Monday, June 30, 2008

And are thee an equivocator?

It's easy for me to overstate my intelligence. I've done well in school, but not that well. I'm well read, but again not that well read. I'm a jack of all trades but certainly a master of none and indeed, there are some trades I haven't jacked quite yet. And while at times I feel dispassionate and analytical, how I feel about myself is by no means an objective metric of how I'm looking at an issue. So let me throw all those cautions out there before I proceed (I should make this a standard disclaimer).

Now The House Next Door is an excellent source for some excellent reads about film, tv and culture (somewhat less so since the departure of the irreplaceable Matt Zoller Seitz stepped down as editor, no insult to the current editor but note the irreplaceable adjective), however, there are some authors I like more and some I like less. One I like in a middling sort of way is Lauren Wissot. She writes with decent skill but is undermined by over-the-top political exclamations (actually, all and all, she makes a number of over-the-top generalizing exclamations in many fields, but the political ones are the most egregious and common). It helps that she is often on the right side of the issue, if very extremist on that side, but such extremism weakens the prose of her reviews and often blurs the reality of complex issues.

My disclaimer was not for my analysis of Lauren Wissot, I am fairly confident that I am correct in my assessment of her and I think, with the partial exception of that last clause, agree with the assessment. My disclaimer takes effect now though, since I am wading into one of the issues that I feel Ms. Wissot oversimplified.

The issue comes up in a film Ms. Wissot glowingly reviewed from the Human Rights Film Festival (human rights are always a good cause and often are shown in excellent and tragic ways in film, so even if you don't check out this film festival, I suggest you still check out human rights films) called USA vs. Al-Arian.

I don't disagree with her central point (or at least her central descriptive point, her central thematic point about the American Dream being a shame I thoroughly disagree with) that what happened to Mr. Al-Arian is a clear violation of the spirit of the law (if perhaps not the letter) and human rights, is a shame upon our country and never should have happened.


But besides the demonizing of the Bush administration, her review in general seems to ignore the complexities of the issue, even if some of the less-flattering points she makes about the Bush administration and US gov. in general still stand.

Let me step back for a moment, from the chasm I am about to leap into, by explaining why I felt I needed the disclaimer before. Now for you, my dear readers, it is probably unnecessary, since your razor-sharp minds and ability to spot the many "may"s and "probably"s would likely show that I am a bit uncertain here on matter of fact. But the real reason for my earlier disclaimer is because I am morally uncertain here. Am I just trying to lessen the situation to weaken the shame I feel for my government and my country? Am I just trying to shoehorn this into my "they're wrong but not necessarily evil" vision of the Bush administration?

Or even worse, have I become an equivocator who can brush off any moral failing by saying "You're not looking at the full complexity"?

I hope and overall think that my fears are misplaced. This was indeed a great moral failing, even once complexity is given, and this is a moral failing worse than that of ordinary men and even most extra-ordinary men. The treatment of Mr. Al-Arian is a true sin, an act that moves the actor further away from God. What happened (and is happening (despite my cautions, I advise you to read the review and watch the movie (which I myself ought to do) to get a sense of things) was wrong, that is simple.

The depth of the wrongness and how it came to be, however, are matters for complexity.

Let me finally lay out the gist of what happened to Mr. Al-Arian (more of the gist is in the review and the full account of things can be found elsewhere or in the movie). He was a Palestinian rights activist, a rather famous one, in fact, and after 9/11 he was swept up in the arrest sweeps of "suspected" terrorist sympathizers on nebulous charges (if any) that plagued the country in the fall and winter of 2001 (in truth these things did not begin in 2001, or did they end after 2001, but they were not as bad before, and while still somewhat troubling now, are not that bad currently. But in 2001, these terrorist sweeps were truly tragic). Treated badly and publicly humiliated, the eventual case against him was typical of the weakest of the cases. He was charged with contributing to a terrorist organization through a charity.

