The Right to Dissent

Americans are losing their most cherished freedoms, freedoms envied by many around the world. This Administration, as well as the previous, and many Members of Congress stridently oppose, not merely the opinions, but the voicing of those contrary to their own, oppose full freedom of assembly, and oppose even the giving of humanitarian aid to Cuba, Palestine, and Iraq. Without the right to dissent, there is no freedom.

Such opinions and acts were made punishable by fine or imprisonment by the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. The new anti-terrorism legislation would allow “roving wiretapping” without showing a judge or magistrate that probable cause exists to believe the person to be wiretapped has committed or is committing a crime. Banks, already required to spy on all their customers, will be mandated to disclose even more. Increased restrictions on individual rights and the nearly unlimited, big-brother expansion of police power will not, they cannot, provide security to the people. Neither can the bombing of Afghanistan.

Yes, I unequivocally condemn the September 11th massacre of innocent civilians, among whom were many Muslims, in New York City and the Pentagon, the killing of innocent civilians being antithetical to Islam and, indeed, to humanity.

And, for this reason, I oppose bombing Afghanistan. Like the City of New York, in Afghanistan are millions of innocent civilians whose lives are just as valuable in the eyes of God as those of their American counterparts and who, as the U.S. and the entire world acknowledge, were not involved in any way whatsoever with the September 11th attack. If one believes that the attack on the United States was particularly vile because innocent civilians died as a consequence, is it not equally vile when the U.S. kills innocent civilians? Does the Afghani mother lying bloody in a hospital believe the U.S. bombing which killed her four children was justified? I think not.

When Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal came to New York City to show sympathy and to offer help to the victims, he asked that the U.S. address the issues put forward as the cause for the criminal attack and re-examine its policies in the Middle East. Mayor Guiliani rejected the offer of money and said there could be no justification for the killing of innocent civilians. Does this view apply only to the killing of Americans?

Is it sufficient to say that the killing of innocent civilians is an unintended consequence? No, it is not. One who kills another while driving drunk may not have possessed premeditated intent to kill. But, when one acts with gross recklessness and does so knowing, as a reasonable man would know, that another person may be killed by his behavior, he is guilty of the unjustified death of another. The U.S. knows well that its missiles often miss their targets and civilians are killed as a result.

Is it sufficient to say that the death of civilians is regretted? No, the United States, greatest power that it is, has a choice. It is not helpless or powerless in the United Nations or NATO. It boasts of operating under the rule of law. Yet, it has chosen to act outside international law by acting outside the United Nations, by refusing to take its evidence to an international criminal tribunal, and by operating as a vigilante group to search and destroy one man. Is it proportionate to destroy an entire country to get one man or one group? Our Federal, State, and local laws deem, as an act of aggression, the killing of an alleged murderer who has left the scene of the crime. This was once referred to as lynching. Inasmuch as Milosevic has been brought to trial, why cannot Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein be brought to trial?

We have been told repeatedly that the bombing is not against the Afghani people or Islam but, rather, that the objective is to bring Osama bin Laden to “justice.” That is, “justice” in the sense of death and destruction as opposed to trial in a court of law, in all likelihood because the U.S. does not have evidence to convict him, even in the U.S. Bombing of cities and villages is, in fact, an unjustifiable war against all of Afghanistan. Innocent Afghans are now subjected to U.S. depleted uranium and cluster bombs, which, like the 10 million Russian land mines, will affect the people and the land for many years hereafter as they have in Iraq, Kosova, and Serbia.

Is it sufficient to say that the death of civilians is permitted because a country aggrieved with its ruler or rulers believes it must retaliate to assure that it will not be attacked again? W hen the Christian Crusaders conquered Palestine, they killed every Muslim man, woman, and child. In 1187, the Muslims retook the Holy Land. Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria and a Muslim Kurd who had led his people to victory, decreed that no civilians would be killed. He did not retaliate against the Crusaders, despite their barbarism and unjustifiable war against the Muslims.

The former President Bush told the world that our participation in the Persian Gulf War was not intended against the Iraqi people but to stop Saddam Hussein. Instead, the U.S. killed more than 200,000 Iraqi civilians and intentionally bombed and polluted their water supplies and electrical infrastructure. For 11 years, crippling economic sanctions have been imposed by the US and the UK preventing sufficient food and medication and the repair of the infrastructure with the result that more than one million Iraqis have died. Two UN heads of humanitarian aid, together with members of their staffs, resigned in protest against these US-UK sanctions stating that the oil-for-food program was intentionally designed to fail.

