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How the Government Smeared Tarek Mehanna

17 April 2012 Loonwatch.com 3 Comments Email This Post Email This Post

How the Government Smeared Tarek Mehanna

(updated below)

Tarek Mehanna, a twenty-nine year old American Muslim pharmacist, was sentenced a few days ago to 17.5 years of incarceration.  Much has been said in the mainstream media about this young man, but few people have taken the time to go through Mehanna’s statements over the years to understand his world view and ideology.

Fortunately, Mehanna has a digital footprint that goes back several years.  Long before he was arrested, Tarek Mehanna operated under the user name Abu Sabaya, posting on internet discussion forums and his own blog.  These postings are of critical (but overlooked) importance, because the government’s case rests on them.  After all, Mehanna was accused of “conspiring to support Al Qaeda” by “taking to the Internet to try to spread the terror group’s message.”

I have browsed Tarek Mehanna’s blog and internet postings, and my conclusion is that the government has smeared this young man in what can only be called defamation of the worst sort.  The three central lies levied against him include:

1) the claim that he justified (and called for) the killing of American civilians;

2) the claim that he plotted to “shoot[] people at a shopping mall.”

3) and the claim that he expressed support for Al-Qaeda, wanted to join Al-Qaeda, and/or was an Al-Qaeda operative.

Going through Mehanna’s statements over the years, which are preserved by the world wide web, I am highly skeptical of the government’s claims against him.  Not only did I not find any postings justifying or calling for the killing of American civilians, I found the exact opposite.  In 2008, long before he was arrested, Mehanna translated and published a fatwa (religious verdict) thatcategorically forbids the targeting and killing of civilians.

The ruling starts off by noting that Islam forbids punishing a person for the sins of another, and argues that the Prophet Muhammad forbade the targeting and killing of women and children.  It also specifically rejects the argument, raised by none other than Al-Qaeda and her supporters, that it is permitted to kill enemy civilians in retaliation when the enemy (i.e. America and Israel) kills Muslim civilians.  Mehanna’s translation then states that such “extremist” beliefs can neither be rationalized from a religious standpoint nor a military one.  It concludes by claiming that there is a unanimous consensus (ijma) among religious scholars with regard to this prohibition, which all Muslims must consider religiously binding.

Here are key parts of the translation, which Mehanna translated in full on his blog:

A Discussion Regarding the Targeting of Women and Children

“1 – The principles of the Shar’i texts indicate that a man is not to be taken to account for the sins of others, as in the Saying of Allah: {“…and none shall carry the burdens of another…”} [al-An'am; 16]

2 – The Shar’i texts have stringently forbidden targeting the children and women of the polytheists with any type of killing or fighting, no matter what the reasons and causes for doing so, as in the hadith reported by al-Bukhari and others, and narrated by Ibn ‘Umar, that a killed woman was found by the Prophet in one of the battles, and the Prophet forbade the killing of women and children.

And Handhalah said: “We went out for battle with the Messenger of Allah, and we came by a killed woman, and the people had gathered around her. They made way for the Prophet, who said: “This woman was not fighting amongst those who were fighting.” He then said to a man: “Go to Khalid bin al-Walid, and say to him that the Messenger of Allah orders you to say: ‘Do not kill a child, and do not kill the weak.’”“

So, his saying: ‘orders you’ confirms the clearcut prohibition of killing children, and his saying: ‘This woman was not fighting amongst those who were fighting’ is the understanding of opposites, meaning: if she had been fighting, and was amongst those who were fighting, it would be allowed to fight and kill her.

3 – Despite the numerous wars and battles that were fought by the Prophet, his Companions, the Tabi’in who followed them in good from the first three generations – whose virtue was borne witness to by the Prophet – and despite the many wrongdoings and oppressions that the Muslims of these blessed early generations faced, it is not known that either the Prophet, his Companions, or the Tabi’in ever intentionally killed the children or women of the polytheists!