The weakness of the charge is amplified by the maddening amount of wire taps that were taken against him over the last 9 years! (seeing as they never got more than this charge, how could they justify this? I am sure there may be some technical ground, but if the spirit of the law is at all adhered to?) (as I said things didn't start with 2001 or Bush even, 9 years before 2001 is well before Bush)

Here is a perhaps important, perhaps incorrect legal aside. The charges that came from contributing to charities linked to terrorist groups (linked and then banned in a vague manner, but in one that is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to overturn) veer very close to ex-post facto laws, that is laws made after the alleged crime was committed. There are ways that at any time giving money to these charities might have been regarded as criminal, since these charities often minorly or majorly support groups that are inter-linked with terrorist organizations. However, that is because some terrorist organizations, especially those claiming to be alternative governments, often do also try to support the community. This is not necessarily an Islamic thing, often anti-colonial governments or US political radical groups also had charitable sides (for example PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is linked, in an indirect way, with ELF, the Earth Liberation Front, a designated terrorist organization).

So there might have been an indirect degree of truth to the claim that Al-Arian was supporting terrorism, but if so it was in a way that had rarely before been labeled a crime, since the link is so incredibly indirect. As Ms. Wissot points out, it was admitted that the prosecution wasn't alleging a direct link to murder, but there likely was a credible case for an indirect link, but this was so indirect, and so overlooked in the past!

Yet this was 9/11, we had been attacked by terrorists who essentially declared war on us. Some might say that if we leave groups like Al-Quaeda alone, they'll leave us alone. I don't believe that. I've studied Al-Quaeda, and their ideology is so total and destructive that it is clear to me that that they want a world revolution, and they see the United States as the main stumbling block to that goal (as has been said before (hence where I got it from) by many experts in the field, Al-Quaeda doesn't resemble anti-colonial terrorist groups who their apologists cite, rather it resembles the more hard-core communist groups, who fight on until they're too tired or too drained of men to fight any more).

After 9/11, no link was too indirect, after all, all's fair in war, right?

But did we not say that "All men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights"?

Isn't that the founding principle of the United States of America, right?

But apparently, it was deemed that rights were not the question here, any link to terrorism, even if the link by the spirit of the law should have been ignored, should certainly not have been publicly broadcast, and should never have been taken to trial, any link to terrorism was enough by the standards set forth by the government at that time.

And so Mr. Al-Arian went to trial.

A note here, Ms. Wissot makes a big deal about the sight of suicide bombings being shown and not the Palestinian side. It is questionable to show the suicide bombings because of the prejudicial nature of such sights, but in a trial about whether or not someone supported the murder of a group of people, the question cannot be "Well, did they deserve it?" Evidence to that point therefore cannot be shown. That's like showing photos of a girl who was raped and asking "Doesn't she look trampy?" The only way that could factor in if the case was being made for self-defense. But suicide bombings target mostly civilian targets, the only way you could argue self-defense was alleging that the whole of the people was attacking yours and you had to respond by attacking all of them. Such group-rights defenses are morally flimsy and open to endless interpretations, I could go into that more, but I am digressing a lot.

A more telling counter-point however, would have been to show Hamas' social services and such, and say that's where I was sending money to (I've been assuming Mr. Al-Arian innocent, it is possible he was giving via means that less distinctly allocated things, but I doubt it), anything else was like the 0.00001 cents that goes toward the spread of Christianity when you give to Catholic Relief Services.

But again, I am digressing.

Overall, the jury in Mr. Al-Arian's case saw through the fear and found him not guilty.

The exactitudes of what happened afterward likely are only known to internal government records. But Mr. Al-Arian was kept in jail, charged again, and eventually fell into a deportation sentence, which was then shifted to prison time, in a maze of legal abuses.

Let me play devil's advocate for a moment. The reason why you might deport someone who was found not guilty is because "beyond a reasonable doubt" means that the person was 90+% guilty, which may be under your tolerance level for a person who might, just might be a potential terrorist.

Hey, he was giving to groups that have a tenuous tie to terrorism.

Hey, he was advocating for a case that is associated with terrorism.

Hey, now that we started this thing, we can't look weak, maybe we're just frustrated with how stupid people are being, maybe...

I'm tired of playing the devil's advocate.

There are mitigating factors here to what happened, but that doesn't mean what happened to Mr. Al-Arian isn't a massive abuse of the law.

I'm willing to admit to complexities here, but this is not a case where all sides are right. I will not equivocate a clear human rights violation, even if it does bring shame on the country I love.

And there has been so much to be shameful of in America's past, so much to be proud of too, but...

And yet we strive on, boats against the current...

The American Dream I always believed was more about fighting the current than actually getting somewhere, and so despite America's failings, I still believe in her. After all, I believe patriotism is about love, and I love the United States of America.

Anyways, take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight. And God Bless.

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