by Lana Habash
April 23, 2012
On April 12th, Tarek Mehanna, a 29 year old Muslim man from Massachusetts was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison for "material support for terrorism" and other related charges.
The purpose of the current domestic "war on terror"-- the surveillance, the system of informants, and the political arrests of Muslims and Arabs-- is the same as every other US campaign of repression: to demoralize oppressed communities; to convince us that we cannot trust our neighbors and that our oppression is "the way of history," inevitable and hopeless; to make us believe the narrative of "every man for himself;" and to make us accept the unaccceptable-- the systematic oppression and genocide of our people and the colonization of our land.
Every day in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, and Afghanistan, people stand up, at risk of death. They stand like trees against genocidal colonialism and neocolonialism.
The situation for Muslims and Arabs on this continent is a bit different. Speaking generally, as a community, we are pacified. Yes, there is racial profiling, intense surveillance, entrapment, and mass incarceration. And there are also members of our community who talk to the FBI, inform on their neighbors, or dig their heads in the sand and, at a critical moment, do nothing. The Daniel Maldonado's (a cooperating witness in the Tarek Mehanna case) of our communities are our creation. Where were we when he was interrogated 26 times? Make any excuse you like, but collectively, we are accountable.
Living in American society, there are many unspoken racist ideas that constantly get reinforced and go unchallenged. These ideas have silently colonized our minds:
"It is inevitable that Black and Brown folks (in this case, Arabs and Muslims) die."
"It's naive to think that things will change from any action we take."
In the world of white supremacy, "colonial and state violence is normal and legitimate, and resistance in the form of counter-violence is not."
This means we can hear about the most horrifying oppression of Muslims and Arabs-- the bombing of their hospitals and funerals and schools, like what has happened in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon. And we can see children buried in the rubble or dying from sanction-induced starvation, and it has become normal. We watch the news each night, prepared for what we will see, and sickened yes, but no longer surprised, outraged perhaps, but not enough.
And when folks hear about oppressed people, anywhere in the world, fighting back in self defense and in some way causing injury or harm to those who oppress them, all of a sudden people become very uncomfortable, and a whole discussion must emerge as to why we should not support that or this type of resistance. Worse, we must explain away the resistance of our people as some form of PTSD or desperation instead of what it is: courage, sumoud (Arabic for "steadfastness"), and just plain human dignity.
The trial of Tarek Mehanna has been a flashpoint in the lives of Muslims and Arabs on this continent.
He was not our first political prisoner and he certainly won't be our last. When his trial started, even outside of the reactionary mass media, the questions being asked and statements being made were all the wrong ones:
"Did he really do it?"
"He's not really a terrorist. He never did anything except translate some texts."
"He was just a kid when this happened. He's grown up."
But by the time Tarek Mehanna finished his sentencing statement on the afternoon of April 12th, there could be no doubt that the entire paradigm of the discussion of Muslim political prisoners had changed. The discussion was no longer about whether or not "he was really a terrorist," but rather about the right of Muslims and Arabs and all oppressed people to defend themselves against colonialism and imperialism: the violence of the state.
And there Tarek Mehanna stood, with his supporters who witnessed every dirty trick the government had pulled during the surveillance, arrest, and trial of this brave young man, and his community refused to cower. This was not a demoralized audience. These were not alienated people accepting the white supremacist narrative of what Arabs and Muslims deserve. The energy among the observers was palpable... the community inspired. Over the next few days, Dr. Mehanna's speech made its way around the world, and we were proud to have been there, at a moment that will be remembered as historic.
We know the fight is not over. We have a lot of work to do to catch up with our brothers and sisters in the Arab world who, with much fewer resources, have been examples to us of what it means to be steadfast.
Through his actions during this trial, Dr. Mehanna has outlined a beginning for the Muslim and Arab community here:
No cooperation and no collaboration with our oppressors
defend the right of our people-- of all oppressed people-- to self-defense.
That was the take home message of the trial of Tarek Mehanna, and in this way, the government failed miserably in every goal of the "war on terror."
In Palestine, we say that the political prisoner is "our oxygen...the air we breathe." They are vital-- we cannot continue to live without them because they remind us of who we are, who we must be, and the task ahead.
We will continue to fight for the release of Tarek Mehanna and all our political prisoners, but perhaps more importantly, we have been galvanized to carry on the struggle that they have gone to prison for.
*** Tarek Mehanna's sentencing statement can be found at http://www.freetarek.com/tareks-sentencing-statement/