First Amendment for Jihad?

The outrageous story of Tareq Mehanna.

Two months ago, Tareq Mehanna, an American-born citizen from Massachusetts, was convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to al Qaeda, providing material support to terrorists (and conspiracy to do so), conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, conspiracy to make false statements to the FBI, and two counts of making false statements. He traveled to Yemen to get training in order to fight against American troops in Afghanistan, but failed. His use of the Internet to propagate Jihad, however, was defended by civil libertarians as “free speech,” protected by the First Amendment.

But Jihad is not philosophy. It is a call to action, not meditation or self-examination. A central tenet of Islam, it can mean helping others and self-improvement. But for most Muslims it means a divinely mandated war against “infidels” – non-Moslems. It can take many forms: piloting planes into buildings, blowing up planes with hidden bombs, murdering people who are accused of insulting Mohammed and the Koran, and urging others to engage in violence – that is, incitement.

It is also incumbent on Muslims anywhere, anytime, and for any reason they personally feel applicable. Since Islam does not have a hierarchy of authority, although some leaders are more acceptable than others, one can pick and choose. There are basically no rules or restrictions. One can follow a local sheikh collecting charity, or a preacher exhorting homicidal attacks.

Had Mehanna succeeded in being trained to kill, and if he and his friends who accompanied him had survived and returned to America, they might have opened a 7-11, or they might have plotted another 9-11.

The question is not whether Mehanna has the right to preach and publish what he believes – under the First Amendment he does – but whether Jihad is part of a legitimate accepted dialogue. Where were the people in his family and community who might have dissuaded him? Why have Muslim-American leaders and organizations remained silent?   Instead of apologizing for him and organizing support groups (“Free Tareq”) there should be a thorough and serious self-criticism.

If not, there will be many more Americans like Mehanna, Major Nidal Hassan who murdered 13 and wounded 29 people in Texas, and Najibullah Zazi and Adis Mendunjenin, from Queens, NYC, who were convicted in May, 2012 of plotting to bomb the subway and other terrorist acts.

Americans have spent a great deal of money and sacrificed many thousands of lives to assist Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Muslim countries to live in freedom, to establish democratic governments and improve their lives. The payback should not be Jihad, and certainly not from loyal American citizens.

The problem is not only terrorist organizations, like al Qaida, but so-called religious leaders who sanction and fuel hatred and terrorism. Combating them is not only a matter of law, but of education.

In order to defeat Jihadism among Muslim-Americans, the message must be clear. Jihadism is un-American. Like KKK racism and neo-Nazism, it violates American norms and values and is therefore unacceptable.

Minds are dark places, full of holes. They are not dangerous, until they are, but by then it’s often too late.

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