April 23, 2012

Lying at the NY Times About Domestic Terrorism

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Andrew F. March has an editorial at the NY Times in which he bemoans the conviction of Tarek Mehanna. In it he claims that Mehanna's prosecution was nothing more than an unconstitutional attack against free speech. That Mehanna had been convicted of speech crimes, or worse, "thought crimes".

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Mehanna was tried and convicted for material aid to a terrorist organization. In this case, that aid was in the translating of material for and in behalf of al Qaeda. Yes, translation is a form of speech, but in the case of al Qaeda it is, in fact, also material support.

What March would have us believe is that the First Amendment of the Constitution protects speech openly advocating violence against American soldiers engaged in an actual shooting war.

That there is legal precedent to such thinking there is no doubt. I've never accused the Supreme Court nor the legal profession in general of clear thinking.

But at some point a legal argument leaves the realm of slippery slope sophistry and becomes an out and out lie. For instance, take March's justification of Mehanna's major work of translation on behalf of al Qaeda, "39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad". In it, he makes the incredible claim that:

The text in fact shows Muslims numerous ways to help fellow Muslims suffering in their own lands, without engaging in violence.[emphasis mine]
Obviously Mr. March hasn't actually read the text. I happen to have a copy of it in front of me. Here's what it actually says:
So, the Muslims today are left with no choice but that of Jihad and the language of weaponry...

So, iron is not to be fought except with iron, and force is not to be met except
with force...

There is no solution except for the greatest Jihad * World peace no longer satisfies us,

There is no peace for the enemy. This is a legislation * and belief in every Muslim heart....

Mehanna translated this. I could quote literally hundreds of similar passages advocating violent jihad from the document. The gist of the document is that violent jihad is an obligation on Muslims. Any Muslim that does not support this violent jihad must have a very good reason. And those who do not actually take up arms are under an obligation to finance jihad.

To claim otherwise, as March does, is simply a lie.

Further, Mehanna did not simply translate some scholarly work. He did so for and behalf of at Tibyan publications for the express purpose of recruiting and inciting others to join organizations such as al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Context matters. At Tibyan shares membership with al Qaeda. It cannot be viewed as a separate organization. Al Qaeda has several related media organizations. For instance, their media production arm is called "As Sahab". Their distribution network is called "al Fajr".

At Tibyan was founded as a means of supporting al Qaeda with a translation arm. Mehanna knew this. He intended to recruit people for violent jihad. Which is why he first got in trouble with law enforcement: his buddy had just gone off to violent jihad, and Mehanna lied about it to them.

Moreover, Mehanna was not some lone wolf radical. He was an integral node in a global jihadist movement that recruited Muslims in the West for jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. March fails to mention his connections to real world terrorists when he argues that Mehanna's case doesn't rise to the level of 'material support' as defined in the Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (2010) decision.

Mehanna worked for an organization, at Tibyan. That organization may be virtual, but in the 21st century physical proximity is no longer a defining characteristic of organization. And at Tibyan was really connected to al Qaeda. Mehanna knew this. He knew actual terrorists. This is not some abstract connect-the-dots relationship either: He actually knew them.

Like who? Mehanna knew Daniel Maldanoda, who went to Somalia to join al Shabaab, and lied to the FBI about it. Mehanna knew Samir Khan, who went to Yemen to join al Qaeda where he was killed. Mehanna knew Ahmad Abousamra, who fled to Syria after being questioned by the FBI. It is also likely that Mehanna knew dozens of other internet jihadis turned real-life jihadis.

Mehanna's words literally led to others committing crimes. In fact, this was his intention. Which I think is the very definition of unprotected speech under the Brandenburg standard.

He was not advocating violence in the abstract, now was he advocating support of some hypothetical jihad. He advocated very specific acts of violence against US soldiers, and he did so in the context of those soldiers engaging in actual warfare on an actual battlefield. And many of his readers took that advice to heart, and went on to actually fight.

But if March and the NY Times have their way, then any support of al Qaeda short of actually taking up arms would be legal. What would we say, then, of an Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, who actually have never fired a shot but who's role in the organization is simply encouraging others to do the fighting and dying? Under their standard, would the propaganda produced by Joseph Goebbels now be considered protected speech?

Tarek Mahanna is no martyr for the First Amendment, he was a warrior for the global jihad. That a warrior may use the pen rather than the sword is simply a fact of modern warfare. Any one disputing this is living in a fantasy world.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 06:45 PM | Comments |