documentaries that reflect poorly on U.S. policy.

But American Muslims have borne the brunt of these assaults for a full decade now, and — more than a full decade after 9/11 — continue to bear them in increasingly oppressive ways. And it’s worthwhile, really necessary, to be reminded of the very personal ways that these actions harm the lives of innocent human beings. Blame undoubtedly lies first and foremost with the U.S. Government for perpetrating these attacks. But it lies as well with the American citizenry that — convinced that they will not be affected — permits and even cheers them.

How the Government Smeared Tarek Mehanna

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , on April 14, 2012 by loonwatch

 

(updated below)

Tarek Mehanna, a twenty-nine year old American Muslim pharmacist, was sentenced a few days ago to 17.5 years of incarceration.  Much has been said in the mainstream media about this young man, but few people have taken the time to go through Mehanna’s statements over the years to understand his world view and ideology.

Fortunately, Mehanna has a digital footprint that goes back several years.  Long before he was arrested, Tarek Mehanna operated under the user name Abu Sabaya, posting on internet discussion forums and his own blog.  These postings are of critical (but overlooked) importance, because the government’s case rests on them.  After all, Mehanna was accused of “conspiring to support Al Qaeda” by “taking to the Internet to try to spread the terror group’s message.”

I have browsed Tarek Mehanna’s blog and internet postings, and my conclusion is that the government has smeared this young man in what can only be called defamation of the worst sort.  The three central lies levied against him include:

1) the claim that he justified (and called for) the killing of American civilians;

2) the claim that he plotted to “shoot[] people at a shopping mall.”

3) and the claim that he expressed support for Al-Qaeda, wanted to join Al-Qaeda, and/or was an Al-Qaeda operative.

Going through Mehanna’s statements over the years, which are preserved by the world wide web, I am highly skeptical of the government’s claims against him.  Not only did I not find any postings justifying or calling for the killing of American civilians, I found the exact opposite.  In 2008, long before he was arrested, Mehanna translated and published a fatwa (religious verdict) that categorically forbids the targeting and killing of civilians.

The ruling starts off by noting that Islam forbids punishing a person for the sins of another, and argues that the Prophet Muhammad forbade the targeting and killing of women and children.  It also specifically rejects the argument, raised by none other than Al-Qaeda and her supporters, that it is permitted to kill enemy civilians in retaliation when the enemy (i.e. America and Israel) kills Muslim civilians.  Mehanna’s translation then states that such “extremist” beliefs can neither be rationalized from a religious standpoint nor a military one.  It concludes by claiming that there is a unanimous consensus (ijma) among religious scholars with regard to this prohibition, which all Muslims must consider religiously binding.

Here are key parts of the translation, which Mehanna translated in full on his blog:

A Discussion Regarding the Targeting of Women and Children

“1 – The principles of the Shar’i texts indicate that a man is not to be taken to account for the sins of others, as in the Saying of Allah: {“…and none shall carry the burdens of another…”} [al-An’am; 16]

2 – The Shar’i texts have stringently forbidden targeting the children and women of the polytheists with any type of killing or fighting, no matter what the reasons and causes for doing so, as in the hadith reported by al-Bukhari and others, and narrated by Ibn ‘Umar, that a killed woman was found by the Prophet in one of the battles, and the Prophet forbade the killing of women and children.

And Handhalah said: “We went out for battle with the Messenger of Allah, and we came by a killed woman, and the people had gathered around her. They made way for the Prophet, who said: “This woman was not fighting amongst those who were fighting.” He then said to a man: “Go to Khalid bin al-Walid, and say to him that the Messenger of Allah orders you to say: ‘Do not kill a child, and do not kill the weak.’”“

So, his saying: ‘orders you’ confirms the clearcut prohibition of killing children, and his saying: ‘This woman was not fighting amongst those who were fighting’ is the understanding of opposites, meaning: if she had been fighting, and was amongst those who were fighting, it would be allowed to fight and kill her.

