By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
The U.S. House of Representatives has quietly passed the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism (read Thought Crime) Prevention Act of 2007. The bill, passed on October 23 by a landslide vote of 404 to 6, has been referred to the Senate where it awaits scrutiny from the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Interestingly, of the fifteen sponsors for this bill, eleven of them are Democrats.
The bill's language hides its true intent
The bill's vague and open-ended language hides its true intent as to what "violent radicalization" and "homegrown terrorism" are? It will be whatever the administration says they are. Violent radicalization is defined as "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system (to facilitate) ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change."
Homegrown terrorism is used to mean "the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily with the United States or any (US) possession to intimidate or coerce the (US) government, the civilian population....or any segment thereof (to further) political or social objectives."
Along with other repressive laws enacted after 9/11, the new law may be used against any individual or group with unpopular views - those that differ from established state policies. Prosecutors henceforth will be able to target believers in Islam, anti-war protesters, web editors, internet bloggers and radio and TV show hosts and commentators with views the bill calls "terrorist-related propaganda."
Unfortunately this bill is likely to pass and be signed into law as it purports to be part of the response to 9/11 and the global war on terror. If this legislation becomes law, which is virtually certain, any dissenting anti-government action or opinion may henceforth be called "violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism" with stiff penalties for anyone convicted.
This bill now joins the ranks of other repressive post-9/11 laws like Patriot I and II, Military Commissions, Protect America Acts and Presidential Executive Orders pursuant to which the government has engaged in massive surveillance of its own citizens, as well as detentions, extraordinary renditions and torture.
Surprisingly, there is a criminal silence in the mainstream media about the bill.
Muslims likely to be its first target
It is apprehended that just like the Patriot Act, that abridged the civil rights of all Americans but Muslims became its immediately target, the new bill’s immediate focus may also be the Muslims. In a speech on the House floor advocating passage of the bill, Representative Jane Harman (D-Calif.) -- the coauthor and initial sponsor of the measure- insisted: “A chief problem is radical forms of Islam, but we’re not only studying radical Islam…We’re studying the phenomenon of people with radical beliefs who turn into people who would use violence.”
Despite what Harman says it seems likely that most of the focus will be Muslims and Islam. Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican cosponsor of the bill, was quoted by the Congress Quarterly as saying: “We know that all these intelligence elements are looking at [American homegrown Islamic terrorism].”
Jeff Stein, National Security Editor of the Congress Quarterly says that the bill doesn’t actually single out Islamic radicalism as a target, although a reasonable interpretation of the bill leads to that conclusion. The CQ also quoted a Senate staffer, who has examined the legislation, as saying that if a new commission is really necessary to look at the extremist groups it should at least be specific about its target: radical Islamic extremists.
Harman also said that it is important to learn from experiences in other countries like Britain and Canada, where citizens have been inspired to commit terrorism at home by Islamic propagandists reaching out over the Internet.
However, contrary to what has been found in Europe, the scattered cases exposed in the United States have involved individuals with no clear ties to international extremist groups. In this respect the PEW survey of last May is illuminating. The survey found that Muslim Americans reject extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in western European countries. The Muslims are overwhelmingly satisfied with their lives in the United States, and most say their communities are excellent or good places to live.