The Trials Around Jamil Al-Amin
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad,
Minaret of Freedom Institute
We are all on trial now. Jamil Al-Amin is on trial on charges by prosecutors that he killed a Sheriff’s deputy in a shoot-out in Fulton County, Georgia. The American legal system is on trial on charges by African-American activists that a black man can’t get a fair trial in America. The immigrant Muslim community is on trial too. We must make as big an issue about getting a fair trial for Jamil Al-Amin as we did about the immigrants who have been persecuted under the Counter-Terrorism Act. If we do not, the restrained, yet audible, grumbling of Afro-American Muslims that immigrant Muslims fall short of the Islamic standards of brotherhood will get louder. And make no mistake: those who hate Muslims will make sure that those complaints are heard by the general public and become a tool to drive a wedge between the Muslims and our natural allies in the African-American community.
I participated in a press conference organized by Mauri` Saalakhan, a supporter of Imam Jamil. The thrust of my comments were that the Imam was entitled to a fair trial. Except for SolidarityUSA and the Minaret of Freedom Institute only black-dominated groups were present. In my computer inbox is a slew of e-mails on the arrest of immigrant Muslims in the wake of Sept. 11 from a wide variety of immigrant-dominated Muslim groups, but nothing, not one from any of those groups on the trial of Jamil Al-Amin that begins this week. Nothing on the fact that the jury will be anonymous, giving the jurors who must decide his guilt or innocence the impression that Imam Jamil is in the same category as the organized crime figures who try to intimidate jurors. Nothing on Imam Jamil’s protestations that the gag order imposed in response to his own attorney’s complaints about prosecutor’s leaks to the press has been used to prevent him from proclaiming his innocence. Nothing to publicize the exculpatory evidence that fairness demands should be introduced into evidence. (The exculpatory evidence includes the fact that another man had confessed to the crime, the fact that the deputy’s description of the assailant’s eye color does not match Al-Amin’s, the fact that the police had originally claimed to have wounded the assailant while Al-Amin was discovered unwounded, and the fact that the vehicle shot-up in the incident had been repaired, with all the bullet holes removed, despite a judge’s orders to preserve the evidence.) Nothing on the fact that the prosecutors’ demand for the death penalty in this case is just one more example of the racist manner in which that punishment is discriminatorily employed.
Why this disparity in the immigrant populations’ attitude? Is the problem the seriousness of the charge? Cop-killing is a very serious in charge indeed, but so is funding terrorism. The seriousness of that charge did not prevent the Council on American-Islamic Relations (2002) from issuing a press release denouncing the fact that Rabih Haddad’s detention hearing would be closed to the public.
One close immigrant Muslim expressed concern over the fact that Jamil Al-Amin, formerly civil rights activist H. Rap Brown, has made some very extreme statements in the past. Al-Amin had been identified as a threat to the American way of life in a National Review article for saying that the American Constitution is "in its main essence, diametrically opposed to what Allah has commanded." This is certainly an extreme statement and it is one to which the overwhelming majority of immigrants, myself included, would take exception. But is he not, as an American protected by the Constitution as WE understand it, entitled to state his opinion? Neither this opinion no any other that I have ever heard ascribed to Imam Jamil is grounds for denying him a fair trial.
Imam Jamil is just one of many Muslim critics of American policy who have been targeted by neoconservative columnists and commentators. In recent weeks Palestinian professor Mazen al-Najjar has been incarcerated on secret evidence despite a judge’s order that previously secured his release after over three years of unexplained detention without charge and University of South Florida professor Sami al-Arian was fired from his tenured faculty position after having been assaulted with a list of long-refuted allegations on the O’Reilly Factor television program. While each case is different (Al-Amin earned a reputation as a fiery activist during the civil rights movement before his conversion to Islam; al-Arian is an intellectual who has been an effective advocate for the Palestinian cause; and Al-Najjar is quiet man whose only claim to fame is that he is Al-Arian’s brother-in-law), there is a pattern in the efforts of neoconservatives to de-legitimize Muslims who believe that political activism is a necessary part of being a good religious person. As the persecutors of Muslims do not discriminate between immigrants and converts (or as we prefer to say, “reverts”) so we American Muslims must stick together in our demands for justice “like a solid cemented structure” as the imams like to say when they tell us to line up for prayer.
I have always respectfully disagreed with Imam Jamil’s claim that injustice is an inherent part of the American system of government. I earnestly pray that this trial will be conducted in a manner that shows that I am right and he is wrong. I ask all Muslims to join in that prayer and in acting to make it so.
Council on American-Islamic Relations 2002, “Rep. Conyers Expresses Outrage over Closing of Detention Hearing For Respected Muslim Pastor,” press release (1/2).