4 – Children are not to be killed, because according to the Shari’ah, they are pure souls…

5 – The noble verse that was used as proof: {“…So, whoever transgresses against you, transgress in a similar manner against him…”} [al-Baqarah; 194] does notcontain evidence for what it was being used for [by extremists]

…[I]t is not allowed to steal from someone simply because they stole from you, and it is not allowed to insult the father of someone simply because he insulted yours. And it is not allowed to respond to the one who violates your honor with false accusations and insults by doing the same to him, etc. If you were to do this, you would have exceeded your bounds, and would be considered a wrongdoer, and would have punished someone with the sins of someone else.

Likewise, it is not allowed to respond to one who has killed your child by killing his child. Rather, you are to kill the killer, because if you were to kill his child, you would have killed an innocent life based on the mistake of a completely different person, and this has nothing to do with the legislated form of revenge and retaliation. Rather, it is nothing but excessiveness and oppression! With this, you would have exceeded the limits in revenge and retaliation, and would end up punishing with more than you were punished with!

And there is not a single scholar who permits the killing of the children of a killer in retaliation for his own oppression and killing of the children of others. Rather, there is consensus that only the killer is to be killed.

6 – Regarding this statement that has been put forth [i.e. the extremist ruling permitting the killing of civilians] despite its strangeness and weakness: it is not from proper wisdom or the politics of the Shari’ah to act upon it in our times, or to circulate it. And this is for two reasons:

First: even if it had the Shar’i factors in place that would justify it, if this door were to be opened, the enemy – with its massive military equipment that the Muslims lack – is the one more capable of aggression, and is more capable of bringing down harm upon the Muslims, their children, and their women!

Second: the enemy possesses massive media influence that the Muslims lack…How would [the Muslim] reputation and image be in front of the public [if they killed women and children]? How would the people look at them and their religion? …

In the comments section, someone (let’s call him e-jihadi #1) protested the ruling by reproducing ahadith (Prophetic tradition) in which Muhammad supposedly permitted the killing of civilians.  Tarek Mehanna himself rebutted this argument, saying:

These ahadith are in regards to accidental deaths (i.e. collateral damage). This is quite different from deliberately targeting them, which is expressly forbidden in Islam.

When e-jihadi #2 expressed support for killing civilians, Mehanna not only rebuffed him but expressed frustration:

My friend, no matter how you try to justify it, the Prophet expressed in crystal clear terms that it is strictly forbidden to target women and children in war. This is not Abu Basir’s “unrestricted application,” and is not his opinion. This is a divinely revealed rule that originated from Allah and was relayed by His Messenger, and nobody’s opinion – Mujahid or no Mujahid – overrides that.

I don’t know why that is so difficult to understand…

Then, e-jihadi #1 came back to give another piece of evidence in support of his view, which Mehanna then negated.  Interestingly enough, e-jihadi #1 found himself properly refuted, and conceded the debate.

E-jihadi #3 stepped up to the plate by claiming that the translated fatwa “is just one opinion”, to which Mehanna concluded by saying: “Yes, it also happens to be the opinion of the Prophet.”

Reading Tarek Mehanna’s blog and internet posts, it becomes apparent that he considers these e-jihadis to be misguided hotheads.  Although in several posts he criticizes American foreign policy, he also spends considerable amount of ink refuting the hotheads he feels have gone “too far”.

The major sticking point between Tarek Mehanna and the hotheads is the principle of distinction, i.e. the targeting and killing of civilians.  Mehanna posts multiple translations from religious figures considered highly regarded in the “jihadi community” in order to bolster his viewpoint and also to undermine the hotheads.

