First They Came for the Muslims

Tarek Mahanna, a Muslim U.S. citizen, was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison last week for being a terrorist. But, as former New York Times reporter Chris Hedges writes in this excellent article, Mahanna’s real crime was refusing to become a government informant.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Mehanna, a teacher at Alhuda Academy in Worcester, was convicted after an eight-week jury trial of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Iraq and providing material support to al-Qaida, as well as making false statements to officials investigating terrorism. His real “crime,” however, seems to be viewing and translating  jihadi videos online, speaking out against U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and refusing to become a government informant.”

In the article, “First They Come for the Muslims,” Hedges interviews attorney Stephen F. Downs, founder of Project Salam; and prints Mahanna’s statement to the court before his sentencing.

Downs sees cases like Mahanna’s as a bleak trend in government prosecutors’ own contempt for the rule of law.

Downs: “I was unprepared for the fact that the government would put together a case that was just one lie piled up on top of another lie,” Downs said. “And when you pointed it out to them they didn’t care. They didn’t refute it. They knew that it was a lie. The facts of most of these pre-emptive cases don’t support the charges. But the facts are irrelevant. The government has decided to target these people. It wants to take them down for ideological reasons.”

The title of the article, “First They Come for the Muslims,” is a take on a famous quote attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller. Niemoller was an early supporter of Hitler’s rise, but then changed his mind about the virtues of Nazism. He was arrested in 1937 and survived his time in the concentration camps.

The original quote (usually stated as a warning against political apathy):

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

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