Prior to Congress’s vote last week, I had worried that I might be considered guilty of political violence by association, even though guilt by association is regarded as invalid by any competent scholar of our Constitution. That the ANC was ever on that list to begin with should give us pause as we reflect on the way our country has chosen to oppose terrorism. The “peaceable assembly” clause of our First Amendment is under dire threat from an Administration which will investigate you solely for being acquainted with persons in whom it has the sort of illegitimate interest it had in South Africans who fought apartheid.
The Patriot Act’s criminalization of humanitarian aid to so-called F.T.O.’s (foreign terrorist organizations) is being applied retroactively, even though our Constitution is quite explicit that there are to be no ex post facto laws in the United States, and given the ANC’s nature as a group more akin to the French underground resistance to fascism during the 1940’s than it is to Hamas or Hezbollah, we really should reflect on ways in which people moved by a compassionate concern for the poor may find themselves caught up in a very wide net even though their only “crime” was the provision of food or blankets or medicine to people in need.
That it is the Secretary of State rather than the U.S. Attorney General who normally makes the decision about which groups qualify as FTO’s gives a clear indication of just how political this designation can be.
The Bush Administration’s insistence that terrorism be opposed by war rather than by law enforcement, together with its designation of the ANC as a terrorist organization, had given me a well-founded concern about extra-judicial violence, a concern which our legislature has largely ameliorated by voting as it did a week ago.
On the occasion of Mandela's 90th Birthday, anti-racists worldwide might reflect on the fact that U.S. citizens can buy themselves long prison terms for the “offense” of mailing a bottle of aspirin to someone in Havana, Cuba, just to take one example. When governments act in such a way as to outlaw people-to-people charitable action, they diminish their legitimacy and reinforce the belief that they just don’t care.