Financing jihad: did he or didn’t he?

Letters to the Editor | October 18, 2006

“Those who cannot remember the past,” as George Santayana taught us, “are condemned to repeat it.” Likewise, when governments seek to rewrite history, citizens and non-citizens alike are exposed to the dangers that accompany official revisionism. A recent opinion column in this newspaper demonstrates these lessons all too clearly. The United States Department of Justice has indicted a Boston businessman, Emadeddin Z. Muntasser, our client, for his involvement in the 1980s and early 90s in a Boston-based Muslim charity that, the indictment alleges, was involved in supporting Afghan mujahideen engaged in pursuing jihad. Rachel Ehrenfeld and Alyssa A. Lappen (“Jihadists and Jews,” Op-Ed, Monday) would have readers of this newspaper believe that in asking the federal court in Massachusetts to dismiss this indictment on constitutional grounds, we are seeking to establish that the First Amendment’s speech and religion protections apply to what the authors term “a now-defunct Boston-based al Qaeda front organization” that engages in support of a terrorist organization that advances “holy war against the United States.”

Ms. Ehrenfeld and Ms. Lappen are wrong on every count. In fact, the indictment alleges that the organization, Care International, was engaged in lending financial assistance to the very same groups and causes that the United States government financed during and after the Afghan struggle to liberate their country from Soviet occupation and communist rule. In charging Mr. Muntasser with failing to inform the Internal Revenue Service, when seeking tax-exempt charitable status for Care, that the organization supported jihad, mujahideen, and zakat (the Muslim equivalent of charitable giving), the U.S. government is engaging in an insidious form of revisionism. It is also betraying a deeply flawed misunderstanding of these fundamental Islamic principles — a misunderstanding that, apparently, the coauthors have uncritically lifted out of the Department of Justice playbook.

Don’t take our word for it. The U.S. government’s own expert intelligence literature, which we quoted in our motion to dismiss the indictment, defines jihad in a way that totally undermines the indictment as well as the Ehrenfeld-Lappen thesis: “Of all Islamic doctrines, the concept of jihad is the most overused, misunderstood, and misinterpreted,” the intelligence report says. “Often narrowly and erroneously translated as ‘holy war,’ jihad literally translates to ‘utmost effort’ or ‘struggle’ and refers to the obligation of all Muslims to promote and defend Islam. Because certain radical Muslim groups have adopted the word as part of their name, Westerners often associate jihad with terrorism. Jihad actually is a complex religious concept.”

As Ms. Ehrenfeld and Ms. Lappen note, the government alleges that Care’s newsletter “actively advocated for jihad or holy war, involving mujahideen or Islamic holy warriors.” Yet as we also detail in our motion, the U.S. government financed similarly situated tax-exempt organizations to do the exact same thing. Consider, for instance, the $57,068 the National Endowment for Democracy bestowed upon the American Friends of Afghanistan in 1991 to continue publishing the quarterly magazine Afghan Jehad. The October-December 1991 issue of that magazine opined that “our objective now should be an Islamic Revolution and an Islamic Revolution can only be ushered in through the adoption of jehad as its primary instrument.”

In short, what the indictment, as well as the FBI affidavit on which the coauthors rely, failed to mention was that this was official American policy and the object of munificent federal funding at the time.

Ms. Ehrenfeld, in particular, should understand the importance of enforcing the First Amendment’s protections for liberty. She recently filed a lawsuit against Saudi businessman Khalid Salim A Bin Mahfouz, who has made a career of suing, in foreign courts of nations without a First Amendment, American writers, including Ms. Ehrenfeld, who dare to criticize terrorist financiers in American publications that occasionally find their way into foreign lands. Ms. Ehrenfeld’s case, which seeks a declaration that all such foreign judgments are invalid in this country, is currently pending in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. In her brief, Ms. Ehrenfeld points out that Americans “have a strong First Amendment interest in preserving broad access to speech — no matter how controversial or inflammatory.”

We agree. Hopefully when Ms. Ehrenfeld learns more about the ill-considered prosecution of our client, she will see that he is entitled to the same First Amendment protection that she seeks, especially since the activities that he allegedly undertook, far from being “controversial or inflammatory,” were as patriotic as the National Endowment for Democracy or, one might say, as American as apple pie.

Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science
University of Southern California
Gould School of Law School
Los Angeles

Criminal defense and
civil liberties attorney
Good and Cormier

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Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist. She is the former Managing Editor at the Leeb Group (2012-2017); a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008); and a former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991). She served six of her 12 years at Forbes (1978-1990) as an Associate Editor. Ms. Lappen was also a staff reporter at The New Haven Register (1975-1977). During a decade as a freelance, her work appeared in Big Peace, Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, Family Security Matters, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals. Ms. Lappen also contributed to the Terror Finance Blog, among others. She supports the right of journalists worldwide to write without fear or restriction on politics, governments, international affairs, terrorism, terror financing and religious support for terrorism, among other subjects. Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet. Her first full-length collection, The Minstrel's Song, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in April 2015. Her poems have been published in the 2nd 2007 edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and both 2007 issues of Wales' award-winning Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine. Dozens of her poems have appeared in print and online literary journals and books. She won the 2000 annual Ruah: A Journal of Spiritual Poetry chapbook award and has received a Harvard Summer Poetry Prize and several honorable mentions.

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