by Fahad Ansari (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 40, No. 12, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1433)
As human rights campaigners around the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the opening of the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, marking a decade of human rights abuses known as the “war on terror”, one would have expected that Western governments would be contemplating scaling back their aggressive rhetoric and draconian laws which have become a feature of the 21st century.
After all, numerous al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama Bin Laden, have been killed, troops are steadily withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan and popular revolutions throughout the Muslim world are toppling brutal tyrants who were allies of the West. One would expect that the governments of the West would attempt to employ a different strategy or use more refined tactics in their efforts to battle Islam. Yet, the very opposite has been happening.
While the entire world rang in the New Year, the man who promised to close Guantanamo Bay if elected president of the United States, signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) 2012 which effectively codifies into law the concept of indefinite military detention without trial of terrorism suspects, including American citizens. The NDAA goes further by officially expanding the scope of the War on Terror from targeting those who helped perpetrate the 9/11 attacks or harboured the perpetrators to any “person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.” This is how the US justifies its ongoing bombing of Yemen and Somalia and its killing of people they claim support groups that did not even exist at the time of 9/11. Of course, detaining someone indefinitely without trial is a very easy policy to implement once execution without trial or even charge becomes customary.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama now sends out a missile-equipped drone an average of once every four days, while his predecessor, George W. Bush, did so only once every 47 days. Who needs rendition, detention and torture when one strike can terminate the “enemy” in addition to scores of other civilians. Due process and the rule of law have become alien concepts to the man whose election campaign was based on “change”. From Pakistan to Afghanistan, Yemen to Somalia, US drones continue to kill, maim, and murder hundreds of innocent people. Not even American citizens are safe with both Imam Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son being assassinated in drone strikes a week apart in Yemen. Across the pond in the UK, with the role the British intelligence services played in the kidnapping and torture of terror suspects, including British citizens, continuing to be exposed, a different and more subtle strategy appears to be in place.
Last December, Ahmed Faraz, a Muslim bookseller and publisher, was convicted in the first case of its kind for selling books with the intention of “priming” people for terrorism. Despite the trial judge accepting that Faraz was not involved in terrorism and there was no terrorism plot, Faraz received a three year prison sentence for a terrorism conviction. However, it is the specific books for which Faraz was convicted of disseminating which highlight a more sinister agenda at play. The books now deemed to be “terrorist publications” include Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones. Like in Faraz’s trial, extracts from Milestones were read out in open court and used to convict Qutb leading to his execution in Egypt in August 1966. The book was banned in Egypt under the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser with anyone found to be in possession of it being prosecuted for treason. Milestones is also published by Penguin Books. However, the CPS case was that the Milestones special edition published and sold by Faraz contained a number of appendices intended specifically to promote extremist ideology. Yet these appendices merely consisted of a series of articles about Qutb by contemporary thinkers and writers and a syllabus of three books taught by Hassan al-Banna, the founding ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, the very party that has recently been democratically elected in Egypt — following similar trends in Tunisia — after enduring decades of dictatorial rule.
Ironically, at a time when the UK has effectively banned these writings from the Brotherhood’s leading thinkers, it is trying to establish relations with these new governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.Other books Faraz was selling which are now also effectively banned include those of Abdullah ‘Azzam, a Palestinian scholar who became one of the leaders of the jihad in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation. ‘Azzam’s Defence of Muslim Lands and Join the Caravan were essentially Islamic edicts that received the highest validation at the time and were heavily promoted in the Western and Muslim world to encourage Muslims to join the Western-backed jihad against the Soviet Union. Both books were readily available for purchase from mainstream booksellers Amazon and Waterstones until very recently, neither of whom it seems will be similarly prosecuted.
The case has extremely serious implications for issues of freedom of speech and freedom of thought in Britain today. In the land of Shakespeare and Wordsworth where more books are published every year than in any other country in the world, books will now be banned and ideas prohibited. It has always been a principle of freedom of speech, especially within academia, that the best way to defeat ideas is to debate them, not prohibit them. Perhaps it is for this reason that Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf remains available in bookstores and libraries today. It is probably the same reason that the prosecution’s expert witness Bruce Hoffman admitted under cross-examination that none of the books would have been banned in the United States under the First Amendment.The case also has wider implications for the Muslim community. Faraz’s case is the latest in a series of cases before the courts, buttressed by prejudicial statements from senior politicians, in which efforts have been made to criminalise Islamic political thought. To believe or to even discuss an Islamic mode of governance, the political union of Muslim countries in a khilafah and the issues of military jihad have become synonymous with glorifying terrorism, what Tony Blair notoriously described in 2005 as an “evil ideology”.
Now that the books from where those ideas come are being banned, the logical next step may be to ban the very source of those ideas — the Qur’an itself. For those who may accuse this writer of scaremongering, investigative journalist Yvonne Ridley was met with the same incredulity five years ago when she announced to thousands of Muslims that the government would try and ban Milestones.While a complete ban on the Qur’an is difficult to fathom, what is easier to imagine at this point in time is an attempt to edit and modify the Qur’an to make it more palatable to Western society and ideas as part of the social engineering project that has been ongoing for several years to create a Western Islam. In convicting and sentencing Faraz, the judge relied heavily on the evidence of the government’s Muslim expert, Matthew Tariq Wilkinson, who described Milestones as Manichean, separatist and excessively violent. Wilkinson accused Qutb of misinterpreting the Qur’an to justify jihad against the state to implement the Shari‘ah, calling it a skewed position on Islam, something which the judge repeatedly referred to.
Just a week after Faraz was convicted, an American citizen, Tarek Mehanna, was convicted in Boston of supporting al-Qaeda because he had translated materials about jihad on the internet. Again, there was no evidence linking Mehanna to any plot but he was prosecuted because of his religious beliefs, thereby completely undermining his First Amendment rights. The American Civil Liberties Union described the conviction as a “threat to writers and journalists, academic researchers, translators, and even ordinary web surfers.” Mehanna faces life imprisonment for his actions. The most shocking aspect of these major developments in the War on Terror has been the almost complete silence from the general public who have refused to speak out against the greatest suspension of civil liberties the Western world has seen since the McCarthy witch-hunt. It is tragically ironic then that these same people recently paid tribute to the iconic figure of the inspirational American civil rights movement Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”