3 – Despite the numerous wars and battles that were fought by the Prophet, his Companions, the Tabi’in who followed them in good from the first three generations – whose virtue was borne witness to by the Prophet – and despite the many wrongdoings and oppressions that the Muslims of these blessed early generations faced, it is not known that either the Prophet, his Companions, or the Tabi’in ever intentionally killed the children or women of the polytheists!

4 – Children are not to be killed, because according to the Shari’ah, they are pure souls…

5 – The noble verse that was used as proof: {“…So, whoever transgresses against you, transgress in a similar manner against him…”} [al-Baqarah; 194] does not contain evidence for what it was being used for [by extremists]

…[I]t is not allowed to steal from someone simply because they stole from you, and it is not allowed to insult the father of someone simply because he insulted yours. And it is not allowed to respond to the one who violates your honor with false accusations and insults by doing the same to him, etc. If you were to do this, you would have exceeded your bounds, and would be considered a wrongdoer, and would have punished someone with the sins of someone else.

Likewise, it is not allowed to respond to one who has killed your child by killing his child. Rather, you are to kill the killer, because if you were to kill his child, you would have killed an innocent life based on the mistake of a completely different person, and this has nothing to do with the legislated form of revenge and retaliation. Rather, it is nothing but excessiveness and oppression! With this, you would have exceeded the limits in revenge and retaliation, and would end up punishing with more than you were punished with!

And there is not a single scholar who permits the killing of the children of a killer in retaliation for his own oppression and killing of the children of others. Rather, there is consensus that only the killer is to be killed.

6 – Regarding this statement that has been put forth [i.e. the extremist ruling permitting the killing of civilians] despite its strangeness and weakness: it is not from proper wisdom or the politics of the Shari’ah to act upon it in our times, or to circulate it. And this is for two reasons:

First: even if it had the Shar’i factors in place that would justify it, if this door were to be opened, the enemy – with its massive military equipment that the Muslims lack – is the one more capable of aggression, and is more capable of bringing down harm upon the Muslims, their children, and their women!

Second: the enemy possesses massive media influence that the Muslims lack…How would [the Muslim] reputation and image be in front of the public [if they killed women and children]? How would the people look at them and their religion? …

In the comments section, someone (let’s call him e-jihadi #1) protested the ruling by reproducing a hadith (Prophetic tradition) in which Muhammad supposedly permitted the killing of civilians.  Tarek Mehanna himself rebutted this argument, saying:

These ahadith are in regards to accidental deaths (i.e. collateral damage). This is quite different from deliberately targeting them, which is expressly forbidden in Islam.

When e-jihadi #2 expressed support for killing civilians, Mehanna not only rebuffed him but expressed frustration:

My friend, no matter how you try to justify it, the Prophet expressed in crystal clear terms that it is strictly forbidden to target women and children in war. This is not Abu Basir’s “unrestricted application,” and is not his opinion. This is a divinely revealed rule that originated from Allah and was relayed by His Messenger, and nobody’s opinion – Mujahid or no Mujahid – overrides that.

I don’t know why that is so difficult to understand…

Then, e-jihadi #1 came back to give another piece of evidence in support of his view, which Mehanna then negated.  Interestingly enough, e-jihadi #1 found himself properly refuted, and conceded the debate.

E-jihadi #3 stepped up to the plate by claiming that the translated fatwa “is just one opinion”, to which Mehanna concluded by saying: “Yes, it also happens to be the opinion of the Prophet.”

Reading Tarek Mehanna’s blog and internet posts, it becomes apparent that he considers these e-jihadis to be misguided hotheads.  Although in several posts he criticizes American foreign policy, he also spends considerable amount of ink refuting the hotheads he feels have gone “too far”.

The major sticking point between Tarek Mehanna and the hotheads is the principle of distinction, i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians.  Mehanna posts multiple translations from religious figures considered highly regarded in the “jihadi community” in order to bolster his viewpoint and also to undermine the hotheads.

For example, Mehanna translated an Arabic tract by a senior religious figure, who says the hotheads are “the ones whom I fear for the Jihad and the Mujahidin” because they are a “group that harms the Jihad and the Mujahidin, and severely damages the Jihadi manhaj [methodology].”  Their failing is that they support “every [religious] opinion–even if it is wrong–that leads to extremism, harshness, and the spilling of blood–even if that blood was forbidden [i.e. innocent civilians]!”  They end up “distort[ing] the manhaj [methodology] of Jihad, as well as the image that the Jihad must remain upon”, and “give others a very bad and inaccurate picture of Jihad and the Mujahidin!”

