It doesn't take much to ruin the view [Illustration by Stephane Bourzeix
Trials in Error
We in the West are quick to jump all over Islam’s rear-facing fanaticisms, branding the whole kit and caboodle “Islamofascist” and other such anachronisms when, say, some Muslims get upset over Muhammad cartoons, or others get upset over a teacher letting her seven-year-old students name a teddy bear Muhammad, or still others murder filmmakers who thrive on exposing Islam’s triple-X perversions. But it pays to look in the mirror once in a while. No need to make tit-for-tat equivalencies. The West isn’t nearly that far gone. But it’s going far enough to shame liberalism into submission to something increasingly, and not-so anachronistically, fascism-scented here, too. Three recent cases — in France, England and the United States — make the point.
The case Against Jean-Marie Le Pen
On December 14 in Paris, Jean-Marie Le Pen, the crass and gross reactionary from whom most Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency seem to be taking their anti-immigration lessons of late, went on trial “for claiming that the Nazi occupation of France was ‘not particularly inhumane.’” He did not attend the trial, having other farcical business to attend to. “Le Pen, 79, was charged with conspiring to justify war crimes and to deny Nazi crimes against humanity,” the Telegraph reports, “both violations of France’s Holocaust denial legislation.”
The charges are, of course, a bit of an obscene exaggeration of Le Pen’s obscenities. Le Pen says stupid things all the time. That’s the nature of verbalized bigotry. It’s not against the law to say stupid things, nor is it against the law to be a bigot in France. Au contraire: this is the country that made the Holocaust an extra-efficient genocide, and that nowadays treats its Arab working class like ring worms, housing Arab communities on the literal fringe of cities and society. So it’s a little strange when the French deploy themselves as protectors of sensibilities, as they are in le Pen’s trial.
What did Le Pen do? He gave an off-the-cuff interview in which he said: “In France at least, the German occupation was not especially inhumane, even if there were a number of excesses - inevitable in a country of 550,000 sq km (220,000 sq miles).” In another part of the interview, he exonerated the German army over a 1944 massacre in Villeneuve d’Ascq, saying the massacre was the bad-apple work of a lieutenant “mad with rage” over the death of comrades in a resistance attack (isn’t that the mad-with-rage excuse the Marines gave for their Haditha massacre?) and that the Gestapo actually intervened to stop the killings.
OK. As I said: stupid comments typical revisionist-reflux syndrome. But why put the guy on trial over it? Why make stupidity, even the stupidity of historical revisionism (out of which, incidentally, not-so-stupid discoveries are made) illegal? There are many reasons to despise Le Pen, and his historical recreations are among them. But there’s not been a reason yet to put him on trial, for things he’s said, that I know of. Doing so is no different than Muslim fanatics wanting the editor of that Danish paper punished for publishing the Muhammad cartoons in 2005.
The case against the “Lyrical Terrorist”
Samina Malik is 23 years old. She lives in London. She surfs the net. She writes poetry that drips with adolescent blood curdles, stuff about beheadings and depraved westerners deserving death and other such juvenilia. She also collected all sorts of manuals on violence freely available on the internet. To British authorities, it all added up to a terrorist’s library that could be very useful for those wantingt to blow things up. Last week she became Britain’s first woman convicted under its new Terrorism Act, a USA Patriot-like piece of legislation that’s done wonders to degrade Britain’s old claim as a freedom-loving country.
The point wasn’t to convict her, but to send a message. Even silly poetry perceived as dangerous by the authorities, or email exchanges that end up circulating in email accounts the authorities deem dangerous, or the collection of materials, however freely dispensed and available, in ways that authorities perceive to be dangerous, will lead you to court. For the reactionaries, the existence of the self-styled “Lyrical Terrorist” is proof that the west is a dormitory of sleeper cells. But how is Samina Malik’s writings or collections of terrorist tracts any different from the writings of imbecilic high school students who keep online diaries about blowing things up, or wanting their classmates dismembered, or wanting to see the world go up in flames? How are her supposed terrorist tracts, collected from around the web, any different from the libraries collected by militiamen in the United States or, for that matter, from the materials on efficient killing and dismemberment that stack up in Pentagon libraries and the training lounges of mercenary camps like that of Blackwater Worldwide? Not different at all. The difference, as always, is that Samina Malik wore a veil and has an Arab name. And could be made a good example of.
The Case of the Liberty City Seven
The trial of the so-called “Liberty City Seven” began in a federal courtroom in Miami on Oct. 2. The seven are a band of mostly poor Haitians arrested last June in a high-profile Justice Department bust. The government claims the men wanted to blow up the Sears Tower. They had no weapons. No bombs. No money. No plan. Just a few spoken thoughts and the recorded swearing of an oath to al-Qaida. The oath was recorded because the man who made the Seven swear the oath was an undercover FBI agent, after much coaxing. Five of the seven didn’t even know about the Sears Tower plot. Some may not even have known of a building in Chicago called the Sears Tower. Their leader, Narseal Batiste, was big into martial arts and Bible readings, with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount among his favorites (“blessed are the poor . . . blessed are the hungry . . . blessed are the peacemakers”). Still, federal prosecutors called the seven “a radical Islamic group” intent on wreaking destruction.
Obviously, it was a show trial. Even FBI officials conceded that the suspects had no knowledge or written information on making bombs or even any links to known terrorist groups. The thinking back then was that maybe the trial would reveal that they had more than the fleeting, bizarre thoughts that the FBI, in its equally bizarre strategy of prosecuting imaginary crimes, could seize on.
It didn’t. On Dec. 13, the trial ended. One of the seven was acquitted. The fate of the rest ended in a mistrial. “The outcome,” the Time wrote, “was a significant defeat for the Bush administration, which had described the case as a major crackdown on homegrown terrorists.” But there was no case, even though federal prosecutors are promising a re-trial immediately.
How different is the Liberty City Seven from the kind of trials being held in Iran these days, or in the Soviet Union in the 1930s? How much less of a witch hunt is it than the chanting hordes of Khartoum of the other day, the hordes calling for the execution of the British teacher who let her students call that teddy bear Muhammad? The difference isn’t a matter of veils in this case, at least not literal veils, but of decorum—of the prosecution’s decorum and presumptions. The hordes in the streets are assumed, the witch-hunting is couched in orderly legalese, but the result is the same: a show trial leading to a conviction that’s less relevant than the theater of it all, to please the masses, to remind them that their government is on top of it all, that the West will prevail.
No doubt it will, because it isn’t terrorism and Islamowhatevers that it’s after. It’s liberalism.