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 is a vision for America? The events of this month have certainly made me question things I never felt the need to. Diversity and unity; inclusion and exclusion; the limits of alliance building, and most recently - divide and conquer vs. combine and conquer.
I'm coming up short finding a convincing message of a commitment to ensuring everyone has a chance in America. What I have seen are Cabinet picks who aren't able to escape charges of racism, casual references to Japanese internment, anti-Semitic sentiment, immigrant-bashing, and open Islamophobia. And I've seen a lot of righteous indignation against it all. I'm seeing divide and conquer tactics employed. Carefree campaigns of misinformation - eg, the #MuslimRegistry distracting over the NSEERS reboot, or deliberately provocative tweets seemingly designed to waste people's time.
I came across this paper "Divide and Conquer" - with a discussion on game theory and its application to law, history, and race relations. It's fascinating. We hear the term all the time, but it really refers to a family of ideas. Reading this paper in light of current events was kind of chilling, actually.
The folks in the new White House seem to have a much clearer idea of what they want to do, though much of it is not yet public, and is obscured by a cloud of misinformation and distraction. If we assume they are a "unitary actor" then much of the rest of the population are highly fragmented multiple actors. That's less "diversity" and more " disorder" - lacking a common vision, and hence unable to focus. Certain segments are called out, perhaps, more than others (or at least each group is made to feel like they are being called out more than others.) Muslims complain of Islamophobia, Latinos about anti-immigrant, Jews anti-Semitism, etc. etc. Everyone in their own tidy category.
Believing you have it worse than others inhibits collaboration and communication. Whispers that "it might not be so bad" if you just "give him a chance" similarly inhibit collaboration. Inter-immigrant bigotry, racism, and misogyny also inhibit collaboration. In effect, I fear that we as a people are lacking a deliberate vision of what we want America to be, instead rallying around "not Trump" - precisely the reason Clinton lost. I'm guilty of this, too. If the new Cabinet is a unitary actor, they're dividing and conquering like bosses.
The fact remains, it's hard to unify disparate classes. People do feel more comfortable with people like them. Rallying around "not Trump" will take you nowhere - you can't expect your GPS to navigate if you put in a place you don't want to go.
What's a vision for America? There must be communication between various groups. There must be trust, and a belief in the common good, and incentivizing the human tendency toward collaboration rather than betrayal. A recognition that misinformation (or post-truth, if that's the new flavor for a very old concept) distracts.
I do not mean to be dystopian - this isn't 1984. I have no evidence, nor even a good faith belief, that there is some secret agenda. But it would be naive to assume the Cabinet picks were not deliberate. They supported him for a reason - either because he went with the bigotry, or didn't care about it.
Read about the Stag Hunt game and the Prisoner's Dilemma - it's only the first few pages - and think about what it would mean if the new White House was the "unitary actor" and various classes of people (immigrants, Muslims, women - anyone who felt slighted/marginalized by the campaign). Yes, it'll be simplified, but I think it'll drive the point home that we must unify in our diversity to overcome the well-defined bigotry of the new White House.
I want to talk to immigrants for a minute.
Over the nearly 15 years I've practiced immigration law, I've heard prejudiced statements that would fit right in to what we've been hearing over the past 18 months.
An educated Pakistani woman once told me, "We tried to help her, but you know how those Spanish people are," referring to a proud Latina. A Turk self-righteously complained to me once about all the "black guys smoking weed" across the hall. A Saudi businessman gleeful that a bunch of Filipino workers could be hired at "$200 - $300 a month." A Ghanaian who assured me that another Ghanaian was lying because she could tell the man's tribal affiliation from the shape of his head. An Ivorian blaming Burkinabé for the accession of Ouattara, and a proud Burkinabé with similar contempt for Christian Ivorians. A Congolese slightly miffed when I asked which Congo she was from. A Bolivian mestizo complained to me about a fellow Quechua Bolivian saying they always victimize themselves. An Indian-origin Hong Konger with few redeeming things to say about mainland Chinese.
To quote our President-Elect: "Stop it."
Prejudice may be an easy way of comprehending the world around us, but it's a cop-out. These prejudices are a Godsend to those who benefit from a platform of division.
So STOP IT.
I wish I could show you what I see. The Iranian who loved when I paid cash with bills folded the way common in West Africa (four bills with the fifth folded over; aids in counting). The Latino who responded to my broken Spanish in broken Urdu. The Syrian and the Salvadorean weeping with joy after simply getting the chance to work. The Sunni who married a Shia and raised his daughters Shia. The Ghanaian who couldn't stop talking about Afghan kabob.
So dear immigrants: stop wondering why the Central American kids get work permits while you've waited 10 years for a green card in line. Stop thinking that your lengthy wait to bring your fiancée over gives you a soapbox to decry illegal immigration. If you had an option, consider yourself lucky: many people didn't. If you don't have an option, stop resenting people who did.
Stop blaming other immigrants and put the blame where it belongs: on the system.
You hear what I'm saying? Diversity is good; disorder is not. Our country is a cross-section of humanity like no other. We have a unique opportunity to work on a common purpose. That's right, the election has steeled my resolve. The spike in hate crimes steeled my resolve. The de jure suspicion on my people steeled my resolve. I hope you'll help.
If we are successful, that would be one American ideal I wish we'd export.
Fake news. Propaganda. Echo chamber. Statistics. Post-truth. Confirmation bias. Facts. Real stories. Hoaxes.
Who knows what to believe? One reminder from 2016 is how fragile facts can be. They can be manipulated, compartmentalized, segregated, or just drowned out. People have always pushed their own narratives, but that gets harder to do with the awful din.
Of course this has real impact, since policies have always been made on these narratives. We need good, clean data. But we also need it in the database, and databases are only as good as those doing the data entry.
