Iqbal Goes To Jail

It seems just too too paranoid to indulge in these notions about how the “noose is already loosely installed,” and how hard would it be to just, say, close down the internet tubes because really, Americans just aren’t ready for the complexities of the 21st Century.  I mean I’ve had those exact thoughts at the dinner table—let’s not get carried away here, let’s not get paranoid.  But it’s been a while, been some time since I believed that one could actually get a realistic picture of much of anything “out there” by turning on your TV between 6 and 7 pm and just listening with one ear while you peeled the onions and stirred in the oregano and the mushrooms, and got the water to a roiling boil for the penne.  Following is essentially a simple news story, with some rational analysis about its context with regard to our fundamental American notion of freedom of speech.  I hope Digby will be ok with me putting it up here, partly as an argument to whomever drops by here that they should also go by Digby’s place and give a listen.  It’s just a little story, not a war, not a hurricane, just some guy with a funny name, not even a “u” after the “q” for Christ’s sake, running a little business in Brooklyn, a city within a city that probably speaks a thousand different languages. I hadn’t seen the story anywhere, but it was published somewhere or else Digby would have had nothing to write about. (A commentator at Digby says he heard the story on NPR—that’s good news at least.) The noose remains loose.

 It makes me very sad to read this, though maybe it’s just a sad day, closing in on September with the fall light already here, which somehow is too beautiful not to be a bit sad as well.  I might note that the reasoning that gets us, America, all the way down the trail to arresting Mr. Iqbal for terrorism, is kinda the same reasoning that gets us to thinking that our President can actually rewrite all the laws as he sees fit, because as he said the other week, these judges just don’t realize that the world has changed.  –Bill Hicks  [photo, www.mekong.net/cambodia/trip913.htm]

Wingnut Welfare Queens Take On The First Amendment
by digby   [ http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/  for 8/27/06]

For several years, Javed Iqbal has operated a small company from a Brooklyn storefront and out of the garage at his Staten Island home that provides satellite programming for households, including sermons from Christian evangelists seeking worldwide exposure.

Mr. Iqbal’s home, a modest two-story stone and brick house on Van Name Avenue in Mariners Harbor, stands out because among the children’s toys in the backyard were eight satellite dishes.

But this week, the budding entrepreneur’s house and storefront were raided by federal agents, and Mr. Iqbal was charged with providing customers services that included satellite broadcasts of a television station controlled by Hezbollah — a violation of federal law.

Yesterday, Mr. Iqbal was arraigned in Federal District Court in Manhattan and was ordered held in $250,000 bail. The Hezbollah station, Al Manar — or “the beacon” in Arabic — was designated a global terrorist entity by the United States Treasury Department in March of this year.

Hezbollah was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997.

“The charge lurking in the background is material support for terrorism,” Stephen A. Miller, an assistant United States attorney, told United States Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein. He said Mr. Iqbal, 42, was a flight risk because he has family in England and Pakistan. “We think there is a strong incentive for him to run,” Mr. Miller said.

[...]

Court papers filed by the government to obtain a warrant to search Mr. Iqbal’s business and home suggested that the authorities learned that certain high-definition global transmission systems were providing access to Al Manar broadcasts in the United States. They got their information from Mark Dubowitz, who heads a Washington-based policy group that has monitored Al Manar — through a project called the Coalition Against Terrorist Media — and campaigned for its removal from worldwide broadcasting.

[...]

According to the government documents, agents flew a helicopter over Mr. Iqbal’s home, then sent a confidential informant to the shop to buy a satellite package from Mr. Iqbal. The informant said that Mr. Iqbal had told him that the station was legal. Mr. Iqbal, according to the government, pressed the informant to buy a package with Al Manar instead of another service.

Mr. Iqbal’s family members declined comment yesterday. Neighbors said that the family had lived there for about five years. A sign attached to a chain-link fence along the driveway announces the business, “HDTV-LTD,” and advertises “TX/RX Earthstation and video, audio data, IP security.”

This is a big win for the "Coalition Against Terrorist Media" which I had never heard of until I read this story. A quick visit to Mr Google tells me that it is affiliated with The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies:
The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, founded two days after the September 11, 2001 attacks, describes itself as the “only nonpartisan policy institute dedicated exclusively to promoting pluralism, defending democratic values, and fighting the ideologies that drive terrorism.”

Who can argue with that? And it's bipartisan too! Well, sort of:

Republican Party insiders dominate FDD's board, and its president, Clifford May, is the former director of communications for the Republican National Committee (1997-2001) and was the editor of Rising Tide, the party's official magazine. FDD's three board members are Steve Forbes, Jack Kemp, and Jeane Kirkpatrick. As a way to achieve widespread acceptance of its positions on counterterrorism and on Middle East affairs, FDD has two bipartisan advisory groups.

