Can only Muslims be terrorists?

Can only Muslims be terrorists?

by Kamran Memon and Parvez Ahmed

(This article was first published in 2003, but am re-posting it as it is relevant to current events)


Robert Jay Goldstein is not a “Jewish terrorist.” After all, neither God nor his prophets ever condoned the murder of innocent human beings. If a Jew engages in terrorism, the blame falls on him, not on his religion.

That much we can all agree on. But that is where our paths diverge.

In August 2002 ,Goldstein was arrested near his home in St. Petersburg, Florida. In his possession were 40 weapons, 30 explosive devices, a list of 50 mosques and a detailed plan to bomb an Islamic school.  Contrary to the suggestion from defense lawyers that Goldstein is mentally ill, sheriff’s Detective Cal Dennie characterized him as “a smart guy” who “knew his stuff.”

Clearly Goldstein, a terrorist, was capable of inflicting unimaginable harm. In chilling details, his mission plan stated his desire to “open fire on all ‘rags’ and then bolt out and let the devices do the rest.”  His motive was to “to do something for ‘his’ people,” in retaliation for 9/11 and the ongoing Israeli-Arab conflict. His goal was to “kill all rags” with “zero residual presence.”

Despite Goldstein’s impressive arsenal and obvious intent, federal prosecutors say he is no terrorist, as his actions were not aimed at altering government policy.

But the U.S. Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; and appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

Intent to alter government policy is only one part of a fairly broad definition of domestic “terrorism.” Federal prosecutors ultimately charged Goldstein with lesser offenses of violating civil rights, attempting to damage religious property, obstructing people in the free exercise of religious beliefs and possessing unregistered firearms. Based on the evidence, there is no doubt that Goldstein would have received life in prison had he been charged as a terrorist.

in prison and that worries many Muslim Americans. When he is released, after serving his sentence of 12-and-a-half years, he will be only 50 years old, still capable of inflicting potential harm.

The Goldstein terror plot remains perplexing for many other reasons. After his arrest, there was little information available about accomplices who were at large and remained a mortal threat to peace. The Muslim community naturally wanted to take appropriate measures to secure their mosques from being targeted by any of Goldstein’s accomplices. Several pleas were made to law enforcement authorities for full disclosure of all mosques on Goldstein’s target list. Federal and state authorities declined to honor these requests.

American-Muslims, the targeted victims of this plot, were never asked by the prosecution to testify, a practice routine in criminal cases. In a surprising move, prosecutors argued that community members should not be allowed to speak in court. Only with the good graces of sentencing Judges Moody and Kovachevich were testimonies from the Muslim community made part of the official record.

Contrast Goldstein to the case of another terrorist, who happened to be Muslim, who also pled guilty for plotting to blow up Florida Power & Light substations and a National Guard Armory. His planning was not as extensive as Goldstein’s, but federal prosecutors charged the Muslim as a “terrorist.”

Do not get us wrong. We are not pleading for leniency for terrorists who happen to be Muslims. We’re all safer when they’re locked up. Such terrorists have no hesitation to kill innocent human beings, Muslim or non-Muslims, as they did on September 11, 2001.

What we are arguing is that non-Muslims should also be punished as terrorists if they engage or conspire to engage in terrorism. Such crimes should be taken just as seriously, even when the intended victims are “only” American Muslims.

After all, the life of a Muslim child is worth no less than the life of a Jewish or Christian child. I hope that’s something we can all agree on.

First published 8/15/2003


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