Saturday, June 18, 2005

WHAT BOTHERS ME MOST about the case of Tashnuba Hayder, the 16-year-old Queens girl who was recently deported back to her native Bangladesh, is what it says about how the Bush administration treats the least powerful in our society in situations that would not be problematic for anyone else. Tashnuba was deported -- to a country she had not lived in since she was 5 -- because she was more interested in debating Islamic beliefs and concepts than she was in putting up posters of movie stars on her bedroom wall; because she felt that Muslims and Arabs were targeted and treated badly in the U.S.; because she chatted in an Internet room with a Muslim cleric whom the FBI thought was a supporter of suicide bombing. She was never the subject of a criminal investigation. Everything the feds had against her was the result of intelligence; that is, unconfirmed, unproven information gained in secret from secret sources and kept secret from any public viewing. And once it seemed to these FBI agents -- who already leaned to the assumption that any religious Muslim is a potential terrorist -- that the "intelligence" indicated that Tashnuba was interested in suicide bombing, everything she said and did, and all the details of her life that they observed, from that point on were interpreted in the context of that preconceived belief that she supported terrorism. Even though she insisted that her conversations online with the cleric did not touch on the subject of suicide bombing. Even though she said she did not believe in suicide bombing. Even though there was no evidence of any criminal intent, much less that a criminal act had been committed.

And the government's steadfast refusal to present any of the evidence -- if, indeed, there is any -- against Tashnuba; or to answer questions about the case, despite repeated requests, just makes them look like they have nothing on her at all, except the fact she is a devout Muslim.

Allie Carter, of, says:

Our treatment of those least among us - the alien, the young, those without the rights of citizenship - shows our measure as a society. And that applies equally to the mess at Gitmo.

The Torah says, not once, but twice, that we are not to mistreat the stranger:

In Exodus 22:20:*

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

And again, in Exodus 23:9:

You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

Jewish tradition says that when a statement or a commandment is repeated, that means that we are to pay especially close attention, because what is being said is more than usually important.

And Allie links to a quote from Matthew 25:34-40 from the New International Version of the New Testament, at BibleGateway:

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Sarah Wildman, at American Prospect, says it's true that terrorists are skilled at using the Internet to plan attacks, but we can't use that as an excuse to arrest and interrogate every teenager who argues about religion and politics in a chatroom:

The FBI found Hayder after monitoring those who attend chat rooms on Islam and listen in to Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammed's daily broadcasts from London. With most court documents sealed, it's impossible to tell if the girl was "an imminent threat" -- a potential suicide bomber, like girls just slightly older in the West Bank, as FBI agents feared -- or if this was a massive screw-up, a targeting of a teenager and her parents who had nothing to do with terrorism.

The internet is a powerful tool for jihadists, as Harvard's terrorism expert Jessica Stern explained a couple years ago:

The Internet has also greatly facilitated the spread of "virtual" subcultures and has substantially increased the capacity of loosely networked terrorist organizations. For example, Beam's essay on the virtues of "leaderless resistance" has long been available on the Web and, according to researcher Michael Reynolds, has been highlighted by radical Muslim sites. Islamist Web sites also offer on-line training courses in the production of explosives and urge visitors to take action on their own. The "encyclopedia of jihad," parts of which are available on-line, provides instructions for creating "clandestine activity cells," with units for intelligence, supply, planning and preparation, and implementation. ...

What we do about those threats, though, is difficult to say. We're not going to detain every curious 16-year-old girl for seven weeks, are we? Read Tashnuba Hayder's thoughts on free speech and inquiry; she makes an incredibly sympathetic suspect. We certainly need to gather what evidence we can regarding virtual terrorism networks, but I've got to wonder if we've drawn the right boundaries.

*From the Jewish Publication Society's 1985 edition of the Tanakh.

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