For example, Mehanna translated an Arabic tract by a senior religious figure, who says the hotheads are “the ones whom I fear for the Jihad and the Mujahidin” because they are a “group that harms the Jihad and the Mujahidin, and severely damages the Jihadi manhaj [methodology].”  Their failing is that they support “every [religious] opinion–even if it is wrong–that leads to extremism, harshness, and the spilling of blood–even if that blood was forbidden [i.e. innocent civilians]!”  They end up “distort[ing] the manhaj [methodology] of Jihad, as well as the image that the Jihad must remain upon”, and “give others a very bad and inaccurate picture of Jihad and the Mujahidin!”

Mehanna’s frustration with the hotheads becomes apparent in another translation that impugns the “mistaken attitude held by some of the youth who carry zeal and enthusiasm for the affairs of Jihad…[and] out of emotion, fanaticism, and ignorance” they reject the clear statement of Islam forbidding those actions committed by “the people of the frontlines” (i.e. Al-Qaeda).

*  *  *  *  *

Based on his steadfast rejection of targeting civilians, it seems improbable to me that Tarek Mehanna ever considered shooting American civilians in a shopping mall.  Another translation Mehanna provided on his website gives one more reason to be doubtful of this dubious government claim; the fatwa reads:

If you are given a visa to any country in the world, it is not allowed for you to partake in any action that breaks its laws. This is not allowed, unless this would contradict something from Islam, such as the prayer, fasting, etc. It is not allowed for you to cheat them [non-Muslims] or take from their wealth. It is not allowed, for example, for you to take one of their daughters, and marry her without the permission of her father. It is not allowed for you to rip up a telephone bill. It is not allowed for you to harm the state, and it is not allowed for you to place a magnet on the electric meter of your home [to steal electricity]… As for coming to kill him [non-Muslim] while he is secure and under a pact of security [visa], this is not allowed.

What’s interesting is that the prosecution not only failed to convict Tarek Mehanna for planning a shopping mall shooting spree, but never even charged him with this.  This is something that Mehanna himself noted, saying in an interview:

You asked me to summarize my court experience, and I wish to conclude it by mentioning that it has been nearly a year since I was last arrested, two years since I was first arrested. I have read through countless court documents handed over by the government during the year that I’ve been sitting here in prison. And to this day—after all this time—I have yet to come across even a single shred of evidence whatsoever that even remotely relates to the supposed “shopping mall” plot that I was initially accused of (but until now have not even been charged with). Nothing at all—there’s simply no trace of it, as if the accusation itself never existed in the first place. I think that in and of itself summarizes my court experience.

Why did the government not pursue this charge?  Certainly, this would be Mehanna’s most egregious misdeed if it were true.  Yet, the accusation simply disappeared from existence.

One can only conclude that this was a baseless accusation, one that was so weak that there was not even enough evidence to charge him with it, let alone convict him of it.  Yet, very early on it was thrown into the mix of accusations against Tarek Mehanna in order to smear him, as well as to instill fear into a post-Columbine American public.

Shouldn’t the government be held to account for such dishonest tactics?

*  *  *  *  *

As for the third smear, i.e. his connection to Al-Qaeda, I can find no evidence from Tarek Mehanna’s digital record for this claim.  He has dozens upon dozens of blog posts and internet comments, but not a single time do I see an endorsement, either direct or indirect, of Al-Qaeda.  In fact, he does not seem to mention the group at all.  If he was lobbying on their behalf, I think Al-Qaeda should ask for its money back.

Bloomberg Business Weekly ran the blaring headline “Terror Defendant Mehanna Backed Bin Laden Online, Jury Told.”  Yet, I have not been able to locate any such statement by Mehanna.  If “Mehanna backed Bin Laden online”, then surely we should be able to retrieve such a statement, since, as you may well know, the internet never forgets.

