Mumallah and Outka: A perversion of justice

For two and a half years, Karen Sullivan played an integral role in the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee (AWC). She chaired meetings, made friends, and put in long hours into getting the work of the organization done. Her colleagues were sensitive to her privacy, refraining from further inquiry once they learned that she had a poor relationship with the father of her teenage daughter and was estranged from her parents.

But it was all a sham. This mother and friend was, first and foremost, an FBI agent, tasked with infiltrating the AWC and investigating its purportedly pernicious activities.

Now, dozens of American activists in Chicago and Minneapolis — including students, journalists and anti-war activists — who have worked in solidarity with Palestinians and Colombians, and have spoken out against the darker aspects of our foreign policy, have been subpoenaed before a grand jury. In the wake of these subpoenas, Sullivan disappeared. It was only this federal investigation that brought her secret to light. But questions remain about what the potential impact may be for our First Amendment rights.

Sullivan’s story is humorous, bizarre, and seemingly trivial in implication, but this undercover agent spent two years of her life and countless public resources infiltrating the anti-war group. Now, news from the proceedings indicates that prosecutors may be after activists who donated small sums of money to a daycare and women’s center in the course of a solidarity delegation to the West Bank.

Civil rights advocates have long been concerned about precisely this kind of misapplication of the “material support” statutes, which criminalize support for designated foreign terrorist organizations. A Supreme Court decision this summer greatly expanded and invested the term “material support” of terrorist organizations to include things like helping with humanitarian aid efforts and advocating for non-violent conflict resolution — a definition that encompasses, among other organizations, USAID and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. As dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer read from the bench, “The government has not made the strong showing necessary to justify under the First Amendment the criminal prosecution of those who engage in these activities. All the activities involve the communication and advocacy of political ideas and lawful means of achieving political ends.”

How, in any case, are Palestinian daycare centers a threat to American national security? This pettiness on the part of the state, regrettably, has serious implications for our right to free speech, our ability to have a rigorous national dialogue about these issues and, most importantly, on the welfare of the peoples subject to these disastrous policies, like the Palestinians.

Such prosecution constitutes nothing less than a political witch-hunt targeting not just Palestinian solidarity activists, but also Colombian solidarity, Kurdish solidarity and anti-war activists. It bears little mentioning that each of these groups engages in staunch criticism of American foreign policy, especially regarding its unbridled support of the deleterious policies of Israel, Turkey and Colombia.

The message is clear: if you have qualms with American foreign policy and the suffering it inflicts upon innocent people, you would do well to sit down and shut up, else you be accused of providing “material support” to our enemies. Such a witch-hunt raises the worst specters of McCarthy-era government encroachment on free society.

Moreover, this attack on free speech is as self-defeating as it is daft. Consider the ramifications for the Palestinians. If Palestinians are isolated from advice, solidarity and support for the undertaking of nonviolent action, what options remain left to them in the face of the persistently brutal conditions of a six-decade-long occupation?

In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, it is perhaps worth noting the resemblance that these activities bear to the COINTELPRO repression that portrayed Dr. King as a similarly dangerous activist leader. He, too, engaged in numerous actions of international solidarity and anti-war agitation, in addition to his heroic opposition to segregation. Today, those who continue to agitate for a better society face similar kinds of intimidation from the government. The aim of intimidating international solidarity and anti-war activists then, as now, was to silence dissent under the veneer of security concerns. By letting such encroachments on our liberties continue unabated, we surrender a more just and peaceful world to one dominated by fear and the status quo. It has already begun. Whether or not we let it take its course is up to us.

Omar Mumallah is a junior in Pierson College and Jacqueline Outka is a junior in Ezra Stiles College.

Comments

  • Labanite

    Well written. It’s nice to see some independent thinking.

  • Arafat

    Omar writes, “How, in any case, are Palestinian daycare centers a threat to American national security?”

    Omar, you might check out this short video. It will help you answer your own question.

    http://www.jihadwatch.org/2009/07/hey-kids-come-watch-a-dramatization-of-your-moms-death-by-suicide-bombing.html

  • 2006alum

    Thanks for drawing our attention to a serious/ important phenomenon. Scary stuff! I wonder whether the university would take a position if its own students were compromised through study abroad programs?

  • menamee

    Wait, “six-decade long occupation”?
    No wonder peace is so elusive. For some, all of Israel is an unjust occupation.

