Thursday, October 19, 2006

Care International and misinformation

One must read Susan Estrich and Harvey Silverglate’s letter in response to our Monday Op-Ed as being a product of their duty as attorneys to zealously advocate for their client, Emadeddin Z. Muntasser (“Financing jihad: did he or didn’t he?” Wednesday). They incorrectly accuse us of having “uncritically lifted” our arguments “out of the Department of Justice playbook” and accepting the U.S. government’s “deeply flawed misunderstanding of…fundamental Islamic principles,” but the narrow advocate’s view they themselves take ignores important aspects of those fundamental principles and betrays their own limited understanding.

Ms. Estrich and Mr. Silverglate contradict themselves. Their letter argues that jihad means ” ‘utmost effort’ or ‘struggle’?to promote and defend Islam.” Yet, in their motion to dismiss the federal indictment against Emadeddin Z. Muntasser and Muhamed Mubayyid, former directors of Boston’s Care International, they specifically reference certain warlike aspects of jihad. They (and their legal team) write, “the giving of zakat (alms) is required of all Muslims as one of the five pilars of Islam, and the Koran is commonly (but not universally) interpreted to include the mujahideen as one of the eight recipients of zakat.”

The Islamic religious obligation to conduct jihad is universally recognized. The authoritative 19th-century Dictionary of Islam, defines jihad, as “The duty of religious war (…a duty extending to all time) [which] is laid down in the Qur’an.”

The Dictionary then quotes extensively from several Suras of the Koran. Sura 9, Verses 5 and 6, command Muslims to “kill those who join other gods with God wherever ye shall find them; and seize them, besiege them, and lay wait for them with every kind of ambush” unless they convert. Verse 29 orders them to “Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in God” and who reject Allah or “his Apostle.”

Similarly, the renowned Sufi master al-Ghazali (d. 1111) writes: “One must go on jihad at least once a year…one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and drown them.” As to non-Muslims, al-Ghazali continues, “One may cut down their trees…One must destroy their useless books.”

To promote this jihad, Boston’s Care allegedly continued its fundraising activities on behalf of al Qaeda until 2003, long after the U.S. government had changed its policy regarding jihadis in Afghanistan. Moreover, Mr. Mubayyid was affiliated with a Boston IT company whose major investor was Yasin al-Qadi, who was designated as a terrorist in October 2001. A Saudi businessman, Mr. Qadi also headed the Muwafaq Foundation, which according to a former legal counsel to the U.S. Treasury Department funded al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist organizations.

Regarding Care, the defendants claimed that neither they nor the organization were affiliated with al Qaeda. Yet the Care website boasted that Abdullah Azzam, an al Qaeda co-founder, had founded it, too. Further, Care published Azzam’s writings, advocating the Muslim obligation to conduct jihad against the West “today,” until “the last piece of land, which was in the hands of the Muslims…is liberated.”

Finally, Miss Ehrenfeld rightly sued Khalid bin Mahfouz in the U.S. to protect her First Amendment rights, and those of all other U.S. journalists and publishers damaged by his numerous libel lawsuits in Great Britain. That case most definitely concerns the protection of free speech and a free press, especially as related to the public interest and national security. Even the House of Lords’ recent decision in Jameel vs. the Wall Street Journal, supports her arguments.

The defendants, on the other hand, are accused of lying to the federal government in federal filings. Furthermore, they did not only call for jihad. They allegedly funded it, too, long after September 11. Clearly, court documents demonstrate that this is not an issue of free speech or religious freedom.



American Center for Democracy

New York City


Senior Fellow

American Center for Democracy

New York City

A flawed Panama Canal expansion plan

Lurking inside Aaron J. Gellman’s column “Panama Canal at the crossroads” (Op-Ed, Oct. 11) is his vision of expanding this “great and vital Panamanian asset,” the canal. His argument is also being pitched by the Panama Canal Advisory Board (ACP), which predictably is pressing the business-dominant agendas of most of its global-minded members. Considering that the expansion debate will be resolved (at least in the short term) by an Oct. 22 referendum, it is by no means certain that the ACP’s boosterism will ensure that the voting process will be in the public interest. Hopefully, when Panamanians vote on the referendum, they will look beyond the glossy array of benefits outlined in the ACP’s multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign and reports filed by its ill-reputed and unreliable engineering consultants, such as Parsons Brinckerhoff.

The ACP — of which Mr. Gellman is a member — also figured in an article in the Panama News urging voters to say yes to the canal expansion. It advocates the same political position argued by all of its adherents: that growing global maritime traffic will boost the national economy and increase jobs. Yet, how valid is the “yes” case?

Even though Mr. Gellman has pointed out that canal traffic has grown at a rate of 25 percent annually, analysts such as John Vidal, writing in the Guardian, speculate about whether there is enough growth potential to warrant the heavy cost of expansion. The Panama Canal handles 5 percent of world shipping, with 14,000 transits alone in 2005. New possibilities for a larger Nicaraguan Isthmus canal, however, may steal Panama’s potential clients and its thunder with its daring feature of much larger locks (105 feet) and the incorporation of Lago Cocibolca (Lake Nicaragua) into its design. The ACP has acknowledged that only one canal across Central America is necessary to accommodate anticipated regional transit growth. Thus, if investors choose Nicaragua over Panama, even an expanded Panama Canal most likely will be a bust.

Although what appears to be a lack of certainty over the growth potential of the canal will be on the minds of many Panamanian voters, an expected majority must recognize that a miscalculation of canal costs could severely hurt them in their pockets. The British daily, the Guardian, citing professor Carlos Guevara, observed that Panamanians could be burdened by a budget deficit that could climb from an estimated $10.27 billion to $16 billion by 2011, largely because of grandiose canal construction cost overruns.

This is even more of a likelihood because of the flawed consultative services record offered by Parsons Brinckerhoff, which was hired to conduct the cost estimation of the third locks and came up with an approximation of less than $6 billion. Considering Parsons Brinckerhoff is under investigation for fraud in the United States for its previous involvement in Boston’s Big Dig tunnel, in which total expenditures for a supposed $3 billion budget ultimately ballooned to $14.6 billion, one would be wise not to adopt any estimate given by the ACP or Parsons Brinckerhoff. Because the government ultimately will have to back ACP’s public borrowing, the average Panamanian has much at stake.

In claiming that there is near-universal support for canal expansion among the maritime industry and world business, Mr. Gellman fails to mention the interests of other Panamanian groups. Much of the opposition toward the government is based on the latter’s construction plans and its lack of concern for environmental factors. On Sept. 29, the Panamenista Party stated: “The government should not ask the people to approve the plan without a commitment to improve their quality of life, and without a plan for national development.” As long as both the ACP and the government hold the financial and development reins, the question remains whether they will use their power wisely. An associated issue is the massive corruption that ineluctably will wreak havoc on the project.

As Mr. Gellman lists numerous benefits for global trade as a result of expansion, Panamanian voters on the eve of the referendum should question whose interests they are really considering. Though not cited in the story, the ACP claims: “The canal over the last six years has paid over [to] the government of Panama over $2.2 billion.”

However, voters might well ask: Where is this money going and to whom? According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 37 percent of Panama’s population lives in poverty, with more than 12.3 percent living in extreme poverty. Because the economy is so highly dependent on the canal, perhaps a more immediate need for the Martin Torrijos Espino administration — the need to address poverty — should be placed on the ACP agenda in order to refocus attention on people’s basic social needs. There must be the assurance of tamper-free projects before consideration is given to a costly and market-risky canal expansion bereft of the safeguards and security that the population needs and deserves.


Research associate

Council on Hemispheric Affairs


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