Guilt by Association: The ‘Other War’ against Muslims in US

If the newly elected U.S. Democratic Congress is to avoid being checkmated by the Republicans at the presidential election in two years, there will have to be some severe oversight of the gross violations with impunity of constitutional and humanitarian laws by the Bush administration. A viable case against the heinous and arbitrary laws launched…

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DR. FATIMA SHAHNAZ

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If the newly elected U.S. Democratic Congress is to avoid being checkmated by the Republicans at the presidential election in two years, there will have to be some severe oversight of the gross violations with impunity of constitutional and humanitarian laws by the Bush administration. A viable case against the heinous and arbitrary laws launched by the government against civil society now highlights the witch-hunts targeting the Muslim population living in the United States, or victims of Bush’s fraud of ‘war against terrorism’ in the post-9/11 era.

The strategies targeting Muslims fall into economic warfare, as well as psychological and racist debasement. The International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) authorises the American President to deal with threats to “national security, foreign policy and the economy.” This Act may be used in conjunction with Executive Order 13224 and civil asset forfeiture laws, specifically those amended by the infamous Patriot Act repressing civil liberties after 9/11.

The provisions of these laws give the US government the power to shut down charity or humanitarian organisations, seize their assets (even during an ongoing investigation), and without any cause of criminal activity or charges levied against an individual in these bodies. New penalties on organisations violating the IEEPA law, or engaging in financing terrorist groups “drastically increase the penalties for knowing violations of non-terrorism-related IEEPA offences.” These rules give the government broad flexibility to interpret the law, without a legal definition of who can be considered a “specially designated terrorist.” The new law also reinforces an earlier one passed on September 23, 2001 (E.O. 13224) which gave a blacklist of people and organisations suspected of materially aiding terrorist networks or associating with them. Although international humanitarian laws and the IEEPA itself allow assistance of food, clothing and medicine for detained suspects, the E.O. 13224 has outlawed humanitarian aid.

Muslim Charities Shut Down

American Muslim charity organisations have been forced to shut down, or gone into bankruptcy under these measures. The landmark case of Dr. Rafil A. Dhafir, who was arrested on February 26, 2003 and is still in jail for helping Iraqi children for 15 years through the 1990s with his charity, Help The Needy, underscores the pressures on Muslim charities in the U.S. Dr. Dhafir, known as a pillar of the community in New York state, a founding member of a mosque, has served as an imam of Syracuse University. When 6,000 children under five years of age were dying under brutal U.N. sanctions in Iraq in the 1990s, Dr. Dhafir’s charity supplied medicines and food to save the children. But the then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Madeleine Albright, when asked in a CBS interview if the deaths of half a million children were a justified price to pay for Saddam Hussein’s crimes, said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.”

With the added deaths of children over five and adults under the U.S. sanctions, almost two million Iraqi civilians died. From his medical practice in Rome, New York , Dr. Dhafir, an oncologist, gave free health care to uninsured people, often paying for their chemotherapy treatment himself. Eighty-five agents were sent to arrest Dr. Dhafir, whose humanitarian work has been distorted by government agencies as sponsoring terrorism. At the same time, around 150 Muslim families who had donated to Dr. Dhafir’s charity and others were arrested, or interrogated. Dr. Dhafir, held without bail for 31 months, has been sentenced to 22 years in prison. Even the District Attorney, Glenn Suddaby could not deny Dr. Dharfir’s innocence: “There’s no evidence that any of the Help the Needy money went to al-Qaeda, the Iraqi government, or to buy arms and bullets that could be used against U.S. soldiers.” Michael Powell of the Washington Post gave one of the rare media coverages to the case: “Prosecutors hinted at national security reasons for holding Dhafir without bail. But no evidence was offered to support the allegations.”

A member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Katherine Hughes, who attended Dr. Dhafir’s trial, observed: “Muslim charities and individuals connected with these charities are bearing the brunt of the effects of this new law. Since September 11, 2001 six major U.S. Muslim charities and several smaller Muslim charities have been shut down.” KindHearts (KH) was one charity reportedly established after the U.S. government shut down three of the largest Muslim charities in December 2001, alleged with “supporting terror.” However, by February 2006, KH’s operations were frozen, its assets seized, again under accusations of ‘financing terror.’ The American government has also collaborated with banks and financiers to monitor money transfers and report ‘suspicious activity,’ although many organisations, with no terrorist-linked activities, make regular transactions of this kind.

‘Terrorism is Un-Islamic’

According to Laila al-Marayati and Basil Adbelkarim, members of Kinder USA, another Muslim-American non-profit humanitarian organisation (quoted in The Washington Post, March 2006), the civil liberties of Muslims are unjustifiably violated. The government measures themselves are based on dubious political motives, since some of the charities donate to the Palestinians. “We are among those American Muslims who decided that because it is our right as Americans to fulfil our religious obligation to help the needy both here and abroad, we would start a new charity. We did so in 2002 and have experienced our fair share of government harassment as a result. None of us is interested in engaging in illegal activity; it is immoral, unethical and un-Islamic, and it serves no useful purpose whatsoever. Our crime is that we care about what happens to the children of Palestine . Who knows what price we will have to pay for our hot-breakfast programme for hungry kids in Gaza , for our playground project in the Wet Bank, for our psychological trauma centre in Hebron .”

OBM Watch (an advocacy promoting government accountability and citizen participation) also voiced concern over the failure of the U.S. authorities to provide evidence that Muslim charities are financing terror. Further, it documented that the authorities deny humanitarian organisations or individuals the right of due legal process, holding them “guilty until proven innocent.” These actions are violations of the First and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Professor David Cole of Georgetown University said in May 2005 that “The statutes described above prohibit virtually all associational support to selected political organisations, while granting executive branch officials effectively unreviewable discretion to target disfavoured groups. These laws make it a crime to write an op-ed, provide legal advice, volunteer one’s time, or distribute a magazine of any ‘designated’ group, even if there is no connection whatsoever between the individual’s support and any illegal activity of the proscribed group. Under these statutes, an American citizen who sends a treatise on non-violence to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party to encourage it to forgo violence for peace can be sent to prison for 15 years. This is so even if he proves that he intended the treatise to be used only for peaceful ends, and that it was in fact used solely for that purpose. Such a moral innocent can be said to be ‘guilty by association’.”