Its four “Distinguished Advisers” are Newt Gingrich, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Louis J. Freeh (former FBI director), and James Woolsey. FDD also has a Board of Advisers, whose members are: Gary Bauer, Donna Brazile, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), Frank Gaffney, Amb. Marc Ginsberg, Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), Charles Jacobs, William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Hon. Richard D. Lamm, Richard Perle, Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA), Sen. Zell Miller (D-GA), and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

Through frequent media interviews and news analysis, Clifford May is the prominent public face of FDD in the media. In addition to his former work with the Republican National Committee, May's other institutional affiliations include being vice chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition. He is also chairman of the policy committee of the Committee on the Present Danger, which is described by FDD as a “venerable Cold War group” that was recreated by FDD in 2004.

I really have to wonder what posseses certain Democrats to join groups that consist of the most virulent wingnut freaks in the country. Well, maybe not: it is an extremely well funded "think tank" that has more money floating around than just about anyone else.

According to their web site, the Coalition Against Terrorist Media has had quite a bit of success in persuading satellite companies around the world not to carry the station, which seems legitimate to me. But once again, we find the rightwing being unable to resist using the government to criminalize things which are not normally criminal in the name of terrorism. In fact, the government made a point of even saying that selling this channel could be considered "giving material support to the terrorists," which is a very chilling concept to say the least.

In response to this arrest the ACLU wrote:

“It appears that the statute under which Mr. Iqbal is being prosecuted includes a First Amendment exemption that prevents the government from punishing people for importing news communications,” Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Such an exemption is constitutionally necessary, and the fact that the government is proceeding with the prosecution in spite of it raises serious questions about how free our marketplace of idea is.”
Very serious questions indeed.

And then we have the usual rightwing intellectual incoherence. Cliff May, the welfare queen who sits at the head of this wingnut pyramid wrote recently:
Where are all the Muslim moderates?...They are out there, I suspect; in larger numbers than we might be led to believe. But if most are silent and fearful of speaking out, can you blame them? The vast majority of Arabs and Muslims live in countries ruled by illiberal and oppressive regimes. And in the few relatively free countries – Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia – there is no protection from the long arm of Militant Islamism. Indeed, even in Europe it can be dangerous to challenge religious fascism. And last year, Shaker Elsayed, leader of Dar al-Hijrah, one of the largest mosques in the U.S., told American Muslims: "The call to reform Islam is an alien call."

Muslims who dissent from this orthodoxy have received precious little support from anyone. As far back as 1989, Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini called for the murder of British author Salman Rushdie. Such a frontal attack on freedom of speech should have prompted Western governments to send Iranian diplomats packing. Instead, Rushdie went into hiding while most Western intellectuals persuaded themselves this quarrel was none of their business.

Since that time, and perhaps partly as a consequence, Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was murdered for making a movie some Muslims found insulting. Danish journalists who dared publish cartoons satirizing the radicalization of Islam have been threatened. Such formerly-courageous publications as The New York Times declined to publish the cartoons, claiming – unconvincingly -- that they had not been intimidated; they were merely demonstrating sensitivity.

That's another stirring rightwing defense of free speech and a rousing condemnation of repressive governments for stifling dissent. What's more, the media itself is complicit for not publishing the offending material as a matter of principle regardless of its offensiveness or potential to incite terrorism.

How odd then that this same man runs a lavishly funded a program devoted to eliminating speech they consider to be offensive and which has the potential to incite terrorism. Moreover, his organization has gone even further by informing to the government and demanding that it arrest those who are accused of selling such material. And I think we can be quite sure that he would heartily condemn any news organization that insisted on broadcasting it as a matter of principle. It makes your head ache.

I have no idea how bad Al-MANAR (Hezbollah TV) really is. But I'm willing to assume that it's pretty bad and I can't see why I would want to add it to my cable package. (If I want extremist political propaganda I'll watch FOX, which is of far more immediate relevance to my life.) But I'm damned if can agree with Cliff May and Joe Lieberman that speech should ever be considered giving material support to terrorists or that selling such speech is a criminal offense. That kind of thing is Stalinist claptrap of the worst kind.

As Noam Chomsky said, "Goebbels was in favor of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're really in favor of free speech, then you're in favor of freedom of speech for precisely for views you despise. Otherwise, you're not in favor of free speech."

Ok, I know. Chomsky is a leftist terrorist lover so he's full of it. How about this guy, who used to be considered quite a hero to many on the right:

John Stuart Mill: "If any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility."
Of course, assuming their own infallibility is a feature of the rightwing, so this argument probably isn't persuasive.

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