Tarek Mehanna: His Tragic Immoderation

I have become a card-carrying, tax-paying moderate, thanks to a study I found in Politico.com.  In this study, psychologists Kaitlin Toner and Mark Leary discovered that the more extreme politicians’ views are, the more they think they’re right.  In fact, politicians’ “belief superiority” — the certainty that their own viewpoints are correct — was linked to “political extremism.”  Conversely, moderates showed less belief superiority and “supported a middle-of-the-road approach to political issues.”

Toner and Leary meant their study to apply to our current Congress.  But I’ve also found it life-changing for actual people.  It certainly helped me throw down my bleeding-heart crutches of ultra-leftism.  I was blind, but now I see: Both Sides!  Unlike that strident feminist peace group, Code Pink.

Code Pink publicly denounces unavoidable mishaps caused by U.S. military policies, such as innocent foreigners dying in U.S. drone strikes.  They dress up in unfashionable shocking pink and act out during prestigious occasions such as Presidential press conferences, yelling things like, Apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed!  Then they get dragged off and interrogated by Secret Service agents.

The fact that these activists embarrass me proves that I am now a mature moderate who can parse complicated moral issues.  Ergo, Code Pink may have a good, “thou-shalt-not-kill” argument, but drones are people too.

Before my conversion, Code Pink might have made me feel guilty — but no more, bitches!  Now that I discern your insulting “belief superiority,” I can shun you as contemptible ’60s throwbacks — while pitying the anonymous losers in Yemeni wedding parties who get themselves killed by U.S. drone attacks.

Outside the parameters of this study, however, it’s important to note that not all extremist beliefs are created equal.  There is good extremism, and there is evil extremism.  For example, becoming a moderate means that I have earned the right to be protected from terrorism.  Which means that I trust my government to adhere to the twin precepts of: (a) unending war; and (b) unrelenting surveillance.

So here’s a state secret: It is our government’s good-extremist belief in Terror that makes my moderate, middle-of-the-road belief system not only possible but necessary.

Want proof?  Take the case of Tarek Mehanna.  He makes Code Pink look like a Brownie troop of Sarah Palins.  Why?  It starts with his immoderate name.

Tarek Mehanna was born in 1982 in Pittsburgh and grew up in Sudbury, a part of Boston.  As a boy, Mehanna was inspired to fight for the oppressed — he wrote in his sentencing statement — by heroes like Batman, Malcolm X, and Paul Revere.  Already you can feel the evil extremism festering, as all this “inspiration” did not lead him to become a drone pilot.

By his 20s, Mehanna was popular enough in Boston’s Muslim community to be noticed by the FBI, who asked him to become an informant.  Mehanna refused — a slap in the face to the memory of Paul Revere, who, I’m sure, would have agreed to inform.

So began years of government surveillance of Mehanna, as he watched “jihadi videos,” lent CDs to kids to create “like-minded youth,” and translated Internet tracts from Arabic to English — acts for which he was later charged.  Meanwhile, he hid his extremism by earning a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy.

But Mehanna never hid the fact that he abhorred U.S. bombings of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and wanted to defend Muslims in such countries.  Unlike the activists of Code Pink — who, expressing much the same sentiment, would have been slapped in plastic handcuffs then released with a warning — Tarek Mehanna, in 2009, was charged with material support for terrorism and conspiring to kill overseas.

Mehanna was held for two years without bail in 23-hour-a-day lockdown.  His charges did not include any terrorist act, nor was there evidence that he had met or communicated with anyone in Al Qaeda.  Mehanna also argued that he didn’t share Al Qaeda’s worldview, notably that of killing innocent civilians.

Because the case against Mehanna was based on his ordinary acts of free speech, the real danger here must have been Mehanna’s belief that his views were “superior” to ours.  So I totally get why a prosecutor, in his opening remarks to Mehanna’s jury, would explain: “It’s not illegal to watch something on the television.  It is illegal, however, to watch something in order to cultivate your desire, your ideology.”  (Heads up, Code Pink.)

In 2012, Mehanna was sentenced to 17½ years in prison, which he is now serving, in a Communications Management Unit, which severely restricts and monitors communication with the outside world.

I have no problem with this draconian sentence.  It doesn’t change my moderate mind to read in the New York Times that the centerpiece of the case, an article Mehanna translated, called “39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad,” was not a “manual for terrorism.”  It was rather a “routine exercise of Islamic jurisprudence” on how pious Muslims can perform “self-defense,” by doing things like taking care of widows and learning first aid.

Say what you will about the First Amendment — how it might apply to someone charged with terrorism who never picked up a weapon.  We moderates believe that the U.S. of A. knew what it was doing when it salted Mehanna away in mind-breaking prison for the prime of his life.

Because, after our freedom-loving country charges a bearded, olive-skinned dude with a name like Tarek Mehanna with aiding terrorism, only a lunatic could think he’s innocent.

Oh PS: If you want to maintain your moderate standing, please AVOID vigils on the first Monday of every month, organized by the extremists at the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Do NOT appear at 6:00 p.m. outside lower Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, where more Muslim-Americans await trial.  They’ll ask you to “bear witness to the torture and rights abuses happening there and in far too many other federal prisons and courtrooms across the country.”

That comes dangerously close to aiding terrorism.

Susie Day is a writer.

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