Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Decent Respect, Part III

As a matter of law, Hamas will not be the defendant when the retrial of the Holy Land Foundation begins in two weeks. But the prosecutors will do everything they can to make the guilt of Hamas the central claim of their case.

Unless they can demonstrate that Hamas belongs on the US list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, the prosecutors will once again find conviction of the defendants impossible. This time around, they may well attempt to make the case that Hamas is somehow a part of an international network of “terrorists” headed by Al-Qaeda. The prosecutors must make the case that the wrong-headed designation of Hamas as a Global Terrorist organization by Presidents Clinton and Bush is both moral and strategically important to the United States. Otherwise, the case will once again turn on whether or not the State of Israel can dictate the guilt or innocence of American citizens.

Of course, the prosecutors have had another year to listen to the family conversations of the American citizens on trial. They will know more of the intimate details of the appointments with doctors, the hopes of once again being with relatives spread around the world in the diaspora of the Palestinian people, and even the political views of five American families. Engaging in this bizarre kind of voyeurism (one might wonder how certain FBI agents will have a life when the trial ends, having spent their entire careers living vicariously through the lives of other American citizens), the government will have been able to cull through more badly translated statements, taken out of context, to “prove” that these American citizens have broken the law.

No one—least of all the defendants—would claim that American citizens can pick and choose which laws do and which laws do not apply to them. The law of the land is the law of the land. However, the prosecutors must find a truthful answer to a two-fold question: what, exactly, IS the law (based on executive order, not on legislation) regarding material support of “terrorists,” and did these American citizens intend to break it?

There is no doubt that the prosecutors believe absolutely and with great fervor that they are upholding the law, and, in the process, saving all of us American citizens from some kind of horrible fate at the hand of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. Theirs is an absolute certainty based on a view of the world in which everything is black and white, right or wrong, or—in our President’s words—good or “evil.” The truth is, the prosecutors are simply in lock-step with a world view promulgated by individuals at the top of our nation’s power structures, power structures that have become increasingly inverted as power has moved away from government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” toward a rigid governance by the few to further their own interests and ideology.

We have come to be a people acquiescing to a government and political elite that proclaims to the world, “Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” (1). No American citizen wishes to be terrorized. American citizens of all backgrounds want our government to protect us from attack. Even the most peace loving Americans understand that the defense of our homes might at some time be necessary. On the other hand, American citizens ought to be—and are becoming again—a people who reject government by individuals who, before they are elected, declare that “adversaries like Iran, Iraq and North Korea are rushing” to do our nation harm (2) and then, after they are elected, declare that these countries constitute an “axis of evil” and invasion of them is justified. In order to defeat this “evil” with “good,” they then designate anyone in the world who disagrees with the “good” people as “terrorists,” no matter what the cause and meaning of that disagreement or how it is expressed.

This kind of thinking has led to a kind of “the-enemy-of-my-friend-is-my-enemy” world view. This thinking has ultimately ended in the inability (or unwillingness) to see the world with any nuance, with any understanding of the difference of situations, with anything other than a “shock and awe” mentality toward everyone.

For example, Hamas is the enemy of My Friend Israel. Black and white. Good and evil. And anyone who, by the blessing of birth, comes from a people at odds with Israel is obviously My Enemy. Anyone, even an American citizen, who gives basic humanitarian aid (food) to people in the land of My Enemy, is somehow a pariah.

In fact, Hamas will not be on trial in two weeks. Neither will the Holy Land Foundation. The real defendant is the stark vision of the world that the powerful in this country have adopted. The prosecutors will present more “experts” to explain the connections between My Enemy and the vast conspiracy of “terrorists” in the world. They will then attempt to explain how five American citizens are intimately involved with My Enemy and hope the jury will conclude that these American citizens are also, therefore, My Enemy.

The prosecutors will again distort facts, rely on the word of My Friend to prove that My Friend’s Enemy is My Enemy. The prosecutors will once again attempt to prove guilt by association. The prosecutors may even again allow My Friend to give anonymous evidence without vetting the information, without allowing five American citizens opportunity to defend themselves against this evidence gathered without care for our American rules of evidence.

The tragedy of the entire debacle is that it is not necessary. The tragedy is the mentality that gives carte blanche to a foreign country to determine who is My Enemy. The tragedy is the inability of the powerful to understand that people struggling for independence and self governance, struggling to have a homeland as guaranteed by the United Nations and the International Declaration of Human Rights, are not My Enemy. The tragedy is the inability of the powerful to listen to those in our government who are in a position to know and appreciate the gray areas between the black and white, the not-so-certain good versus evil realities of the world.

“I'm actually at the Strategic Studies Institute which belongs to the Army, so I have to say that I'm expressing my own views and not those of the Army or the Department of Defense. The movement of the Islamic resistance, Hamas, reflects the unique circumstances marking the Palestinian experience; namely, their lack of sovereignty, the occupied territories, Bantustans status, the deplorable condition of the Palestinian refugee communities throughout the Middle East, the factionalization of their leadership, and it is also one of the Palestinian responses to the Islamic awakening or revival that took place throughout the Muslim world. I will reflect on certain continuities in Hamas' history, but I will also point out that the movement has evolved and has been very flexible indeed” (3).

Her views, and not those of the Department of Defense. An American tragedy.

(1) Bush, George W. Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People. September 20, 2001.
(2) Donnelly, Thomas, Principal Author. "REBUILDING AMERICA’S DEFENSES: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century." A Report of The Project for the New American Century, September 2000 p.4.
(3) Zuhur, Sherifa, Panelist. “Hamas and the Two-State Solution: Villain, Victim or Missing Ingredient?” Middle East Policy Council. Fifty-second in the Capitol Hill Conference Series on U.S. Middle East Policy. April 11, 2008. Dr. Zuhur is Research Professor of Islamic and Regional Studies, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. Her books include, Precision in the Global War on Terror: Inciting Muslims through the War of Ideas.