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Calls to ban the Muslim Brotherhood aim to criminalise US Muslim dissent, not counter terrorism

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Calls to ban the Muslim Brotherhood aim to criminalise US Muslim dissent, not counter terrorism
Image from: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/fullimage/decf4548-bf61-4c5a-b638-967f4239eec7/e14cc6b9-cd6d-495f-aed4-587aa23dd2f0

“Calls to ban the Muslim Brotherhood aim to criminalise US Muslim dissent, not counter terrorism”

When America’s founders passed the First Amendment, protecting the right to dissent was the objective.

Having experienced a repressive English state, they understood the hallmark of authoritarianism lies in the absence of freedom of thought, speech and association.  

Yet, Trump’s promise to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation runs contrary to these fundamental American values. The consequence could be devastating for American Muslims’ civil liberties.

For nearly two decades, the US’ Middle East authoritarian allies and domestic Islamophobes (many of whom now serve as advisors in the Trump administration) have been advocating to criminalise “political Islam”. This vague and pejorative label is frequently used to delegitimise Muslim activists, scholars and religious leaders who hold dissenting political views.  

Although the dictators and Islamophobes have different targets in mind, their goal is the same – to criminalise dissent and quash political opposition.

Middle East dictators seek US approval for their violent crackdown against their strongest political opposition movement – the Muslim Brotherhood.  

American Islamophobes want to criminalise Islam. The designation could unleash material support to terrorism prosecutions of non-violent, religious American Muslim activists who challenge unconditional US support for Israel, oppose Islamophobe’s anti-Sharia campaigns, and defend religious freedom rights of Muslims.

If Trump goes through with designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, the grounds of criminality will not be engaging in or directly supporting terrorism. Rather, it will be political beliefs. The government, therefore, would be unfettered in criminalising a wide range of views it disfavours.

The message to American Muslims is clear: If you want to evade the heavy hand of the national security state, then you must secularise

Challenging secularism, supporting faith-based government policies informed by Islamic values, or opposing US support of dictators who deny political rights to nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood members abroad could trigger prosecutorial action against American Muslims.  

Furthermore, academics attending international conferences in Turkey, Qatar, Jordan and Kuwait; Muslim organisations inspired by their Islamic faith to challenge the political order; and Muslim journalists critical of human rights violations of members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East could find themselves under investigation for supporting terrorism.

These investigations legally authorise asset freezes, which is the death knell of an organisation. They could also lead to “material support for terrorism” charges that do not require the government to prove the accused engaged in violence. So long as there is evidence the accused knew the Muslim Brotherhood was designated as a terrorist organisation, their nonviolent actions can be criminalised.

Similarly, Muslims seeking asylum from persecution by Middle East dictators could be denied on the mere suspicions they are “political Islamists”. The same reasoning would expand national security grounds for denying applications for US citizenship by law abiding, practicing Muslims living in the United States.  

Ultimately, the freedom to dissent guaranteed by the First Amendment will not apply to Muslims. This totalitarian outcome is not accidental.

multi-million dollar Islamophobia industry, with members currently in the US government, has aggressively advocated for deporting, banning and criminalising Muslims. These right-wing extremists have defamed Muslims as inherently violent, incapable of practicing democracy, and savage as part of a broader “clash of civilisations” narrative.   

The narrative has inundated Americans with propaganda warning them practicing Muslims are a suspect fifth column. Praying, fasting during Ramadan, donning a beard, or wearing a headscarf are portrayed as evidence of an illicit “Islamisation of America.” Admitting Islam informs how you live your life is treated as treasonous.  

The message to American Muslims is clear: If you want to evade the heavy hand of the national security state, then you must secularise, assimilate into White Protestant normalcy, and dare not challenge American hegemony in the international order.  

Only secularised Muslims will be tolerated on condition they blindly support government policies or depoliticise altogether.

Attempts to criminalise “political Islam” were on full display in a July 2018 Congressional hearing entitled The Muslim Brotherhood as a Global Threat.

Zuhdi Jasser, a darling of the Islamophobia industry and right wing politicians, testified “[m]aking the Muslim Brotherhood radioactive would allow the light to shine upon their most potent antagonists in Muslim communities – those who reject political Islam and believe in liberty and the separation of mosque and state.”  

The only ‘good Muslims’ are those who uncritically support the status quo and blindly parrot US government propaganda

Throughout his testimony, Jasser condemned political Islamists and articulated the agenda of his Islamophobic backers – to abuse counterterrorism laws to deny American Muslims their constitutional right to hold unpopular political views. The only “good Muslims” are those who uncritically support the status quo and blindly parrot US government propaganda.

Weaponising counterterrorism laws to silence dissenting minorities is certainly not new.

J. Edgar Hoover targeted the Black Panther Movement and Nation of Islam on account of the FBI’s determination that black nationalism was a national security threat. Their ideas, not violence, consequently drove anti-terrorism enforcement.

African Americans who vocally criticised the United States as an oppressive White Supremacist state found their organisations subjected to aggressive surveillance, informant infiltration, sting operations and prosecutions.  

While Muslims have been experiencing these aggressive state tactics since 9/11, a designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist will make it much easier for the Trump administration to target more Muslims in an already racialised counter terrorism regime.

