On January 11, 2017, the Washington Post reported about a new pair of bills that yet again attempt to designate the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as a "foreign terrorist organization" (FTO). According to the Post, this marks the fifth year in a row that legislators have attempted to do this.
It's important because it has far-reaching foreign and domestic consequences. And it all comes down to this: If a government wants to shut something down without having to answer for its actions, it will be called a terrorist.
The MB is an organization founded in 1928 by Egyptian Hassan al-Banna, and sought to provide a way of life adhering to Islamic ideals. It has since become a not insignificant force in Egyptian and Middle Eastern politics, and today many other groups are lazily lumped under the banner of MB despite no evidence of actual affiliation. The deliberate blurring of the lines is the work product of notorious anti-Islam hate groups such as Frank Gaffney's Center for Security Policy, which has been propagating the myth of "civilization jihad" for years, and has chosen MB as their target vehicle for accomplishing same through a wild conspiracy theory of MB "operatives" within the US government and elsewhere. (The SPLC designates CSP as a hate group).
Yet this myth has been bought by conservative lawmakers like Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Far Reaching Consequences
Bad facts make bad law. Fake facts make ever worse law. The myth of "civilization jihad" - a wild conspiracy theory of an impending takeover by so-called "Islamists" now has a sympathetic ear in the White House. In contrast to previous years' versions, this year's version of the MB Terrorist Designation Act doesn't even go through the factual explanation as to why MB meets the definition of an FTO under INA 219(a). It's a simple 4-page bill that merely states it is "the sense of Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood meets the definition" of an FTO. Perhaps there is no need to explain why - at least publicly - in this brave new world. Perhaps Sen. Cruz figured it would be better to just not show his faulty math.
By folding many organizations from Hamas to Hizbullah to ISIS to Al-Qaeda into MB, any support of MB - however attenuated - becomes "material support of terrorism."
The government's case in United States v. Holy Land Foundation named a number of prominent US-based Islamic organizations as "unindicted co-conspirators" (UCC's) including CAIR, NAIT, ISNA, and others. UCC is a term used to make an innocent party appear guilty without due process by affixing the stigma of criminality. For the UCC, there is no right of redress, no way to exonerate, no way to right the wrong. Constitutional concerns aside, the prior MB FTO designation acts cite extensively to the UCC's in the HLF trial as a stated justification for such designation.
This is, plainly, a due process violation of the highest order. That an organization that has never been shut down or arrested, against whom constitutionally no evidence exists of wrongdoing, now faces arbitrary and capricious designation as a harbinger of terrorism based on mere statements by DOJ attorneys that were never proven. That's how you kill due process: call it a terrorist. Never mind proof. If this can be done to a Muslim organization, it can be done to anyone. I see this in my practice with many of my Latino clients, arbitrarily labeled as a "known gang member" based on things like reporting gang activity to the police, sporting any tattoo (whether gang-related or not), knowing someone who is (or was) in a gang, or being recruited (usually forcibly) to be in a gang. Once it's done, it's done. There is no meaningful way to challenge it.
National Security Is Compromised By Due Process Violations
What about national security? Doesn't that justify any suspension of due process? After all, there is a guarantee of adequate due process in the Constitution - it need not be at 100% at all times. The problem with this line of thought is that it treats due process lightly. Due process must be jealously and zealously protected. It cannot be suspended upon the mere mention of national security. If it's going to be suspended, there better be a damn good reason to do so. Quoting the unproven and unsubstantiated arguments of attorneys in an unrelated trial doesn't even come close.
When bills introduced by lawmen who have taken advice from agenda-driven ideologues like Frank Gaffney, peddling nonsensical myths like calling for patrol of "Muslim neighborhoods," effectively relegating an entire faith to a criminal gang, the United States actually becomes less secure. When deviant or inapplicable interpretations of Islam make it to the text of a bill - such as defining jihad as "using all possible efforts to dismantle the power of the enemies of Islam including beating them, plundering their wealth, destroying their places of worship and smashing their idols" - then those who espouse that ideology have, quite literally, won. Gaffney & Co have more in common with ISIS - one would be hard pressed to find any substantive disagreement. That the vast majority of Muslims worldwide denounce such ideologies is of no import to these ideologues. And now, it's considered the law.
The MB Terrorist Designation Act of 2017 is another affront to due process. Make them show their math.
What's wrong with being called a 'moderate Muslim'? It has such a nice, calming ring to it; after all, moderate means not extreme. I should take it as a compliment that I'm being clearly distinguished from the terrorist gangs of the world.
Except...don't. It's really rather annoying.
First, 'moderate' is inherently a relative term. What's moderate to one is extreme to another - disagreement on what's moderate is frequent. It becomes merely a convenient label to say, "This is the level of religiosity I think is appropriate for you." Without guideposts to define what moderation is, the term is like a speed limit sign that says "Don't drive too fast."
Second, the term is redundant. Qur'an 2:143 says:
وَكَذَٲلِكَ جَعَلۡنَـٰكُمۡ أُمَّةً۬ وَسَطً۬ا
And We have made you a moderate nation...
The Arabic word وَسَطً۬ has three connotations: middle, moderate, and best. The concept of the middle being the best is something that transcends cultures and languages. China calls herself the "Middle Kingdom" - and the Chinese character for middle - 中 (zhong) - rather obviously depicts this. And in English "central" denotes "main" or "principal."
The historian Ali ibn Atheer relates that virtue is sandwiched between vices. For example, courage lies between recklessness and cowardice, and generosity lies between prodigality and stinginess. The Islamic concept of "moderation" does not exist in a vacuum. It is defined as virtuous, and avoids extremes.
A Muslim then, by definition, is moderate. This is how we understand and practice our faith. Anything that's not moderate is not Islamic. Terms like "Islamic terrorist" are misnomers: there is nothing Islamic about terrorism.
Labels shape narratives. Professional Islamophobes like Frank Gaffney & Co. rely on the narrative of a clash of civilizations, tweeting ridiculous hashtags like #CivilizationJihad. To them, a terrorist waving the black flag presents the perfect picture of "real Islam" in practice. Yes, they call them extremists (because their actions are extreme by any standard) but in this framework, the 'moderate' ones are merely watered-down extremists. Give 'em a push, and any one of them could be activated into a real Muslim terrorist. Mere days after Gaffney was appointed foreign policy advisor for Ted Cruz, Cruz started spouting nonsense about patrolling Muslim neighborhoods - relegating the faith of 1.6 billion to not much more than a gang - as if merely being Muslim is an accurate precursor to terroristic behavior.
No label is precise. They all have lexical limits, and it takes intellectual fortitude to remember this. I wrote once about three labels used by the anti-immigrant crowd: illegal alien, criminal alien, and anchor baby. Labels like these perpetuate the xenophobic narrative of immigrants as criminal, subhuman freeloaders, which makes them easy to exclude, malign, and hate.
Take a few moments and think about a term before you use it. Turn it over in your mind. Is it accurate? Would it apply in other situations? Does the argument for or against the term require one to make a logical fallacy?