Mehanna’s frustration with the hotheads becomes apparent in another translation that impugns the “mistaken attitude held by some of the youth who carry zeal and enthusiasm for the affairs of Jihad…[and] out of emotion, fanaticism, and ignorance” they reject the clear statement of Islam forbidding those actions committed by “the people of the frontlines” (i.e. Al-Qaeda).

*  *  *  *  *

Based on his steadfast rejection of targeting civilians, it seems improbable to me that Tarek Mehanna ever considered shooting American civilians in a shopping mall.  Another translation Mehanna provided on his website gives one more reason to be doubtful of this dubious government claim; the fatwa reads:

If you are given a visa to any country in the world, it is not allowed for you to partake in any action that breaks its laws. This is not allowed, unless this would contradict something from Islam, such as the prayer, fasting, etc. It is not allowed for you to cheat them [non-Muslims] or take from their wealth. It is not allowed, for example, for you to take one of their daughters, and marry her without the permission of her father. It is not allowed for you to rip up a telephone bill. It is not allowed for you to harm the state, and it is not allowed for you to place a magnet on the electric meter of your home [to steal electricity]… As for coming to kill him [non-Muslim] while he is secure and under a pact of security [visa], this is not allowed.

What’s interesting is that the prosecution not only failed to convict Tarek Mehanna for planning a shopping mall shooting spree, but never even charged him with this.  This is something that Mehanna himself noted, saying in an interview:

You asked me to summarize my court experience, and I wish to conclude it by mentioning that it has been nearly a year since I was last arrested, two years since I was first arrested. I have read through countless court documents handed over by the government during the year that I’ve been sitting here in prison. And to this day—after all this time—I have yet to come across even a single shred of evidence whatsoever that even remotely relates to the supposed “shopping mall” plot that I was initially accused of (but until now have not even been charged with). Nothing at all—there’s simply no trace of it, as if the accusation itself never existed in the first place. I think that in and of itself summarizes my court experience.

Why did the government not pursue this charge?  Certainly, this would be Mehanna’s most egregious misdeed if it were true.  Yet, the accusation simply disappeared from existence.

One can only conclude that this was a baseless accusation, one that was so weak that there was not even enough evidence to charge him with it, let alone convict him of it.  Yet, very early on it was thrown into the mix of accusations against Tarek Mehanna in order to smear him, as well as to instill fear into a post-Columbine American public.

Shouldn’t the government be held to account for such dishonest tactics?

*  *  *  *  *

As for the third smear, i.e. his connection to Al-Qaeda, I can find no evidence from Tarek Mehanna’s digital record for this claim.  He has dozens upon dozens of blog posts and internet comments, but not a single time do I see an endorsement, either direct or indirect, of Al-Qaeda.  In fact, he does not seem to mention the group at all.  If he was lobbying on their behalf, I think Al-Qaeda should ask for its money back.

Bloomberg Business Weekly ran the blaring headline “Terror Defendant Mehanna Backed Bin Laden Online, Jury Told.”  Yet, I have not been able to locate any such statement by Mehanna.  If “Mehanna backed Bin Laden online”, then surely we should be able to retrieve such a statement, since, as you may well know, the internet never forgets.

Yes, it’s true that Tarek Mehanna supports jihad, but his own blog clarifies what he thinks the word means: “The Purpose of Jihad…is to repel the aggression of the aggressors against Islam and the Muslims”; “the goal of the Jihad in this religion is not simply to control people or bring them under the submission of others, nor is the goal death and destruction, nor is it oppression under the guise of justice”, but rather it is “the spreading of justice and mercy…”

During his trial, Tarek Mehanna rejected the claim that he supports Al-Qaeda or that he condones their terrorist tactics of targeting civilians.  The evidence, i.e. his internet postings from years prior, is consistent with this.  Mehanna does support the mujahideen (holy warriors), but by this, he does not seem to be referring to Al-Qaeda or terrorists.  Instead, he is using this epithet for (what he, and I would argue many people, consider to be) legitimate “freedom fighters” who are fighting American soldiers in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, the government has purposefully made “anyone who resists the U.S. occupation” to be synonymous with “Al-Qaeda” and “terrorist”.