The consequence could be devastating for American Muslims’ civil liberties

All the while, alt-right and white nationalist groups can continue to spew vile, hateful speech that inspire violent racists to shoot synagogues, mosques and churches. Calls to criminalise their ideas are rebuked by pointing out that anti-terrorism policies based on a fear of ideas, rather than proven violence, is “alien to the traditions of a free society and to the First Amendment.”

But if the Middle East dictators and American Islamophobes have their way, these same rights will not be afforded to American Muslims. And America will creep closer to the authoritarian state the founders sought to avert.

Originally published: https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2019/5/10/banning-the-muslim-brotherhood-aims-to-criminalise-muslim-dissent

Sahar Aziz
Sahar Aziz is Professor of Law, Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School. Professor Aziz’s scholarship adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine intersections of national security, race, and civil rights with a focus on the adverse impact of national security laws and policies on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S. Her research also investigates the relationship between authoritarianism, terrorism, and rule of law in Egypt. She is the founding director of the interdisciplinary Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Civil Rights. She is also a faculty affiliate of the African American Studies Department at Rutgers University-Newark and an editor for the Arab Law Quarterly. Professor Aziz teaches courses on national security, critical race theory, evidence, torts, and Middle East law.

Professor Aziz’s academic articles have been published in the Harvard National Security Journal, Washington and Lee Law Review, Nebraska Law Review, George Washington International Law Review, Penn State Law Review, and the Texas Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Journal. Her book The Muslim Menace: The Racialization of Religion in the Post-9/11 Era is forthcoming with Harvard University Press. In 2015, Professor Aziz was named an Emerging Scholar by Diverse Issues in Higher Education and recipient of the Derrick Bell Award from the American Association of Law Schools Minority Section. In 2017, she was selected as the recipient of the Research Making an Impact Award by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).

Professor Aziz’s commentary has appeared in the New York Times, CNN.com, Carnegie Endowment’s Sada Journal, Middle East Institute, Foxnews.com, World Politics Review, Houston Chronicle, Austin Statesmen, The Guardian, and Christian Science Monitor. She is a frequent public speaker and has appeared on CNN, BBC World, PBS, CSPAN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera English. She is an editor of the Race and the Law Profs blog. She also served on the board of the ACLU of Texas and as a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution – Doha.

Prior to joining legal academia, Professor Aziz served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where she worked on law and policy at the intersection of national security and civil liberties. Professor Aziz began her legal career as a litigation associate for WilmerHale after which she was an associate at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLP in Washington, D.C. where she litigated Title VII class actions on behalf of plaintiffs.

Professor Aziz has a J.D. and M.A. in Middle East Studies from the University of Texas where she served as an associate editor of the Texas Law Review. Professor Aziz clerked for the Honorable Andre M. Davis on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland and was named a 2015 Emerging Scholar by Diverse Magazine.
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Sahar Aziz
Sahar Aziz is Professor of Law, Chancellor’s Social Justice Scholar, and Middle East and Legal Studies Scholar at Rutgers University Law School. Professor Aziz’s scholarship adopts an interdisciplinary approach to examine intersections of national security, race, and civil rights with a focus on the adverse impact of national security laws and policies on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities in the U.S. Her research also investigates the relationship between authoritarianism, terrorism, and rule of law in Egypt. She is the founding director of the interdisciplinary Rutgers Center for Security, Race, and Civil Rights. She is also a faculty affiliate of the African American Studies Department at Rutgers University-Newark and an editor for the Arab Law Quarterly. Professor Aziz teaches courses on national security, critical race theory, evidence, torts, and Middle East law. Professor Aziz’s academic articles have been published in the Harvard National Security Journal, Washington and Lee Law Review, Nebraska Law Review, George Washington International Law Review, Penn State Law Review, and the Texas Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Journal. Her book The Muslim Menace: The Racialization of Religion in the Post-9/11 Era is forthcoming with Harvard University Press. In 2015, Professor Aziz was named an Emerging Scholar by Diverse Issues in Higher Education and recipient of the Derrick Bell Award from the American Association of Law Schools Minority Section. In 2017, she was selected as the recipient of the Research Making an Impact Award by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU). Professor Aziz’s commentary has appeared in the New York Times, CNN.com, Carnegie Endowment’s Sada Journal, Middle East Institute, Foxnews.com, World Politics Review, Houston Chronicle, Austin Statesmen, The Guardian, and Christian Science Monitor. She is a frequent public speaker and has appeared on CNN, BBC World, PBS, CSPAN, MSNBC, Fox News and Al Jazeera English. She is an editor of the Race and the Law Profs blog. She also served on the board of the ACLU of Texas and as a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution – Doha. Prior to joining legal academia, Professor Aziz served as a Senior Policy Advisor for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security where she worked on law and policy at the intersection of national security and civil liberties. Professor Aziz began her legal career as a litigation associate for WilmerHale after which she was an associate at Cohen Milstein Sellers and Toll PLLP in Washington, D.C. where she litigated Title VII class actions on behalf of plaintiffs. Professor Aziz has a J.D. and M.A. in Middle East Studies from the University of Texas where she served as an associate editor of the Texas Law Review. Professor Aziz clerked for the Honorable Andre M. Davis on the United States District Court for the District of Maryland and was named a 2015 Emerging Scholar by Diverse Magazine.