  • Arafat

    “For some, all of Israel is an unjust occupation.”

    And for some it is a dream realized after millennia of being forced to wait.

    But you’re, no doubt, right. Israel should be another Islamic state just as Lebanon is fast becoming another Islamic state. Of course, if we fast-forward, a few decades maybe Russia will be another Islamic state as will be England and Norway too.

    Maybe you could riddle me this: Why is it all lands apparently belong to Islam (Sudan being just one more) when originally no lands (that Muslims currently “occupy) were “occupied” by Muslims?

    Take Saudi Arabia as an example. Before the aggressive supremacist Mohammed was born, Saudi Arabia (then part of the Arabian peninsula) was “occupied by Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, etc…Whereas today there are only Muslim citizens of Saudi Arabia.

    Where do YOU draw the line? What is an Islamic land and what is an Islamic “occupied” land? TIA.

  • waldo

    From the groups website: “We stand in internationalist solidarity with all those women and men the world around who are waging this battle under their own conditions, and often waging it against the same ruling class we are fighting, for the rulers of the US are the dominant power in the world today.”

    They call themselves revolutionary socialists and evoke a lot of anti-capitalist and militaristic rhetoric. All publicly on the web. No offense to the authors, but I would imagine there is much more to this story than what is written in the blogs and in this article. The search warrants have been executed and there will surely be more unveiled…

  • menamee

    I was unclear.

    I was marveling at how easily and perhaps unnoticed the author slipped that one in. That is indeed why peace is elusive. There is enough wrong to go around but by and large the left sho support Israel support Palestine. The hard left that supports Palestine generally wants Pieces more then Peace. In fact Israel is as legitimate as any country, certainly as legitimate as the other partition from the time Pakistan, and more so frankly than the US, Canada, Australia in terms of indigenous people.

  • River Tam

    Hahaha this is hilarious.

    +1 for the FBI, -1 for the terrorists.

  • River Tam

    > We stand in internationalist solidarity with all those women and men the world around who are **waging this battle** under their own conditions, and often waging it **against the same ruling class we are fighting**, for **the rulers of the US** are the dominant power in the world today.

    Yeah, no reason to investigate *them*.

  • waldo

    Just want to be clear. My previous post came from the website of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, an organization with members also associated with the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee who are connected to this investigation, as reported here: http://blogs.citypages.com/blotter/2010/09/fbi_searches_si.php

    This case is much bigger than “FBI investigates peaceful anti-war group” and stretches to many organizations.

  • Omar_Mumallah

    So many comments, so little time! I’ll try to get to everyone that said something intelligible.

    @ menamee. You are presumptuous to say the least. You forget (if you even knew) that Palestinians were also subject to occupation by Jordan and Egypt! It wasn’t an attemept to speak on Israel’s legitimacy or whatnot. I am primarily concerned with the welfare of the peoples of the region and care not about the name of the oppressors at any given moment as much as I do about ending oppression. I have problems with a great many of the policies of the Israeli state (and that of its unconditional backer, the U.S) and find them abhorrent, as well as fundamentally destructive to the lives of Palestinian and Israeli alike, which is why I am agitating for change in that regard. You may disagree with me, but please do not put your unlettered words in my mouth.

    @ waldo. Well hopefully the proceedings prove otherwise. From the quote you give, I see no encouragement to violent action — your standard Western Marxist rhetoric that could refer to all sorts of things. To “fight for freedom”, in common parlance, can mean to advocate, agitate, and conduct nonviolent as well as violent action — so your quote isn’t too incriminating in my eyes. Nevertheless, due to the darkness in which the proceedings are taking place, we know little about the charges put forward, though the evidence presented as of yesterday was pretty flimsy, as I pointed out. In any case, I posit that the real threat is the untransparent way in which these proceedings are taking place and the legal statutes upon which they are based which endanger our First Ammendment rights. I will also be frank and state that the FBI has pulled this sort of thing before on activist organizations, and many times its case is in the end found wanting (COINTELPRO). Time will tell if this will be a repeat.

    @ RiverTam. What is hilarious about the erosion of our liberties? Somewhere I missed the humor. Needless to say, I feel that those who seek to further their careers by misapplying key statutes in order to targeting those that seek to help the Palestinians improve their lot and pursue nonviolent means are no friend to either the Israeli or Palestinian people.

    Thanks @ Labenite.