Take the case ofYasmin Seweid, who admitted she made up a story about being the victim of a hate act. It's not what she did, it's the chatter that ensued that infects the data.
As an immigration lawyer, I see the fear of reporting hate acts in immigrant communities. There are cultural stigmas, fear of deportation, retaliation, re-victimization, language barriers, and a whole host of other reasons. Hoaxes amplified by social media have the potential to seriously infect the data that will be used to formulate policy - or effectively prevent any policy from forming.
The "marketplace of ideas" articulated by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes is supposed to lead to the truth by competition. Religions, too, have long touted the inevitability of truth. To me, 2016 has been a powerful reminder that when everyone has a megaphone, it takes longer for the truth to emerge. The math is different: even the worst ideas which historically may have remained disregarded at the fringes have a chance to take root and grow. More concerning is the very real possibility that free speech itself will be curtailed, further inhibiting the ability of the market to correct itself. Gingrich's careless rhetoric about a new version of the "House Un-American Activities Committee" is a perfect example. (Yes, I am concerned and no, I don't think it's impossible.)
Our legal system of checks and balances takes time to check and balance, and in the interim, people get hurt. Therefore, the speed with which truth emerges from the marketplace becomes supremely important.
So preach on, everyone. Keep doing what you're doing. But please keep your data clean. And push back against bad data. Push back hard, and push back now.
The country will still be there.
Your job will still be there. Your problems will, too.
You'll still be better off than most of the world's population.
You can still hold the winner's feet to the fire.
You won't become a refugee.
Keep your wits about you. Don't get played.
In college, I had the good fortune to take a seminar taught by a man who had lived an extremely interesting life. The seminar was on twentieth-century China, and the professor had witnessed it to a degree very few people could claim.
His name is Sidney Rittenberg. For years, he was the only American citizen allowed into the inner circle of power in Communist China, spending 37 years there after World War II, 16 of which were spent imprisoned. His book, "The Man Who Stayed Behind" is one of my all-time favorites. As a 19 year old I couldn't appreciate the very large truths Professor Rittenberg related in his book. But as I grew older, they became more evident. He's told me that I'm not the only one who's told him they got more mileage out of his book after taking his class than during it.
May 16 was the 50th anniversary of the start of the Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution, a counter-revolution that was called "China's Holocaust" by former president Li Xiannian. It ended only when its founder, Chairman Mao Zedong died in the fall of 1976. It was an attempt to make the Communist Party great again by purging it of elements he defined as antithetical to what the Party was - e.g., capitalism, tradition, bourgeois elements, art - anything that did not fit their ill-defined view. How did he do this?
In part, by galvanizing the youth, to smash the old Communist Party he himself had forged, and recreate it in his own image. This was Mao's way of regaining supreme leadership after his widely derided failures during the earlier disaster of the Great Leap Forward. So he raised slogans to "Smash the Four Olds" (Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas). The world was divided into black and white: anything belonging to the "Four Olds" became the object of intense hatred and sanctioned violence. Mao succeeded perhaps past his own expectations. By raising slogans like "It is right to rebel!" or "No construction without destruction!" or "Revolution is not a dinner party!" he encouraged violence and class warfare. People's revolutionary spirit would be measured by the degree to which they would report on their fellow citizens. If someone was caught reading literature, that was something that should be reported. Artistic expression was frowned upon, and the so-called hong wei bing - Red Guards (Chinese Taliban?) would set upon buildings, furniture, items that were "merely" decorative, art pieces, styled hair, non-cadre clothing, to "cleanse" society to remove any trace of what they defined as the "Four Olds." Children denounced their parents, husbands their wives. Millions of people were persecuted, harassed, tortured, exiled, and killed.
Professor Rittenberg himself went along with the Cultural Revolution. He gives an honest, first-hand account of what it was like, believing in a greater good. But he admits he misunderstood the point of the Cultural Revolution. The point was to create a revolution against the original Communist Party revolution - and debate, criticize, elect, discuss, and vote - but only within guidelines set by Chairman Mao himself. That oversight cost Professor Rittenberg 10 additional years in solitary confinement. He now sees Mao as a "brilliant, talented tyrant," responsible for the death and suffering of millions of people.
You'd never know what he's been through: he has all the approachability of your own grandpa, except interspaced in his stories about olden times are truth bombs that leave craters in your mind. He was recently interviewed by Washington China Watch on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Cultural Revolution (downloadable pdf here.) China has officially acknowledged that the Cultural Revolution was a mistake, but there has been relative silence in Chinese media on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
But the point should be obvious by now. The vitriol of our current election cycle bears more than a scant resemblance to the Cultural Revolution. I'm not saying they are the same - there are differences in both objective and execution.
But the similarities are hard to ignore. A cult of personality around strongman candidates who can dish it out all day but can't take it back for a minute. Promises to solve massive social problems. The celebrity status of the leaders, who claim to represent the "proletariat" (working man) but have never belonged to the 99%. The raising of slogans hearkening back to a time of perceived purity. The narrative of foreign elements and classes tainting a "pure" society. Calls encouraging violence against these identified enemies by, say, offering to pay their legal bills. Activating a long-disregarded "underbelly" of society, empowering them, validating their simplistic worldview. "If you see something, say something."
Ultimately, I think the Cultural Revolution was about control. I think Professor Rittenberg's takeaways from the Cultural Revolution - in which he participated in, and also was imprisoned for - are important takeaways for this election cycle as well. I can't say it better than him, so:
The painful lesson here is that mistaken ideology can produce thoughtless cruelty in gentle, kind-hearted people...The most important lesson from the Cultural Revolution is to stay away from ideological blindness, from playing “follow the leader” wherever you are led, to think independently, critically, and not to believe in overnight miracles of social engineering.