Jeff Siddiqui of American Muslims of Puget Sound has written in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (thanks to Peter Rockas) comparing the celebrated Dreyfus Affair in France 100 years ago to the recent imbroglio surrounding Captain James Yee.
The comparison is inexact for many reasons, some of which I have noted below.
In 1893 Alfred Dreyfus, a French Army captain, was accused of treason. Despite evidence to the contrary, he was convicted and sent to prison at Devil’s Island for the rest of his life.
The case unleashed a storm of anti-Semitism all over France (he was a Jew) and it was only through mighty efforts of people of good will all over France that he was finally exonerated of all charges in 1906.
Although American Muslim advocacy groups have done their best, they have not been able to document a “storm” of anti-Islamic sentiment across the U.S. Quite the contrary: American officials still seem reluctant in the extreme to link terrorist and terrorist-related activity to Islam, despite evidence to the contrary.
Dreyfus was reinstated in the army with the rank of major and fought gallantly in World War I as a lieutenant colonel.
In 2003, Capt. James Yee, a Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, was placed in solitary confinement; he was held in shackles for most of 76 days in a military brig where he was not even told what time of day or night it was so he could pray. No one was told where he was or what the charges were against him and the word “espionage” was widely used by various spokespeople; his military lawyers were told to prepare for a death-penalty defense.
Even the school for Muslim clerics where Yee got his credentials, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences, was vilified at all levels from the U.S. Senate on down as a hotbed of potential terrorists.
It hasn’t just been vilified. According to this Knight-Ridder report, its “finances have come under investigation for possible links to terrorist groups.”
The charges, by the time they came, were reduced to “mishandling classified documents.” It later turned out that the documents were not even classified; they were lists of who was in which cell, which is perfectly reasonable for a chaplain serving more than 600 prisoners. Toward the end of this nightmare, the Army had added “pornography on a government computer” and “adultery” to the charges.
Months later, the Army mumbled something about dropping charges “but only because of the sensitivity of the information” and still held on to pornography and adultery as potential charges. At least the French went through a trial process with Dreyfus, even though it was a sham; the U.S. Army did not even show that much courage. It seems that the brave in the Army were sent to the battle zones while the moral cowards remained behind to polish the military’s tarnishing image.
Siddiqui is right that the handling of Yee’s case raises all sorts of questions. But when he was released, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, didn’t exactly say he wasn’t guilty of anything. He cited “national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence” if the case proceeded. Whatever that means has never been publicly explained.
It appears that the military, along with the rest of the government agencies (down to the Department of Agriculture), are in high gear to persecute people because they are Muslims.
When a reservist signed up for the military in 2002, her husband (of Palestinian descent) was “detained” indefinitely as she reported for training. She was followed everywhere at her training center and harassed with questions like, “Are you a spy?” When she complained, the officers recommended she seek a discharge. She was finally forced to quit, but her husband remained in jail — still without charges.
Why not name this man? I’d like to know more about this case.
Airman Ahmed Halabi served at Guantanamo Bay as a translator. He was arrested at about the same time as Yee. The charges against him were also espionage but, strangely, included “giving Baklava to the prisoners” and, like Yee, “mishandling classified documents.”
Wait a minute. I thought Yee wasn’t charged with espionage. But anyway, I believe the last two are not equivalent. The baklava sounds great, but the classified documents are another matter.
Halabi, we are told, had subversive things the prosecution intends to use — items like a tract on the virtues of fasting, a drawing of a Mosque, the Arabic word for God (“Allah”) and a book on Jihad, which in Islam does not mean “Holy War.” By a bizarre twist of fate, members of the investigative staff against both men had one member each who was found to have also “mishandled classified documents.” They were merely re-assigned; they were neither Arab nor Muslim.
That is bizarre. But the case against Halabi is still proceeding, and so cannot be assumed a priori to be a case of anti-Muslim bias. And the part about jihad not meaning holy war casts all of Siddiqui’s analysis in doubt, because once again we have a Muslim being disingenuous about this “” and why? As I have said many times and explained in depth in Onward Muslim Soldiers, jihad indeed doesn’t mean holy war, but that doesn’t mean that it is essentially innocuous. In the section on jihad in an Islamic legal manual approved by the prestigious Al-Azhar Univerisity in Cairo, it says that the Muslim community must make “war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians . . . until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax” (‘Umdat al-Salik, o9.8). An acknowledgement that this is one of the primary ways that jihad has been understood by Muslims throughout history would be more accurate and less misleading than Siddiqui’s waving holy war away on the basis of a strict rendering of the meaning of the word.
In France, there was an almighty uproar against the racist charges and cover-ups by the French government, its judicial system and its army, but it took 13 years for justice to prevail. It is baffling that in this country of ours, we do not seem to have a similar tide from people of good will. It must not take 13 years for us to stand up to our own flaws in the pursuit of a better tomorrow for our children.
Indeed. Although Siddiqui and I no doubt have different ways to do that.