If the US has the right to bomb another country because someone in that country killed Americans, do not the innocent, powerless Iraqis have a right to retaliate against the United States because of the weekly and sometimes daily bombing of Iraq since 1998, killing civilians and destroying at least one school and one hospital and the U.S. economic sanctions?

If a country has a right to retaliate against another to stop the killing of its civilians, does the Sudan have a right to bomb the United States because it bombed an innocent pharmaceutical factory on the false grounds that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were financing the production of chemical or biological weapons? Was it not a crime to have destroyed that factory, one of only two pharmaceutical factories in the Sudan, and the death and grievous injuries to those present and those thousands of persons and animals who suffered and died thereafter without necessary medication? Why did the U.S. object to the Sudanese U.N. request for an investigation of its factory and the U.S. bombing, demanding that the request be, and it was, shelved? Despite knowing without any doubt that the factory was innocent, the U.S. has not provided restitution to the people of Sudan.

Do the unarmed Palestinians and the Lebanese have a right to bomb the U.S. in retaliation for hundreds of thousands of deaths and destruction of property through the use of weapons paid for by the U.S. and clearly imprinted “Made in the U.S.A”? The Palestinian and Lebanese Hezbollah resistance groups are functioning under a right granted to them by the United Nations charter which provides for the resistance against occupation, an Israeli brutal occupation of Palestine and Lebanon having been maintained for many years in violation of U.N. resolutions, the violation of same by Muslim countries would have resulted in U.S. bombing and sanctions.

President George W. Bush has said that there must be an end to the violence in the Middle East and that it is essential that the parties negotiate for peace. While the U.S. is bombing Afghanistan, Bush warned North Korean leader Kim Jong II that his country must not take advantage of the U.S. war in Afghanistan to attack South Korea and that he must prove his intentions are peaceful. Why the refusal to negotiate with the Taliban who had agreed, prior to the bombing, to turn over Osama bin Laden on the condition that the U.S. provide evidence of guilt and agree to try him in a neutral country? Is it really that revealing the evidence would cause harm to the U. S. or is it that there is no proof? Since 1996, the U.S. has incarcerated Muslims, refusing to disclose the charges, evidence, or witnesses, saying that the evidence is classified and to reveal it would be harmful to the national security. After being imprisoned for as many as four years, often in isolation, losing income, jobs, property, access to their families, and suffering from abusive treatment, these Muslims were all released and the so-called evidence was found to be falsified or distorted.

When President Bush stated that the war against terrorism will expand to other countries that harbor terrorists against the interest of the U.S. and its allies, who will designate who the “terrorists” are? Which allies is the President referring to? All United States allies or just Israel? Will terrorists include those who are fighting for freedom from illegal Israeli occupation? Is a terrorist one who kills an Israeli leader who has expressed his hatred of all Palestinians and his objective to kill or deport them all? Inasmuch as this was in response to the 65 Palestinian leaders and bystanders who Israel has assassinated, leaders who Israel could have easily arrested and tried? Is not the Israeli killing of a child standing in the doorway of his home or in his school yard an act of terrorism? An average of one Palestinian child is killed every day. What about Kahane Chai, other Jewish terrorist groups, including radical rabbis and settlers? Will Bush bomb Israel since it harbors these terrorists?

Who will have a voice in designating who are “terrorists” and “the states that harbor them”? Will it be only, as it generally is, supporters of Israel biased against Arabs and Muslims, Israeli politicians, and Arab haters, such as Richard Butler, who unlike UNSCOM Inspector Scott Ritter, is making the media rounds suggesting that the anthrax distributions in the U.S. are probably coming from Iraq and we should therefore have a massive strike against Iraq. Where are the voices of Muslims in the print and television media? Why are they not permitted to serve on U.S. bodies such as the National Commission on Terrorism?

Finally, there is one media which has proved to be balanced. It is the Arab television station, Al-Jazeera, which is an independent, absolutely free media voice in the Arab world. Because it permits the freedom of expression and access to all points of view, Muslim and Christian, East and West, Secretary Colin Powell asked the emir of Qatar to restrict its voice. The Bush Administration has asked the U.S. media to restrict the number of Al-Jazeera broadcasts, to not show them in full, and to not allow the voices of anti-Americans to be heard. Where is the belief in a well-informed citizenry? If only we Muslims in America and throughout the world could hear the U.S. say, as was said by the French philosopher, Voltaire, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.” That is genuine love of freedom.

Dr. Ahmed Yousef is Director of United Association for Studies and Research (UASR) and Editor-in-Chief, Middle East Affairs Journal.