    @ 2006alum — Thanks for that. Our organization here at Yale has already come to question some of our projects in fear of just this sort of government repression (ex. a potential book drive for Palestinian schools).

  • menamee

    Omar, if so, great! We are siblings in humanity, in that case and share hatred of oppression whatever its source.

  • Arafat

    So little time, yet so many crocodile tears.

    Omar writes, “It wasn’t an attempt to speak on Israel’s legitimacy or whatnot. I am primarily concerned with the welfare of the peoples of the region and care not about the name of the oppressors at any given moment as much as I do about ending oppression.”

    Omar, if you are so darn “concerned “about ending oppression” then you might start with all the Islamic countries in that region before wasting your tears on little ol’ Israel. For it is in the Islamic countries where oppression reigns supreme.

    Take Saudi Arabia as an example. Women can’t vote, nay, they can’t even drive. Come to think of it, they can’t even leave their house unless enshrouded in a black sack of cloth. Jews can’t step a foot there. Christians can’t wear a cross there, and the lowly Shi’ites, well, they can’t do much of anything for fear of angering the Royal House of Saud.

    Or, if Saudi Arabia is not your cup of tea, let’s try Lebanon instead where the enlightened Hezbollah just sent one of their forward-looking stooges to the prime minister’s office. Yes, non-oppressive Lebanon where the Christian population has shrunk from 60% of the country down to 30% (and plummeting) thanks to Islam’s open and free embrace of Christians. Where Christian leaders are assassinated with such frequency that there are no longer any Christians with the gravitas (much less stupidity) to throw their hat in the ring. Where the worst Palestinian refugee camp of all exists. This same camp was created after Kuwait forcibly removed 400,000 Palestinians living and working there because Yasser Arafat threw his weight behind Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War. Maybe Lebanon is more worthy of your crying tears? If not, we can always look into Yemen, Syria, Egypt, you name it to see if they better fit your compassion profile.

    So, Omar, spare us your crocodile tears about “oppression” and “whatnot”. We don’t buy it, believe they’re genuine, nor take them as anything more than anti-Semitism thinly veiled as compassion, or whatnot.

  • yalebird

    @Arafat

    This is a minor point, but how do the items listed make Omar’s concern for the Palestinians any less valid? Do you write comments on Alzheimer’s support forums belittling their lack of concern for cancer sufferers? So if pro-Palestinian activists are poorly-disguised anti-Semites, are you accusing Omar and Jackie of taking anti-Semitic positions? And if not, exactly how many of these groups are you accusing of disingenuity? Most of them? Do you have figures to back this up?

    The article merely calls attention to instances in which the U.S. government approaches, if not necessarily crosses (wouldn’t consider myself qualified to make that evaluation) the boundary between “clear and present danger” and “anyone who sees and paints a sky green and fields blue ought to be sterilized”. It isn’t making any generalizations. The closest it gets is in assuming that if the government in some form is willing to carry out acts like this in such secrecy, then much of the government is really a lot less accountable than we thought it was. A valid concern, in my opinion.

    I’m sorry, but if we’re going to address injustice in the world, mightn’t we start by at least not endorsing it ourselves?

    Finally, I don’t mean this as an attack or anything; I’m just quite thoroughly confused about why you’re even complaining about this article if you think greater respect for human rights is a GOOD thing.

    Also,

    @Omar and Jackie: Well written! Have you guys heard about Mark Kennedy infiltrating environmentalist groups in the UK? A number of parallels, I would imagine.

  • Arafat

    yalebird,

    Let’s not beat around the bush.

    Simply put, Palestinians have more rights, greater self-determination, more freedoms, greater ability to advance their livelihood, more independence, greater chance of serving on courts and as politicians in Israel than they do in ANY of the Islamic countries surrounding Israel.

    Simply put, Omar’s “opinion” that Israel belongs to the Palestinians is worth little more than the breath I just exhaled, if at the same time he refuses to explain why his rational is not consistently applied all the Muslim nations that were inhabited entirely by non-Muslims before the Islamic hordes changed all that.

    In short, he cannot expect to be taken seriously if he holds Israel to one standard, while excusing the 56 Islamic members of the OIC from the same standards. When he does this all he is really telling us is that he is a bigot, an anti-Semite, and that his other “compassionate” claims are worth no more than the breath I just inhaled.

