Sunday, July 15, 2007

Holy Land Foundation a victim of post-9/11 frenzy

by Beth Freed, Media Relations, Muslim Legal Fund of America
July 2007

This article is revised and reprinted from the Dallas Peace Times (newsletter of the Dallas Peace Center)

In the aftermath of 9/11, it quickly became clear that the 3,000 people who died that day would not be the only casualties resulting from the tragedy. More victims were added to the list as the Bush administration pursued their domestic “war on terror” against alleged terrorist financiers. One of the first Muslim charities targeted, the Holy Land Foundation, had its assets frozen and offices raided in December, 2001.

The Holy Land Foundation provided relief to orphans, widows and refugee families in Palestine and surrounding areas through zakat committees. These committees provided medicine, education and food to suffering Palestinians. Zakat is one of the five pillars of faith in Islam. Similar to tithing, Muslims have a formula for how much money they give of their annual income to charitable causes.

In addition to helping Palestinian refugees, the Holy Land Foundation (HLF) provided funds to people in need during the Turkish earthquakes, Texas tornado season, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the tragedy of 9/11). The group was known both in the local North Texas community and throughout the nation for their generous support of people in crisis.

A full three years after agents with the Department of Treasury shut HLF down, the organization and seven of its officers were indicted on 42 charges ranging from conspiracy to provide material aid to a U.S. designated terrorist organization to conspiracy of money laundering.

However, the government did not contest that the money sent from HLF to the zakat committees went to humanitarian aid. HLF was a non-profit humanitarian relief organization and not a political organization. It is un-American to criminalize feeding starving children, orphans, widows, women or men.

“The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America,” said Khalil Meek, president of the Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA). “This culture of fear has bred intolerance and the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of justice and due process.”

Several civil rights and humanitarian issues are at stake with in this high profile case. First is the American principle that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case after the Holy Land Foundation was designated a terrorist organization in May 2002 during what the Legal Intelligencer described as “a hasty and one-sided Treasury Department administrative hearing.” One of the several constitutional rights lawyers working on the case commented on the procedures in the same article:

“This administration basically has a free hand with whatever it wants to do insofar as administrative claims it relates to the war on terrorism,” John Boyd said. “The courts are simply not going to check the executive.”

In addition to the fact that the government has lent credibility to the mainstream media’s tendency to construe the group as terrorists, they have also crossed unprecedented lines in what is considered admissible evidence. Reportedly, the Israeli military has submitted transcripts that have been converted from Arabic to Hebrew to English. The summaries provided to the defense have already been reported to contain errors and misstatements, according to the L.A. Times.

Finally, and most importantly, the government is relying heavily on guilt by association. Throughout the indictment, the government references the family ties between certain HLF members and members of Hamas, the Palestinian organization that has been designated as a terrorist by the United States. Even so, many people would be in trouble if they were held accountable for the decisions their relatives make.

Several consequences have resulted because of the government’s actions in this case. Many Muslim charities were shut down shortly after HLF was raided. This has caused a chilling effect in the Muslim community. Muslims are afraid to give money to any religious organization, for fear that they will later be held liable for their philanthropic contributions under the USA PATRIOT Act.

The effects ripple beyond just the Muslim community, though. International humanitarian aid has slowed to a trickle as the larger community watches the harassment of the Muslim community. Ironically, this serves to bolster terrorism recruitment, instead of stopping it, like the government claims to want to do.

When international aid slows, poverty grows. As poverty traps people into limited lives, they search desperately for ways to escape. One of those ways is to fight the oppressive powers, whoever they may be, through violence – what the government deems as terrorism. Only education and prosperity, only genuinely helping people, the way that HLF was trying to do, will truly fight the forces that can lead to terrorism.

“When the hungry are fed and the children are safe, that is when peace begins,” said Linda Moreno, a principal lawyer for the defense. “The Holy Land Foundation’s whole mission was directed toward that peace. We believe that a fair jury will acquit these gentlemen of these charges, because justice requires it.”

Now, the July 16 date for jury selection looms ahead. The trial will take place in the Federal Court building in Dallas, TX. Hungry for Justice, a coalition of individuals that is dedicated to promoting support for HLF and the five principal defendants that will be appearing in court. Court watchers, demonstrators, bloggers and letters to the editor are needed to ensure these Americans’ rights to one of the most fundamental American tenets: a fair trial.

“Those committed to equal protection, peace and justice must not allow political expediency and the politics of fear to destroy decades of their hard work and accomplishments,” said Meek. “Injustice for some is injustice for all.”

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