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Tarek Mehanna

I hear the bells on Christmas morn. I see pigeons flying in a sun kissed sky around the tower of Boston’s mosque. I smell latkes and bagels toasting in the crisp air. The Channuak candles are lit at sundown. We live in a land with freedom of religion. I have known Jews lived boxed by many shadowy stereotypes. Jews living in the USA deal with slander, prejudice and attacks. I have been aghast of the anti-semitism. My father thought that Jews were best as jewelers, devoted workers who had best pray in their homes. For me to date a Jewish teenager was close to forbidden and definitely raised the parental eyebrow What about Muslims?. The church bells ring sweet to WASPs, but these bells don’t ring out in freedom for other religious citizens.

Why am I surprised that the USA seems to be hell bent now on discrimination against Muslims? I’ve been attending the trial of Tarek Mehanna who has been found guilty of conspiracy, aiding terrorists with translating materials, and lying to the FBI. Again it’s been a real lesson in the horror of US discrimination.  I have gone to his trial periodically. Tarek is a large sandy-skinned Muslim with soft deer eyes and a wide smile. He keeps his hair short with a small mustache and thick beard. His short hair may be due to the fact that the prime of his life is spent in Plymouth prison. He got a doctorate in pharmacology from Mass College of Pharmacy in 2008 at the age of 24. He’s not a dim-wit. And he has strong religious beliefs. For at least four years Tarek was subject to FBI surveillance. Our tax dollars more and more go into Homeland Security to deport undocumented parents and for surveillance of devout Muslims who speak out against the US war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are many Muslim customs that startle me. The existence of angels is one of the 5 Islamic essential beliefs, like the word of God is in the Qur’an (which uninformed write as Koran.) Did you know that? Many Muslim words that are tossed around in ignorance:

hajj is the pilgrimage to mecca,

zakat is giving alms;

salatis praying 5 times per day.

jihad– ah, yes, the linchpin word that often strikes fear in hearts: jihad is part of life. It means struggle, much more than just fighting for Allah. Jihad is as much as an inner condition as it is an outer commitment. We all want holy justice; Jihad reveals itself in many forms.

Mehanna is a sincere Muslim. He is set apart from his friends who were willing to kill enemies of Islam. Mehanna follows the Islamic law of aman, a new concept to this person of faith. Aman states that when Muslims live in a country that offers religious protection such as freedom to pray, then the Muslim must obey the laws of that country. This is an Islamic covenant, therefore Mehanna would not conspire to hurt or attack an American. “This covenant is a strong one, and it is to be upheld even during a legitimate war; even if the enemy takes Muslim prisoners, those Muslims living in that Dar Al-Harb, or the land of war, cannot fight unless the contract is broken by the other side.” Says an Islamic source.

What did I learn at the trial? There seems to be a spider’s web of surveillance around Muslim leaders that is creepy and sticky as flytrap paper.
I listened as federal agents talked about cornering many young Muslims to ask if they’d spy on their friends. The boundaries between threats and invitations for Muslims to be patriotic seem thin. Tarek could either rat on his colleagues or be branded as an uncooperative player. Under the Patriot Act, many text messages and emails are permitted to be FBI fodder. Mehanna spoke in code to his friends, saying Peanut butter for jihad and Brian for FBI.

But think of the context. This is within the context of the US killing thousands of Arabs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East. Muslims remember that during prayers a pig frozen head was rolled across the mosque floor in Maine in 2006. Soon afterwards a Pakistani-American Muslim man was beaten with brass knuckles by some NY teenagers. He was eating ice cream outside when they called him a “terrorist” and told him to “go back to your country.”


Muslims and Violence

Looking at the Gallop poll above we see that Muslims in the US 89% of the time state it is never justified to kill civilians. Which is much higher than most Christians, since about 75% of Christians and Jews say never “target and kill” civilians. Also in the 2010 poll, 92% of Muslims in the USA are not sympathetic to Al Qaeda.  (  2011)

He has encountered obstacles which seem rather discriminatory such as exorbitant bail (more than 1M), arrested with weak reasons, second arrest being held without bail; placed in solitary confinement for 22 months. You would have thought this guy was Jack the Ripper on steroids, not a competent pharmacist, concerned about US aggression.

I walk into the new federal Moakley building. What a stunning architecture, on the inside with a panoramic view in the shape of a crescent overlooking the Boston harbor. The building is between the new Institute of Contemporary Art and the Barking Crab restaurant. It’s downstream from the deserted Dewey Square: Without Occupiers, the Square looks abandoned, like a foreclosed home. The beautifully motif-painted walls of the courtroom and the jury panel with a computer in front of every 2 jurors smells of 5-star décor. I sit next to young women in jihab, I could see how many fix their scarves with care. The scarves flow in ripples over the shoulders. One woman came to the opening day saying, “I was so nervous and excited this morning. Finally we get a chance. I was happy like as a child you wake up and its Eid.” Mehanna’s parents come daily to hear the court witnesses, the court has many supporters, Muslim and non-Muslim. Three Quakers come faithfully, some days there’s as many as six coming. I go not to judge as to whether the US FBI is wrong or whether Mehanna broke US laws. My prayer is that non-Muslims in the US turn their hearts.

With what aspects of their identity do Muslim Americans most strongly identify? The following chart show that Muslims are moderate in their ethnic identity.

Quran in 49:13 says:

O humankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another. Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most godfearing of you. God is All-knowing, All-aware.