    Focus on your breathing, yalebird. It may lead you to true compassion/ It may lead you to finally see the truth.

  • River Tam

    > What is hilarious about the erosion of our liberties?

    What’s hilarious is that this pseudoleftist pile of idiots who stand in “internationalist solidarity with all those who are waging this battle against the rulers of the US” just got punked. Hard.

  • yalebird

    @Arafat

    From where in the article are you getting the idea that Omar believes “Israel belongs to the Palestinians”? Moreover, the article isn’t talking about Palestinians who live in Israel. I presume Omar’s concern lies with the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. I’ve spent a lot of time with Omar, and he is no anti-Semite. (I would also point out that he is not the sole author of this article, but no one seems to have noticed.) But you, with your references to “Islamic hordes” and your intimations about an Islamic Russia, England, and Norway in a few decades, aren’t doing a great job to convince me that you aren’t an Islamophobe.

    Moreover, as far as I can tell you haven’t addressed my point that this article concerns the degree to which the U.S. allows anti-democratic measures within its own borders and within those of its ALLIES. The United States has a much closer diplomatic relationship with Israel than with any of the nations to which you’ve alluded. I’ve said it already and I’ll say it again: how can we presume to even have standards if we do not hold our allies to them? (And if you re-examine that comment you quoted earlier, you’ll notice Omar himself mentioned Jordan’s and Egypt’s Palestinian occupations.)

    As to your point about “all the Muslim nations that were inhabited entirely by non-Muslims before the Islamic hordes changed all that”. If you’re referring to the medieval conquests, isn’t the answer obvious? The democratic ideal as we know it today did not exist then. It does now.

    Finally: thank you for implying I don’t experience true compassion. How polite of you not to dehumanize me. And I must commend you on maintaining an air of reasoned and cordial debate by employing the time-tested rhetorical tactic of claiming you are in possession of a truth I do not possess.

    Hey, wait, why don’t I do that too? If you say I’m wrong, you must be a mere tool of the military-industrial complex with no actual concern for, shucks, anyone. How I pity you, heartless fool! Listen to my words well and you will experience a revelation!!!!

    See, I can be patronizing too. Feels nice, don’t it?

  • Labanite

    Why has Arafat only focused on the Author named Omar? Is it because this commenter knows Omar? Is it simply because his name is first? If not, I’m a little disturbed.

  • Omar_Mumallah

    Don’t mind Arafat all — check out all the other Ivy League campus newspapers, he posts there as well quite often, with the same sensationalist rhetoric and absurd accusations. Just see for yourselves. http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2010/12/07/actions-speak-louder-words
    (S)he’s little more than a professional troll, and should be dismissed as such.
    In any case, he doesn’t know me — for if he did (and everyone that knows me personally can vouch for me on this), he’d know that I reserve my most vicious criticisms are for those Arab regimes that brutalize their people, those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt [I should perhaps take this opportunity to urge all of those reading to stand in solidarity with those heroic protesters in Egypt, Muslim and Christian alike, and write to your Congressperson asking for an end to U.S. backing of the Mubarak security apparatus] being at the top of the list, and nearly all of which (with the notable exceptions of Syria, Libya, and Iran) receive colossal American financial and Israeli strategic backing.
    @ Arafat — If you would like to exert the colossal amount of energy necessary to start up a student organization at Yale’s campus opposed to our government’s shameful support of these disgusting regimes, I would join in a heartbeat (of course you are surely not a Yale student or alum, nor do I think you care all that much about the lives of Egyptians, but let us assume for the sake of argument). Unfortunately people like yourself only bring up these issues in the Arab world in order to deflect criticism from Israel. A pity, we could use a broad-based activist movement pushing for an end to such destructive and stupid policies, though I’d daresay that the Antiwar and Palestine solidarity activists have been on the forefront of that endeavor in this country.
    But perhaps most shameful is your blatantly cynical accusation of Antisemitism. You spit on the deaths of those who perished in the Holocaust and other cataclysms throughout the world as a result of antisemitism. Not only that, people you obfuscate and demean real antisemitic episodes with your cynical usage of the term. You do the Jewish people no favors in your disgraceful attempt to appropriate their suffering to defend the suffering of others. Makes me want to throw up things I long forgot ever eating.

  • YaleMom

    I don’t know anything about Israel or Palestine, but some of those FBI guys are real cuties!

    Maybe I can get one of them to infiltrate my book group!!