The translations (above) are mostly from a religious cleric named Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who resides in London.  Abu Basir has been a vocal critic of Western military occupations of Muslim lands, but he strongly condemned acts of terrorism like the 7/7 bombing in London.  Mehanna’s views seem in line with Abu Basir’s, not Bin Laden’s.

*  *  *  *  *

Something else that Tarek Mahanna’s internet postings reveal is a certain fascination with Muslim prisoners.  He had numerous posts about prominent figures in Islamic history who were unjustly jailed, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ahmed Ibn Hanbal.  Closer to home, Mehanna had written passionately and repeatedly about Aafia Siddiqui, a Muslim woman who is being held in an American prison.  Tarek Mehanna had organized a letter writing campaign to boost her spirits in prison, but now it seems that he himself has joined her behind bars.  In doing so, the United States government has not only fulfilled his desire to become a martyr, but proved that he was right: the U.S. does jail Muslims unjustly.

It is true that Tarek Mehanna’s views, as expressed on the internet over the years, reveal that he was a religious extremist in many ways (and certainly a hothead in his own right).  But, there does not seem to be any evidence from his internet record (which is on what basis he stands convicted) to prove that he supported terrorism.  Instead, he rejected terrorism.  His other views may well be offensive, but they are not illegal to hold, and are Constitutionally protected.

One of Mehanna’s most disturbing beliefs is his adherence to a “clash of civilizations” worldview, or at least its Muslim equivalent.  In this paradigm, the Muslim community will forever be under attack by the disbelievers, specifically the West.  Thus, there will exist a permanent state of animosity between the two sides.  In the end, it is the United States that has reinforced this belief in Tarek Mehanna (and countless other Muslims) more than any radical preacher could ever hope to do.

*  *  *  *  *

I strongly encourage readers to check out Glenn Greenwald’s piece on the topic, which includes a transcript of Tarek Mehanna’s sentencing statement.

Also read Carol Rose’s excellent article, It’s Official. There is a Muslim Exception to the First Amendment.

Update I:

A reader quipped:

So you folks know everything about Tarek Mehanna? Everything. How? “Because we read his blog.Yeah!!”

I did not claim to know everything about Tarek Mehanna. I simply went through his blog posts and internet comments, which are on what basis he was convicted for, i.e. online advocacy of terrorism.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Lockup Everyone

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2012 by loonwatch

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Lockup Everyone 

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-3-2012/lockup-everyone

The last thing Barack Obama did in 2011 was sign a bill that eliminates due process for anyone suspected of terrorism in America.

Salon: Jews and Muslims united for sharia?

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2011 by loonwatch

(cross-posted from Salon.com)

Jewish groups mobilize against anti-sharia bills that would also bar arbitration under Jewish religious law

BY JUSTIN ELLIOTT

We’re a bit late to this one, but Ron Kampeas of JTA has a fascinating recent piece on fears that anti-sharia initiatives brewing around the country could also threaten observance of traditional Jewish law, or halachah.

You don’t hear much about halachah, or rabbinical courts known as beit din, even though both have been a feature of observant American Jewish communities for years.

But some Jewish groups are now lobbying against anti-sharia bills that have been drafted — possibly as a way to preempt constitutional challenges — to bar any and all foreign or religious law in U.S. courts, not just sharia:

“The laws are not identical, but as a general rule they could be interpreted broadly to prevent two Jewish litigants from going to a beit din,” a Jewish religious court, said Abba Cohen, the Washington director of Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella group. “That would be a terrible infringement on our religious freedom.”

A number of recent beit  din arbitrations that were taken by litigants to civil courts — on whether a batch of etrogim met kosher standards; on whether a teacher at a yeshiva was rightfully dismissed; and on the ownership of Torah scrolls — would have no standing under the proposed laws.

