On April 12th Tarek Mehanna was found guilty of conspiracy and of giving material support for terrorism. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison. The prosecution accused Mehanna of translating statements for Al Qaeda and of disseminating pro-jihadist material on the Internet. Mehanna maintains that he does not support the world view of Al Qaeda, though he is unapologetic for supporting the rights of Muslims to defend themselves against their oppressors, in this case US and British soldiers. The American Civil Liberties Union has said that the verdict against Tarek “undermines” free speech, while the prosecution holds that Tarek was “conspiring to support terrorists” and “conspiring to kill Americans overseas.”
However, if Tarek Mehanna is guilty, so am I. I too support the right of Muslims to defend themselves against US troops, even if that means they have to kill them, and I try to give the Iraqi resistance a voice through my website. I have done everything that Tarek Mehanna has done, and there are only two possibilities why I am not sitting in a cell with him: 1) The FBI is incompetent and hasn’t been able to smoke me out. 2) The US judicial system would never dream of violating my freedom of speech because I am white and I am a veteran of the Occupation of Iraq.
Indeed, Mehanna is being punished for his ideas, and the case against him stinks of a lynch mob mentality. The islamophobia that still grips the US has often resulted in a hysterical witch-hunt for “radical” Muslims, of which Tarek Mehanna is the most recent victim. Most Muslims in the US can get by as long as they proclaim their love for this country and keep their mouths shut about American foreign policy, but a Muslim who is vocally critical of US policy is still a very scary thing for many in the US. Mehanna’s ideas have been criminalized because they are critical of US policy and advocate for jihad, which, unfortunately, is pitifully misunderstood in the US. In the current political atmosphere critical ideas are too often equated with extremism, and jihad is equated with terrorism.