by Waseem Shehzad (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 11, Rabi' al-Thani, 1420)
Three years after an oppressive law - the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 - was signed into law by US president Bill Clinton, Muslim organisations have intensified their efforts to get it repealed. A new bill - the Secret Evidence Repeal Act, H.R. 2121 - is also before the US house of representatives, introduced by David Bonior (Democrat from Michigan), Tom Campbell (Republican from California) and Bob Barr (Democrat from Georgia) last June.
While some Muslim organisations are working simply for the repeal of the Act, members of Masjid al-Islam, led by the indomitable Imam Abdul Alim Musa, are doing much more. They are not only holding rallies across the US but are also exposing the pattern of official harassment and intimidation practised against other groups in the past. Such oppressive organs as the FBI, CIA, and so on, have previously been used to target political activists. Masjid al-Islam has made an eloquent case against the bill by showing that simply changing the words ‘Black Activists’ with ‘Muslim Fundamentalists’, for instance, shows the entire bill to be based on the oppressive tactics of the police and other forces to undermine legitimate political activity, guaranteed by the US constitution. Masjid al-Islam’s first rally was to be held in San Francisco on July 30 (after Crescent International press time) and two others are planned for Los Angeles on August 27 and Washington DC on September 24 (for more information, call (201) 581 1616 or (510) 638 9541). The literature they have published against the bill clearly reveals the pattern of intimidation, terror and illegal tactics employed to undermine legitimate political dissent. The similarities between the present bill and the notorious Counter-Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) of the sixties and seventies against Black activists are striking.
Hundreds of Black political activists were targeted in a campaign of dirty tricks, and organisations were undermined by agents provocateurs infiltrating their ranks. To this day, scores of Black activists remain in prison on false charges. Between 1972 and 1994, federal courts overturned 40 percent of all death sentences they reviewed because of constitutional errors or newly discovered evidence.
More than half of the 3,200 men and women on death row today are African-Americans and other people of colour. If this law is upheld, thousands of men and women will remain in prison and dozens will be executed. A similar pattern is at work under the notorious ‘Anti-Terrorism’ bill. The idea is to paint Muslim political activists as ‘terrorists’ and to deny them the legal protection they would ordinarily enjoy under the law.
This has become evident in the three years since the bill came into force. Most of its victims - 23 out of 26 so far - have been Muslims or people of Arab descent. The oppressive nature of the bill is also clear from the fact that it allows for secret evidence to be presented against a defendant who cannot defend himself or herself because neither the accused nor his/her defence attorney is told what the charges are. Such practices, common in banana republics around the world, and decried by the US and human rights bodies, are now being practised in the US itself.
The original bill was introduced in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995. It is ironic that while that crime was perpetrated by home-grown Americans, the Bill’s victims have overwhelmingly been Muslims. Dr Mazen al-Najjar, a Palestinian professor, has languished in a Brandenston, Florida prison for more than two years without any explanation; the same is true of Dr Anouar Haddam, elected to the Algerian parliament in the aborted 1991 elections, whose visitor’s visa to the US was routinely extended until one day he was arrested and jailed.
Some other features of the bill include the criminalisation of fund-raising in the US for legitimate humanitarian needs abroad through organisations which have been characterised by the State department as being involved in ‘terrorist’ activities. Again, no evidence need be presented. Individuals’ bank accounts can be frozen and their assets confiscated if the US treasury secretary deems fit, without giving any reason except that he certifies that the person or organisation is considered a ‘threat’ to US national security. The bill even gives power to the government to freeze someone’s accounts if he or she has dealt with a country that has been branded as supporting ‘terrorism’. Such sweeping powers pronounce people guilty by association. The purpose is to secure acquiescence through intimidation under the cover of law.
Immigrant groups are also targeted. They can be deported without knowing the reason, if any. A whole range of activities has been outlawed and the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) have been granted vast new powers. Another sinister aspect of the bill is that it now determines how Muslims can use their zakah and sadaqah funds. Muslims can no longer send their zakah and sadaqah to Hamas in Palestine or to the Hizbullah in Lebanon to look after widows and orphans because the US has classified both as ‘terrorist’ organisations.
Such blatant violations of people’s religious rights have been given a legal cover in a country whose officials never tire of lecturing others about respecting human rights. The reality is that all this is meant to advance the Zionist agenda, and is imposed in total disregard of the US’s own constitution and its laws. No wonder some people accuse the US of being a Zionist colony.
Muslimedia: August 1-15, 1999