Yes, it’s true that Tarek Mehanna supports jihad, but his own blog clarifies what he thinks the word means: “The Purpose of Jihad…is to repel the aggression of the aggressors against Islam and the Muslims”; “the goal of the Jihad in this religion is not simply to control people or bring them under the submission of others, nor is the goal death and destruction, nor is it oppression under the guise of justice”, but rather it is “the spreading of justice and mercy…”

During his trial, Tarek Mehanna rejected the claim that he supports Al-Qaeda or that he condones their terrorist tactics of targeting civilians.  The evidence, i.e. his internet postings from years prior, is consistent with this.  Mehanna does support the mujahideen (holy warriors), but by this, he does not seem to be referring to Al-Qaeda or terrorists.  Instead, he is using this epithet for (what he, and I would argue many people, consider to be) legitimate “freedom fighters” who are fighting American soldiers in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan.  But, the government has purposefully made “anyone who resists the U.S. occupation” to be synonymous with “Al-Qaeda” and “terrorist”.

The translations (above) are mostly from a religious cleric named Abu Basir al-Tartusi, who resides in London.  Abu Basir has been a vocal critic of Western military occupations of Muslim lands, but he strongly condemned acts of terrorism like the 7/7 bombing in London.  Mehanna’s views seem in line with Abu Basir’s, not Bin Laden’s.

*  *  *  *  *

Something else that Tarek Mahanna’s internet postings reveal is a certain fascination with Muslim prisoners.  He had numerous posts about prominent figures in Islamic history who were unjustly jailed, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and Ahmed Ibn Hanbal.  Closer to home, Mehanna had written passionately and repeatedly about Aafia Siddiqui, a Muslim woman who is being held in an American prison.  Tarek Mehanna had organized a letter writing campaign to boost her spirits in prison, but now it seems that he himself has joined her behind bars.  In doing so, the United States government has not only fulfilled his desire to become a martyr, but proved that he was right: the U.S.does jail Muslims unjustly.

It is true that Tarek Mehanna’s views, as expressed on the internet over the years, reveal that he wasa religious extremist in many ways (and certainly a hothead in his own right).  But, there does notseem to be any evidence from his internet record (which is on what basis he stands convicted) to prove that he supported terrorism.  Instead, he rejected terrorism.  His other views may well be offensive, but they are not illegal to hold, and are Constitutionally protected.

One of Mehanna’s most disturbing beliefs is his adherence to a “clash of civilizations” worldview, or at least its Muslim equivalent.  In this paradigm, the Muslim community will forever be under attack by the disbelievers, specifically the West.  Thus, there will exist a permanent state of animosity between the two sides.  In the end, it is the United States that has reinforced this belief in Tarek Mehanna (and countless other Muslims) more than any radical preacher could ever hope to do.

*  *  *  *  *

I strongly encourage readers to check out Glenn Greenwald’s piece on the topic, which includes a transcript of Tarek Mehanna’s sentencing statement.

Also read Carol Rose’s excellent article, It’s Official. There is a Muslim Exception to the First Amendment.

Update I:

A reader quipped:

So you folks know everything about Tarek Mehanna? Everything. How? “Because we read his blog.Yeah!!”

I did not claim to know everything about Tarek Mehanna. I simply went through his blog posts and internet comments, which are on what basis he was convicted for, i.e. online advocacy of terrorism.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

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3 Comments »

  1. The conclusion that Tarek was sentenced for ‘blogging (and telling the truth) whilst Muslim’ seems inevitable, i.e. his crime was to deflect the imperial narrative that Muslims in general are jihadists out to kill the innocent.
    Now radical Imams like Abu Qatada get a lot of coverage, as do ‘ex Muslims’ who denounce everything about our faith, but those of us who tell the truth about Islam are dangerous to the establishment. Chilling thought, that means that most of us could be next in line to be brought to injustice!

  2. Whether or not Tarek Mehanna justified the killing of civilians, if he encouraged others to kill American soldiers he’s a traitor. The only death penalty offense in the US Constitution is treason. An American who encourages the killing of ANY American either soldier or civilian is a traitor and NOT some wide-eyed innocent.

  3. he was calling on such action from combatants in a war though. They’re going to try and kill Americans anyway because of American occupation.

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