Foreign students hailing from a number of Muslim countries designated as sponsors of “terrorism,” namely, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Syria, may soon be subject to restrictions barring them from seeking a higher education in certain scientific fields in the United States. In a hearing held last February on “Foreign Terrorists in America: Five Years after the World Trade Center Bombing,” the US Senate Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information deliberated and listened to testimonies on preventing students from countries labeled as “terrorism” sponsors by the US State Department from pursuing science majors at American institutes of higher education and on expanding the role of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in monitoring their activities in the United States.
An indication of the brazen anti-Muslim bias of the hearings was provided by the fact that Steven Emerson, an ill-famed Muslim-basher and self-anointed “terrorism expert” with close links to Israeli intelligence, was invited to testify before the Senate Subcommittee over the repeated complaints of many American Muslim organizations and individuals.
In the course of his testimony, Emerson, who gained notoriety for his anti-Muslim “Jihad in America” documentary, made serious misstatements calculated to inflame emotions against Muslims living in the United States. For instance, he claimed that in 1995 law enforcement authorities informed him that “radical Islamic fundamentalists had been assigned to carry out an assassination attempt of me.” When journalist John Sugg checked the accuracy of this claim with the Justice Department’s Terrorism and Violent Crimes Section, he was assured by the Section’s spokesman John Russell that there is no truth at all to Emerson’s allegation of an assassination team.
The driving force behind the hearings came from a report issued last September by the conservative think-tank Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The report, entitled “Open Admissions: US Policy Toward Students from Terrorism-Supporting Countries in the Middle East,” called upon the US government to conduct in-depth background checks on students coming from states accused by Washington of sponsoring “terrorism” and to deny entry to those students wishing to study subjects that could contribute to their countries’ non-conventional weapons programs. It also urged blocking these governments from paying for their students’ higher education in the United States and expanding an INS pilot program designed to monitor foreign students attending American universities and colleges.
By envisioning the treatment of some Muslim students as potential terrorists, the measures advocated in both the Senate hearing and the report smack of the infamous and discredited “guilty-by-association” notion. As such, they are evidence of a further erosion of civil liberties in a country which boasts of human rights protections, procedural fairness and judicial evenhandedness. If adopted they will constitute the latest chapter in a larger campaign of anti-Muslim government-sanctioned repression carried out in the name of fighting “terrorism.”
This campaign took shape in the wake of the anti-Muslim hysteria that swept the United States in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombing. For instance, shortly after the bombing, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Louis Freeh issued a memorandum in which he outlined loopholes in the US visa system. In June 1997, and in response to the Freeh memorandum, the INS launched a pilot program which requires colleges and universities to provide the government with information on foreign students, including their address, academic performance and any disciplinary action taken against them by the institution.
By the same token, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 gave the US attorney general the authority to deport aliens suspected of terrorism based on secret evidence disclosed only to the deportation judge. The law also authorizes the government to impose criminal and immigration sanctions against anyone who provides any form of support--humanitarian or otherwise--to a foreign group designated as “terrorist” by the US State Department. The alien “suspect”, therefore, confronts classified accusations and evidence that are impossible to discredit because of their secrecy.
Since the passage of this act, an increasing number of cases involving the use of secret evidence by the US government has been reported. According to the Los Angeles Times (March 19, 1998): “All of the current cases in which the INS is using secret evidence against noncitizens involve Arab Muslims.”
A high-profile case involving the use of secret evidence is that of Anwar Haddam, an Algerian physics professor elected to Parliament in Algeria in 1991. In 1992, he moved with his wife and four children to the United States following the military coup staged by his country’s military that aimed to nullify the results of the parliamentary elections in which the Islamic movement emerged victorious. He was arrested in December 1996 after his special immigration status had expired.
In addition, numerous other low-profile cases have also been reported. One example, is that of Dr. Mazen al-Najjar, a 40-year-old Palestinian professor at the University of Southern Florida who moved to the United States from Yemen in 1981. He has been detained without bond in a Florida jail since May 19, 1997. All the INS had told him is that he was detained on secret evidence pointing to an association with a “terrorist organization.”
Another case involves Nasser Ahmad, a 37-year-old Egyptian electrical engineer who had lived in America for ten years as a law-abiding husband and father. For the past two years, however, he has been languishing in a New York jail on secret evidence that he was “associated with a known terrorist organization.”
Muslims detained under secret evidence do not enjoy even the rights usually enjoyed by common criminals. While criminals serving prison terms for crimes ranging from drug dealing and bank robbery to murder spend their days together in common areas, Muslim victims of secret evidence cases are kept under continuous strict supervision.
Clearly, the use of secret evidence by the American government is an affront to the Muslims’ constitutional right to due process and amounts to a latter-day version of McCarthyism. It is nothing short of a convenient legal device to repress and suffocate all Muslim presence and activism in the United States.
Muslimedia: June 16-30, 1998