Thursday, December 18, 2008

Free Speech, Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, Campus Activists, and America's Future

Egyptian engineering student Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed pleaded guilty to making a 12-minute 'how to build a bomb' video and posting on YouTube. Technically, that's 'providing material support to terrorists.' He's been sentenced to 15 years by an American court.

His case wound up in an American court, because he was a student at the University of South Florida. Also, South Carolina authorities said they found various bomb-making materials in his possession, when they pulled him over.

Ahmed's Violent Ideology: A Blast from the Past

Court documents dated November 4, 2008, and provided by Wired magazine, show a fellow who seemed oddly familiar:
  1. Dedicated to a cause
    1. He meant the technical how-2 in his post " ' be used against those who fight for the United States' since he considered them and their allies fighting in Arab countries to be 'invaders'."
  2. Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed's opinion of
    1. Law enforcement officers
      1. "Dogs"
      2. "Christians"
      3. "Infidels"
      4. "Racists"
      5. "Enemies of G-D'"
    2. Americans
      1. A "stupid people"
      2. "One of the most stupid creations of G-D"
    3. America
      1. A "vile nation"
        (In a conversation with his parents on December 20, 2007)
(I copied more extensive excerpts from the court document at the end of this post.)

It's not a perfect match, of course, but I ran into beliefs like that fairly often, back in the day. Particularly B/1/d, B/2/a, and B/3/a. I was a college freshman in 1969, and spent quite a few years, off and on, in the seventies and eighties.

It was very 'in' to regard the police as racist oppressors and/or tools of the military-industrial complex. Americans - the ones who saw something good about the country and said so - were, of course, stupid. And, although the campus crowd wouldn't have used a word like "vile," that's what they thought of America.

A number of the more profound thinkers (by their own standards) might have used "Christian" as an epithet - although they more often simply ranted about Christianity's oppressiveness and how nasty religion was, in general. They certainly wouldn't have identified their opponents as "enemies of God."

Free Speech: It's Important

There are a couple of points here that are important.
  1. Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed's sentence isn't an attack on Islam
    • Unless Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda represent mainstream Islam: which I sincerely hope they do not
  2. He was convicted of recommending that people kill the enemies of Islam, and telling them how to do so
I find the beliefs of Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, as he describes them, very disturbing - and based on a seriously inaccurate view of reality. But I'm not at all convinced that expressing those beliefs should be illegal. Assuming, of course, that the person wasn't saying that reasonable people should go out and kill blacks, whites, infidels, Muslims, or whatever.

As I wrote earlier this year: "One of the strengths of America is that we have a great deal of freedom to say and display what we want: however outrageous, ill-advised, or daft it is. The War on Terror is giving America an opportunity to review and re-define just where freedom ends, and reasonable protections begin...."

Who Will Decide What We Discuss, and How?

Which brings me back to Ahmed and my very earnest fellow-students of days gone by.

I doubt that Ahmed would see the campus activists of thirty-odd years ago as his spiritual brothers. And the flag- and bra- burners of that era might not see themselves in him.

But both seem to believe that American society is "inherently oppressive." Even the groovier end of American academia's interest in "social justice" - which seems to involve taking money away from one set of people and giving it to another, because of what a third set of people did over a century ago - has a strong parallel in what other highly-focused groups believe. (I'd say 'extreme,' but I've run into it too often today, and don't feel like it.)

Both progressive academia's determination to impose social justice, and Islamic terrorists' desire to purify Islam and the world, seem to have this in common: They view groups as more important than individuals. The world, for them is made up of The Rich and The Poor; Blacks and Whites; Muslims and Infidels; Oppressors and Victims.

I recognize that groups exist, and that membership, or lack of membership, in a group may be important in some respects. But, I live in a world where there are individuals: and where an individual should be considered in light of who that individual is, and what that individual has done - not on the person's membership in a group.

In many cases, the campus activists of my youth are now the administrators and senior professors of the colleges and universities they attended. For whatever reason, the American education system has had some very serious problems for decades. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) has identified several, including:
  • Ideological litmus tests in faculty hiring
  • Restrictive speech and 'civility' codes
  • Phony allegations intended to silence opposition
  • Politicized science
This is a serious problem, because colleges and universities are often the places where ideas are discussed - and decisions made.

America is in a very critical period now. It's not always formal, but there's a debate going on about exactly what freedom means. If people who do not regard America as a racist oppressor are marginalized, the results could be just as bad as if people who feel that 'the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim' were able to impose their views on the rules of debate.

Related posts: In the news:

Remember: Mohamed was Convicted of Helping Terrorists

It wasn't Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed's stated beliefs that got him in legal trouble. I think those beliefs are interesting, though, from several points of view.

Court documents dated November 4, 2008, and provided by Wired magazine, show a fellow who seemed oddly familiar:
  • "He acknowledged that 'he intended the technology demonstrated in his audio/video recording to be used against those who fight for the United States' since he considered them and their allies fighting in Arab countries to be 'invaders'."
  • "After repeatedly slurring the officers as 'dogs', 'Christians', 'Infidels', 'racists', and 'enemies of G-D', Mohamed later characterized Americans in that same video as being a 'stupid people' and as 'one of the most stupid creations of G-D.' ... To his parents, in a later conversation with them on December 20, 2007, Mohamed termed the United States a 'vile nation'."
  • "included images of Ossama bin Laden and others connected with violent jihad in the Middle East, as well as caricatures of the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, all pictured inside of what appears to be a garbage can with a modified image of the seal of the United States above them on which appear the words: 'Profiteers of the United States'. ... The images on the defendant’s computer also included a photograph of a child aiming a anti-tank weapon while stepping on a military helmet which appears to be of American manufacture and also an image of a map of what appears to be Israel circled in what appears to be blood, being held in the palm of a bleeding hand."
  • "Perhaps the coldest statement of this defendant and the most telling as to his hatred and disdain for the United States came in a hand-written letter which the defendant sent to a Hillsborough County jail deputy on April 1, 2008. ... In that letter, which he signed, the defendant 'congratulated' the jail deputy upon the fact that the Pentagon had recently announced the death of more than 4,000 U.S. troops in the Middle East. Next to that line, he drew what appears to be a face with a smile on it.
    He continued on in the letter on the subject of American casualties, stating that the
    'resistance in Iraq says they are 40,000.' Again, he drew a face with what appears to
    be a smile on it next to that line. He then sarcastically stated that 70,000 'veterans from the U.S.' '[l]ost their hearing and became deaf, so unfortunately they will keep silent.'
  • "Next to that last line, he simply drew a pair of eyes and a broad smile below it. He then went on to mock the deputy in the letter by pointing out that the Hillsborough deputy would still have to bring food to the defendant while the defendant was in jail."

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.