Falls Church Fundraiser Held In Support of Prisoners, Families
In the time it took for the Muslim Legal Fund to plan and complete its fundraising tour with Dr. Tariq Ramadan, federal prosecutors had announced yet another arrest from a terrorism sting; they announce one at the rate of about one every 60 days. The MLFA was in Falls Church, VA for a fundraising event at Dar Al Hijrah on December 16th, 2012.
The Muslim Legal fund is a charity that was found in Texas by a group of activists to provide financial and logistical resources for legal cases that impact civil liberties and freedom. They are not lawyers but help defendants find and pay for legal talent.
Since its founding, MLFA has supported numerous public interest cases, Shaykh Ibrahim Dremali, the Holyland Foundation, Aafia Siddiqui, as well as other legal challenges faced by the Muslim community, including immigration and healthcare.
"Two hundred names preemptively prosecuted by the United States government are on this wall," said Khalil Meek, the Executive Director and co-founder of MLFA while pointing to a wall of names of the incarcerated temporarily set up in the main hall at Dar al Hijrah. "Not one person [was] injured by any of them [their alleged crimes were] non-violent and non-lethal. The crime is ideology. This is happening in courts all over the country, "said Meek. He had taken this message to the packed halls in Detroit, MI, and spoken earlier in the day at the ADAMS Sully Center in Virginia. "These cases hurt the community, and the families that are ostracized," said Meeks. Many of the prisoners were just outspoken critics of the government policy.
The Dar al Hijrah crowd nodded a collective nod as they have been targets of the federal law enforcement policy known variously as preemption, prevention, and disruption. Sabri Benkahla, who grew up attending Dar Al-Hijrah, was one of 11 men accused of training for combat in part by playing paintball in the Virginia.
In a new book, The Terror Factor: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terror, journalist Trevor Aaronson explores how the Federal Bureau of Investigation is manufacturing terrorism cases against young men, working like a spy agency to solve cases before they happen. "But how many of these would-be terrorists would have acted were it not for an FBI agent provocateur helping them? Is it possible that the FBI is creating the very enemy we fear?" writes Aaronson.
In these cases, the FBI uses one of its more than 15,000 registered informants—many of them criminals, others trying to settle immigration violations—to identify potential terrorists. These agents befriend and conspire with the potential terrorist. The FBI then provides the means necessary for these would-be terrorists to move forward with a plot—in some cases even planting specific ideas for attacks. There are 508 such cases.
The FBI deems these are needed prevention tactics and disagrees with the entrapment defenses. The plots are fictional but the intent is real says the FBI.
Stephen Downs, Esq., former Chief Attorney of New York State's Division of Ethical Conduct and the co-founder of Project Salam, is following over 800 cases. ProjectSalam.org is an online support and legal advocacy platform, which examines the legal veracity of cases in which Muslims have been convicted and given extremely long sentences.
"Two hundred names preemptively prosecuted by the United States government are on this wall," said Khalil Meek, the Executive Director and co-founder of MLFA while pointing to a wall of names of the incarcerated temporarily set up in the main hall at Dar al Hijrah. "Not one person [was] injured by any of them [their alleged crimes were] non-violent and non-lethal. The crime is ideology. This is happening in courts all over the country.” Photo by Muslim Link.
"At least half the talks I give around the country are to peace groups that recognize the Muslim community is like the canary in the coal mine," said Attorney Stephen Downs. "If the Muslim community is suffering because their civil rights have been taken away from them it is only a matter of time that the rest of the us will be smothered by them. The names in pink [on the wall] are peace activists in jail...under the [same] material support theory."
In his speech, Downs introduced the hall to the work of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, of which he is the Executive Director. NCPCF, made up of 20 Muslim and non-Muslim civil groups to complement the work of the MLFA, aims to mobilize public opinion and prevent future cases.
Project Salam collaborated to form the NCPCF, a coalition whose mission is to educate the public about the erosion of civil and political freedoms in the society and the abuses of prisoners within the U.S. criminal justice system especially after 9/11.
