Following the arrests of Jewish Defense League leaders for plotting terror attacks against Muslims and Arabs in America, Jewish American groups were quick to denounce the JDL in the strongest possible terms. Soon, some Jewish commentators criticized American Muslim leaders for failing to denounce the recently shuttered Holy Land Foundation, a Texas-based Muslim charity, in similarly strong terms.
The Jewish critics’ my-co-religionists-are-better-than-yours lecture to American Muslim organizations could have been more credible had they not severed the issue of the Jewish Defense League arrests and the Holy Land Foundation closure from all historical and political contexts.
There are many reasons why Jewish groups condemned the JDL terror plots. Some did so out of a sense of moral outrage, others out of political expediency. Nonetheless, these prudent condemnations are not acts of political courage as the critics claim.
After all, The JDL is redundant since Israelis kill Palestinians almost daily with total impunity. The HLF is the sole source of bread for tens of thousands of impoverished Palestinians living under Israeli siege or in exile.
Condemnation of terrorism against civilians should be a reflex. Sadly, this is not the case today. Most of the pro-Israeli groups the critics point to still refuse to condemn the Israelis for the murder of hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed almost daily as Israel seeks to tighten its military control. Even when monitors from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch described the Israeli killings of Palestinian civilians as deliberate and not accidental, we hear of no condemnations from either the critics or their pro-Israeli groups.
Nor did we hear of any condemnations when Israeli voters elected a war criminal, Ariel Sharon, as their prime minister. Conversely, when Joerg Haider, the head of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, rose to prominence, the torrent of denunciations resulted in his resignation.
Then there is the pattern of partial law-enforcement. Muslims in American have valid reasons to be weary of overzealous or ratings-driven law enforcement. Still fresh in our memories are the trials by secret evidence which occurred after the passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. A number of Muslims in the U.S. were rounded up and detained on secret charges alleging terrorist links. Without exception, all of the secret evidence detainees were released after the courts rejected the evidence presented by the government.
Since the September 11 atrocities, hundreds of Muslims in the U.S. were rounded up and detained. In most cases, the detainees were denied legal counsel and were held incommunicado. The Justice Department now says the Muslim detainees have no terrorist links and will be released. Only a dozen or so were found to have possible terrorist associations.
Palestinian professor Mazen Al-Najjar is a case in point of how Muslims in American can still be deprived of their liberties so easily even after the courts have ordered their release.
Al-Najjar was jailed in 1996 for allegedly fund-raising for a Palestinian group considered by the State Department a terrorist organization. Yet one judge after another rejected the government’s evidence against Mazen who was eventually released, but after three and a half years of imprisonment. Mazen is the father of three U.S.-born daughters and the husband of a Palestinian pharmacist.
However, after September 11, Al-Najjar was imprisoned again. The government admits there is no link between him and the terror attacks. Unlike the JDL bust but similar to the HLF closure, there is no new evidence against Mazen, no government infiltrators to expose a terror plot, no bombs found, and no hit list.
What transpired since Mazen’s release and his second arrest, after September 11, is another climate of fear and the readiness of some media personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage, to exploit the average American’s feelings of vulnerability.
When rabble-rousers misuse the mass media for ideological ends, they intimidate advocates of decency and fairness while providing the necessary cover for bigots to masquerade as patriots. This sort of unfriendly environment promotes erosion of liberties and destruction of reputations.
Given comparable circumstances, any religious or ethnic minority will be equally reluctant to join the chorus of condemnations against its own people and institutions unless incontrovertible evidence is presented, lest we invite an open season on our own liberties.
Reprinted with permission. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Yousef Al-Yousef is the Chairman of the American Muslims for Global Peace and Justice - a Washington DC-based Muslim American advocacy group. Visit their site at http://www.global-peace.org