A spokesman for the Orthodox Union explained that a prohibition on religious law would be a problem in situations when Jewish law comes up in civil courts:

Such laws “are problematic particularly from the perspective of the Orthodox community — we have a beit din system, Jews have disputes resolved according to halachah,” Diament said. “We don’t have our own police force, and the mechanism for having those decisions enforced if they need to be enforced is the way any private arbitration is enforced” — through contract law in the secular court system.

Some prominent Jewish groups seem to be putting some real lobbying muscle into this issue in state legislatures, so it will be interesting to see what happens.

Sharia, by the way, did not come up in last night’s GOP presidential debate.

Robert Spencer rankled by Muslim rights hearings, blames Muslims for Islamophobia

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs, Loon Sites with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2011 by loonwatch
Robert Spencer

We will be live blogging the hearings tomorrow on Twitter, follow us @ Loonwatchers.

Robert Spencer has a very big problem. Important people in high places are catching on to the fact that Islamophobia is a form of bigotry as vile and dangerous as anti-Semitism. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) plans to consider “measures to protect the rights of American Muslims” in a March 29 hearing. With the recent barrage of Qur’an-burningsanti-Muslim hate protestsanti-Muslim hate crimes, and White-supremacist-inspired anti-Sharia laws in many states, it only makes sense that a responsible government will move to protect a vulnerable minority. But not if you’re Robert Spencer.

In his latest excuse to hate on Muslims, he writes:

On a day when Islamic jihadists exploded a bomb in Jerusalem that murdered at least one woman and wounded thirty, and when Islamic jihadists opened fire on and killed two Christians outside a church in Pakistan, Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) announced that he was going to hold hearings on the rise in “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

This opening paragraph displays the stupidity of Spencer’s thinking: violent fringe extremists strike in far off parts of the world and somehow all Muslims, especially American Muslims, are implicated, and because all Muslims are collectively guilty, we shouldn’t be concerned if peaceful, law-abiding Muslims lose their constitutional rights. Most Jewish people, like Lesley Hazleton, can recognize this as an obvious example of “the stereotyping of millions of people by the actions of a few,” no different than equivalent attacks lobbed against Jews by anti-Semites. In this case, the glaring similarity between Spencer’s Islamophobia and classical anti-Semitism cannot be missed.

Spencer then takes a cheap shot at Rep. Ellison, whose moving testimony displayed the humanity of a people Spencer would like to dehumanize. He writes:

Ellison used the bully pulpit King gave him to paint a lurid picture of Muslim victimhood, all the while saying nothing (of course) about the sharp increase in jihad terror plots in this country over the last two years. How can Durbin top that?

Actually, it was King who was in control of the bully pulpit. Nevertheless, when Muslims criticize government policy or Islamophobic hate, Spencer dismisses all such criticism, valid or not, as simply whiny, Muslim “victimhood.” Once again, Spencer precisely displays the sixth point of the Runnymede Trust’s comprehensive definition of Islamophobia: “Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.”

Predictably, Spencer claims “Muslims” (meaning all Muslims in all times and all places forever) are solely responsible for the venom spewed at them through politicians, pundits, and countless blogs. Taking the typical ritual shots at CAIR, he writes:

If anyone in the United States today is suspicious of Muslims in general, it is because of those jihadis and others like them – and because of Muslim spokesmen like Keith Ellison and CAIR’s Ibrahim “Honest Ibe” Hooper, who never acknowledge that the Muslim community in the U.S. has any responsibility whatsoever to teach against the jihadist view of Islam that they supposedly reject.

Of course, nearly every mainstream American Muslim organization has led public campaigns against terrorism and extremism: CAIR’S “Not in the name of Islam” campaign, MPAC’s anti-terror campaign, ISNA’s history of counter extremism and promoting tolerance, youtube videos by respected American Muslim leaders, and the list goes on. With respect to CAIR, anyone who wishes can read for themselves what a prominent leader in the organization believes. But none of that matters to Spencer, who plays the game of “six degrees of people who don’t eat bacon” to connect anyone and everyone to the allegedly omnipresent Muslim Brotherhood. He continues:

The “anti-Muslim bigotry” industry, in sum, is generated by Muslims and perpetuated by Muslims. And only Muslims have the power to end that bigotry.

