by Christopher Towne
WASHINGTON—A climate of fear grips the Muslim community in the U.S. Countless people are behind bars, victims of sting operations and disgusting distortions of the law. Rep. Peter King of New York will soon hold hearings on Capitol Hill, where Muslim clerics will be forced to appear and testify to their efforts to combat “Islamic radicalization.” This is the new McCarthyism.
The Obama administration needs a bogeyman to justify its imperialist adventures in the Middle East and South Asia. Hundreds of innocent Muslims have been imprisoned to convince the public that a real threat looms. It was for these reasons that a crowd gathered at the MLK Memorial Library in Washington to attend a “Citizen’s Hearing” on the loss of civil freedoms in America. Muslims and their supporters gathered to hear the testimonies of lawyers and relatives of political prisoners, victimized by “War on Terror” witch hunts.
The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) organized the hearing, the first of several to be held around the country, to raise awareness about Muslim political prisoners and their defense campaigns. The hearings are also organizing tools, to bring together Muslims who were previously fearful of mobilizing to defend their rights. The various campaigns have now unified their efforts, culminating in a national demonstration this spring.
Peter Erlinder, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, spoke at the hearing regarding the legal justifications for the massive imprisonment of Muslims, including the bizarre cases of “material support” for terrorist groups. “Material support” is not protected by the First Amendment, and it has been applied to all sorts of benign activities.
Though the main victims of this legal distortion have been Muslims, the antiwar and Palestine activists subpoenaed by the FBI recently were also accused of “material support” for terrorism.
Noor Elashi gave a heartfelt testimony, speaking of her father’s conviction of “material support” for terrorism. Ghassan Elashi was a founder of what was once the largest Islamic charity in the U.S. By building schools for victims of Israeli terror in Gaza, the government claimed that Elashi and his friends increased the prestige of Hamas, a State Department-designated “terrorist organization.” Elashi was sentenced to 65 years in prison.
Besides the bogus charges of “material support” for terrorism, many Muslims have been the victims of provocateurs and “preemptive prosecution.” Under this strategy, agents befriend Muslims and manufacture phony terrorist plots that the individuals would never, or could never, have carried out on their own. Relatives of the “Fort Dix 5” and “Newburgh 4” also spoke at the hearing.
Other testimonies followed. A display stood to the left of the stage, naming 110 Muslims who are prisoners. In reality, hundreds more have been jailed, and the list includes only the names of those whose families have been courageous enough to fight public campaigns for their defense. The sheer number of these cases, built on secretive evidence and testimonies from paid-off informants, should rattle any reasonable person.
Organizers of the hearing promised a march on the Justice Department this spring, against this mockery of justice that has destroyed so many lives. The antiwar movement must join ranks with the domestic victims of the “War on Terror” and demand freedom for all political prisoners!
‘An injury to one is an injury to all’
Following are remarks by John Kirkland, a member of Philly Against War and the United National Antiwar Committee, at a Jan. 25 Philadelphia press conference called as part of the National Day against FBI Repression. The conference was organized by the First Amendment Network, Philly Against War, International Action Center, and other groups.
I come here today inspired by the events in Tunisia and Egypt. There were mass demonstrations in both countries today. There are 100,000 in the streets of Cairo, with people demanding democracy, the right to eat, and the right to a job at a living wage—things our grandparents and parents, and we, are fighting for. The U.S.-financed dictatorships are being shaken to the core with something that scares the U.S. imperialists to death—the threat of democracy.
Government spying on and disruption of dissident political movements is nothing new. It has a history that goes back at least as far as the Red Scares and Palmer Raids after the First World War. Spying and disruption were part of the COINTELPRO program, which targeted the left, the antiwar movement, and the Black Power movement in the 1960s. During the ’80s, the Reagan administration spied on the movement in solidarity with the Central American people.
While spying, infiltration and disruption of legal, nonviolent, movements is nothing new, we know that this is an unacceptable attack on all of our democratic rights. Recently, it was revealed that the state of Pennsylvania had hired outside contractors to spy on legitimate political movements. This is unacceptable. On Sept. 24 last year, the FBI raided the homes of socialists and antiwar and international solidarity activists. This is unacceptable. These same activists have been targeted by a grand jury witch hunt. This is unacceptable.
The purpose of this political repression is to stifle a growing antiwar movement and the movement in solidarity with the people of Palestine and Columbia. This same government has targeted Muslims for frame-ups, pre-emptive prosecutions, and trials based on secret evidence. Secret evidence in a democracy is unacceptable, and the open door to a police state.
This government intimidation will not stop us. It will not back us down. No to Islamophobia and racism! Bring all the troops home now! Peace and justice for the Palestinian people! In the tradition of the labor movement, we say—an injury to one is an injury to all.
> This article was originally published in the February 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.