On April 12, 2010 Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to over 17 years in prison. It was a sad moment for his supporters, who packed the Boston courthouse, but they were rewarded with an historical, moving speech, as Mehanna described how he came to view it as his duty to defend the oppressed.
â€œI couldnâ€™t see these things beings done to my brothers & sisters â€“ including by America â€“ and remain neutral… [T]his trial was not about my position on Muslims killing American civilians. It was about my position on Americans killing Muslim civilians, which is that Muslims should defend their lands from foreign invaders â€“ Soviets, Americans, or Martians,â€ stated Mehanna, who compared Muslim fighters overseas to American Revolutionary Minutemen fighting invading British occupation soldiers.
Mehannaâ€™s speech was on point and delivered very well. He gave a detailed analysis of his youthful intellectual processes, as he learned about American history and painful current events. One news report was particularly shocking to the young teenager:
â€œI learned about Abeer al-Janabi, a fourteen-year old Iraqi girl gang-raped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family in the head, then set fire to their corpses.â€ Iâ€™m sure most of us have gone through a similar educational process when we were young, realizing at some point that the world can be a violent and unfair place. Last night, my five-year-old daughter saw a nature show on TV where whales were eating fish swimming under the sea. She was so horrified that she cried, â€œIâ€™ll never eat fish again!â€ Imagine how she will feel when she learns about Abeer al-Janabi.
True leadership inspires people to transcend fear and to make sacrifices for the sake of others. This author recalls that when I was in fifth grade, a documentary about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired me to pray to God right then and there at my school desk to make me among the martyrs. I asked Him to purify me, to fortify me, and to make me worthy.
Mehanna spoke of the examples of true leadership that inspired him to commit the â€œcrimeâ€ of translating online Arabic documents related to jihad:
â€œWhen I was six, I began putting together a massive collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept in my mind, introduced me to a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, and there are those who step up to defend the oppressed. This resonated with me so much that throughout the rest of my childhood, I gravitated towards any book that reflected that paradigm – Uncle Tomâ€™s Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I even saw an ethical dimension to The Catcher in the Rye.â€
Mehanna listed among his heroes Paul Revere, Tom Paine, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Anne Frank, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Ho Chi Minh, and Nelson Mandela. He said he still has all his notes from history class! Malcolm X in particular made him dig deeper into his Islamic roots, to read the Quran and to learn about the Prophet Mohammed (s).
Mehanna testified, â€œthe more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a piece of gold. This was when I was a teen, but even today, despite the pressures of the last few years, I stand here before you, and everyone else in this courtroom, as a very proud Muslim…â€
He continued: â€œI wasnâ€™t tried before a jury of my peers because with the mentality gripping America today, I have no peers. Counting on this fact, the government prosecuted me – not because they needed to, but simply because they could…
â€œIn your eyes, Iâ€™m a terrorist, and itâ€™s perfectly reasonable that I be standing here in an orange jumpsuit. But one day, America will change and people will recognize this day for what it is. They will look at how hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed and maimed by the US military in foreign countries, yet somehow Iâ€™m the one going to prison for â€˜conspiring to kill and maimâ€™ in those countries – because I support the Mujahidin defending those people. They will look back on how the government spent millions of dollars to imprison me as a â€˜terrorist,â€™ yet if we were to somehow bring Abeer al-Janabi back to life in the moment she was being gang-raped by your soldiers, to put her on that witness stand and ask her who the â€˜terroristsâ€™ are, she sure wouldnâ€™t be pointing at me,â€ Mehanna declared.
â€œIt was made crystal clear at trial that I never, ever plotted to â€œkill Americansâ€ at shopping malls or whatever the story was…
â€œThe government says that I was obsessed with violence, obsessed with â€˜killing Americans.â€™ But, as a Muslim living in these times, I can think of a lie no more ironic.â€
Mehannaâ€™s appeal process has already been set in motion. His defense will take this to appellate and Supreme Court if necessary.
You can read Mehannaâ€™s entire sentencing statement at freetarek.wordpress.com