Perhaps, in a Freudian slip, Spencer admits that Muslims are facing a mounting bigotry industry in America; but rather than see this as a problem (because he is a big part of that industry), Spencer wants you to think that Muslims deserve that bigotry. So how can Muslims end such bigotry, you ask?

Here’s how they can do it, if they care to:

1.     Focus their indignation on Muslims committing violent acts in the name of Islam, not on non-Muslims reporting on those acts.

Okay, “if they care” (because, according to Spencer, Muslims need hate crimes to score political points) Muslims should focus all their energy on fringe extremists and basically stop criticizing Islamophobes. Just shut up and take it, alright?

2.     Renounce definitively, sincerely, honestly, and in deeds, not just in comforting words, not just “terrorism,” but any intention to replace the U.S. Constitution (or the constitutions of any non-Muslim state) with Sharia even by peaceful means.

Okay, Muslims should denounce the non-existent conspiracy to overthrow America. Nevermind that even ultra-conservative fatwas (Sharia legal verdicts) demand that Muslims obey American law. Good Lord, this is like asking Jews to denounce the fictional plot of the Elders of Zion! What’s next?

3.     Teach, again sincerely and honestly, in transparent and verifiable ways in mosques and Islamic schools, the imperative of Muslims coexisting peacefully as equals with non-Muslims on an indefinite basis, and act accordingly.

Spencer knows very well that the majority of modern Islamic seminary institutions and the ordinary Muslim masses are not adhering to the 12th century jurisprudence of the Abbasid Empire. Shaykh Al-Azhar Mahmud Shaltut’s treatise, Qur’an and Fighting, makes this perfectly clear (peace is the norm, war is the exception). But again, basic knowledge of facts on the ground threatens to diminish the fat cheques his boss Horowitz cuts for him every month. Anything else?

4.     Begin comprehensive international programs in mosques all over the world to teach sincerely against the ideas of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism.

Academic studies (you know, those conducted and reviewed by real scholars) have shown that terrorist radicalization doesn’t take place in mosques, but that doesn’t stop Spencer from promoting forged statistics and demanding Muslims solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Are you done yet?

5.     Actively and honestly work with Western law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend jihadists within Western Muslim communities.

Spencer probably knows (or should know) that Muslims have been responsible for thwarting numerous terror plots, or that there are plenty of Muslim cops who put their lives on the line every day for their fellow citizens, or that Muslims loyally serve in our country’s armed forces. But none of that is important when your day job is to hate on Muslims, right Spencer?

If Muslims did those five things, voila! “Anti-Muslim bigotry” will evanesce almost immediately!

Guess what, Bob? Muslims have done all those things and more, but you intentionally hide these facts from your gullible conspiracy-minded audience, lest your network of closed-information systems dissolve in light of the truth. Hence, the obvious need for Durbin’s hearings, which are bound to strike a devastating blow to your hate-filled machinations.

Reza Aslan was right. The day is growing closer when people will catch on to your scheming and these hearings are bringing that day even closer. Perhaps one day we will wake up and, Viola! Anti-Muslim bigotry will evanesce almost immediately! But that would put you out of a job wouldn’t it?

Better start working on your résumé, Bob.

Asra Nomani Supports This Kind of Harassment

Posted in Loon People, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2011 by loonwatch

It is wrong, it violates your religious liberty and you constitutional rights, but Asra Nomani would be happy to submit to it.

Civil Rights Groups: US Muslims’ Rights Violated at Border

(VOA)

Lawrence Ho is also a U.S. citizen, and a Muslim convert. He was stopped at a border crossing with Canada.

Ho says he was held for four hours and asked religious questions interrogation-style – in a closed room, by a special agent, with armed guards watching.

“They’re treating me like a suspect,” he says. “Like while I was in there, I just felt like I was a criminal. At a certain point they almost make you feel like you did something wrong.”

Civil liberties groups say U.S. border officials are violating the constitutional rights of American Muslims by asking about their religious beliefs and practices on their return from trips abroad.