"At least half the talks I give around the country are to peace groups that recognize the Muslim community is like the canary in the coal mine," Downs explained. "If the Muslim community is suffering because their civil rights have been taken away from them it is only a matter of time that the rest of the us will be smothered by them. The names in pink [on the wall] are peace activists in jail...under the [same] material support theory."
He pointed out there were African American from the 1960s whose names were on the wall. According to Downs, they were given years of solitary confinement to send out a message from the government, to humiliate prisoners and the ideology."It is unfair and barbaric and needs to be stopped," says Downs.
The educational campaigns that NCPCF addresses are two fold, aimed at Muslims and non Muslims. When he speaks at masajid, Downs hopes he can get through to the young men that their loose talk about jihad is the opening that the FBI needs to send an agent provocateur to them. He believes that if his message can reach his non Muslim audience, and they are exposed to how many young men with low IQs and mental health problems have been targeted for years, he could turn public perception.
Downs let the community know that they can participate in letter writing campaigns to prisoners, and the families of prisoners who feel marginalized. He described a recent event where several families came together in a social setting. "For the first time they felt that they could speak about the pain that they were suffering," said Downs.
Raeed N. Tayeh, an MLFA board member and former resident of Northern Virginia, read off names of Muslims from the Falls Church community who were victims of injustice. In Virginia Paintball case, Tayeh recalled the judge stating she knew the defendants had not committed a crime but she was bound to give them the draconian sentence."When the hands of a judge are tied then you should be very afraid," said Tayeh.
Tayeh introduced the audience to Jamal Abusamhadaneh; MLFA has successfully spent $80,000 on his landmark citizenship trial. The audience erupted in applause.
At the event held at Dar Al Hijrah, the speakers made a case for the Muslim Legal Fund. " We believe in Ikram al Muslimeen, loving for your brother what you love for yourself, including liberty [and] justice," said Meeks.
Imam Shaker Elsayed came up to the podium and told the congregation that the MLFA and NCPCF were his honored guests and soon after the funds started flowing in. He reminded them that one of the uses of zakah is the freeing of prisoners. "We don't want your money while you are scared, give with confidence," said Tayeh.
The Dar Al Hijrah community understood the MLFA's vison and a significant amount of money was raised on. 'After hearing these stories, I think they could target our communities' youth next," whispered one sister as she signed the pledge form.
The organizers introduced Tariq Ramadan, Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Oxford University for his keynote address. Dr. Ramadan himself was a victim of the Patriot Act. In 2004, Ramadan had accepted a job to become a tenured professor at the University of Notre Dame, but days before his arrival, the Bush administration revoked his visa.
"Ask yourself, you are Muslim. no one is preventing you from learning about your religion. How much time are you giving to your mind, to your heart, at the end of the day we can sit down and blame the government, blame everyone. Before asking them to like us what are we doing to respect ourselves. Say La ililla ha illalah and liberate yourself from ignorance," said Ramadan, captivating the audience.
Shahawar Matin Siraj's mother, Shahin Parvez was at the MLFA event clutching a frayed handwritten letter, folded and unfolded a thousand times from informant, Osama Al Dawoodi. The letter stated that he had never received the entire money promised to him by the FBI.
A look of worn desperation in her eyes, Shahin pointed to several more women in the room, some with babies in their arms, others networking with activists; all wanting justice and someone to hear their story. "My son is innocent. Maybe not having a child would have been better than this torture,"said Shahin.
Siraj, who was convicted in a plot to bomb the New York Subway in 2007, has an IQ of 78. His lawyer Martin Stolar expected to win an acquittal through the entrapment defense but Siraj was given a 30 year sentence. Not much as changed over the past 5 years when Stolar said that the FBI is creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.
This event was a blunt reminder that when the civil liberties of one group of citizens are threatened and people are convicted based on ideology and thought crimes, it sets up legal precedents which endanger the entire country's freedoms.