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High officials in the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and other U.S. Government departments and agencies, love to talk about how good they are in “reaching out” to American Muslim communities.


They should be reaching out. It is just possible that folks in these communities might be valuable sources of intelligence. Or credible teachers of the customs and practices of Arabs and other Muslims.


Too bad the Bush Administration didn’t learn more about this before it decided to invade and occupy a Muslim country.


The amazing thing about American Muslims is how well they have been assimilated into US culture. This is in sharp contrast to the attitudes of European governments about their growing Muslim communities – and vice versa.


There is certainly no shortage of examples of the Americanization of the Muslims among us. Many have been here for generations. Thousands serve in the armed forces, many of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even more have applied for jobs at the FBI, the CIA, the DHS, and other agencies involved in national security. But they are often turned down because their family ties to people in dangerous parts of the world – say, the Middle East – precludes them from receiving security clearances.


But where else would their family ties be?


Being turned away by agencies that spend a small fortune in tax dollars courting this constituency is not exactly a prescription for making the applicants feel all warm and fuzzy toward our government.


And then there’s the “material support” for terrorists rap. For American Muslims, this presents a real dilemma. One of the most fundamental tenets of Islam is charitable giving.


But giving to whom?


The President and Congress have given the Treasury Department the authority to designate any charitable organization as a supporter of terrorism. With that authority, Treasury has investigated thousands of not-for-profits that support Muslim causes. And it has effectively closed down many of these by seizing its records and freezing its assets – with virtually no due process at all.


The outfits so designated have included the organization that was the largest and most prominent Muslim charity in the U.S., the Holy Land Foundation. The government seized HLF’s assets in 2001 and didn’t put them on trial until mid-2007. Meanwhile, donations from supporters languished in frozen bank accounts.  


Small wonder then that the government’s record of using Muslim charities for target practice is adding new impetus to the efforts of prominent constitutional lawyers to seek substantial changes in the “material support” law.


The latest failure in a terrorism-financing prosecution came late in 2007, when a Texas jury failed to render any guilty verdicts in the trial of HLF. Several HLF officials were charged with giving money to Hamas, the militant Palestinian organization designated a terrorist group by the U.S. in 1995. The trial ended with a mix of acquittals and deadlocks.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation started looking into HLF in 1993. In December 2001, the U.S. Treasury Department (DOT) seized and confiscated the charity’s assets and records, effectively putting the organization out of business. Given that outcome, some legal scholars have questioned why the government pursued a criminal prosecution at all. The trial did not begin until mid-2007.


William Neal, a juror in the HLF case, told the media that the government’s evidence “was pieced together over the course of a decade — a phone call this year, a message another year.”  Instead of trying to prove that the defendants knew they were supporting terrorists, Mr. Neal said, prosecutors “danced around the wire transfers by showing us videos of little kids in bomb belts and people singing about Hamas, things that didn’t directly relate to the case.”


Civil liberties groups say the HLF case was just the latest in a line of misguided

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WILLIAM FISHER Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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