Ho and Shibly’s testimony form part of a complaint to the government by two groups – the American Civil Liberties Union and Muslim Advocates.

It alleges that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, or CBP, has been questioning Muslims or people that appear to be Muslim about their religious and political beliefs, associations and activities.

Hina Shamsi is director of the ACLU’s National Security Project:

“Of course we all recognize that it is the government’s job to keep the country safe and secure, and we want it to do that,” she said. “But questioning innocent American Muslims about their religious and political beliefs does nothing to make us safer.”

She says it also violates the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees religious liberty.

Shamsi says U.S. citizens and residents may only be questioned in this way if there is a reasonable suspicion, based on credible evidence, that a person has engaged in criminal activity. And the faith-related questions have to be relevant, she says.

“It cannot be a dragnet set of questions,” she added. “That is simply impermissible and unconstitutional.”

 

DOJ Civil Rights Head Goes To TN To Reassure Muslims

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2010 by loonwatch

The DOJ’s Civil Rights head visits Tennessee to reassure Muslims (hat tip: Eric Allen Bell). While it is a nice gesture wouldn’t it be great if Obama actually came out stronger against Civil Rights violations and harassment of Muslims? For instance reviewing the fact that 50% of cases brought against Muslims charged with crimes relating to terrorism were dismissed outright! As Law professor M. Cherif Bassiouni wrote,

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration, spurred by some in the evangelical right and Neo-Cons, unleashed a campaign against Muslims in the U.S..  This was accompanied by a nationwide PR campaign raising fear about Muslim terrorism in the U.S..  Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzalez, issued numerous reports of investigations, arrests, and prosecutions of Muslim terrorists in America.  These cases were given catchy names like the “Lackawanna Seven” and “Operation Backfire.”  In all, some 500 federal cases were put together.  That they were fabricated is evidenced by the fact that various federal courts across the country outright dismissed 250 cases. This is the highest percentage of dismissed cases of any category of violent federal crimes, which averages 15% across the board. For 50% of the cases brought against Muslims in the U.S. to be dismissed means that these charges were either without a legal basis or unsupported by probable cause, meaning that there was insufficient evidence to convince an ordinary, reasonable person that there is a basis to remand the accused to trial.  This is far from the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard needed to convict.  Thus, for over half of the cases not to have risen to this low threshold, particularly in light of the national percentage in federal cases, is quite telling.

The other cases, with the exception of a dozen or so, were ended by guilty pleas for offenses, which had nothing to do with the original charge.  This means that less than 10% of the charges brought had any potential linkage to terrorism.  Considering that the nationwide rate of federal convictions for violent crimes exceeds 47%, this too is an indicator of the degree of invalidity of the some 500 criminal charges brought against Muslims in America.

DOJ Civil Rights Head Goes To TN To Reassure Muslims

(TPM Muckraker)

Thomas Perez, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, went to Murfreesboro, Tenn., last week in an attempt to reassure Muslims there who have been the victims of arson and vandalism.

The Nashville Scene reports that Perez traveled around Murfreesboro on Sept. 28, speaking to leaders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and other Muslims.

“Basically, what we’re being told is that if there’s any civil violation of the rights of the Muslim community here, they’ll step in,” said Abdou Kattih, vice president of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

“It was a very sobering meeting to listen to Murfreesboro leaders describe the climate of fear that they’re living in,” Perez told the Scene. The DOJ has said it is investigating several cases of potential hate crimes against Muslims, including the arson in Murfreesboro.

The Islamic center, which has been in Murfreesboro for decades, is building a new facility just outside the city, including a mosque. Some residents have been extremely vocal in their opposition to the mosque, and three aresuing the county in an attempt to block its construction. They claim officials didn’t post proper notice of the meeting in which construction was approved.

Perez said the DOJ is seeing an uptick in the number of zoning challenges to mosques.

“We have seen a spike in the zoning confrontations, in efforts to keep mosques and the like from being built,” he said. “During times of uncertainty in our nation’s history, people often look for scapegoats.”

The mosque site has also been vandalized and was the victim of arson, when someone torched construction equipment at the site.