As the Government increases its investigation and prosecution of individuals suspected of involvement in terrorism, criminal defense lawyers are increasingly representing individuals thought to be sympathetic to terrorist causes.  When representing individuals charged in “homegrown” terrorism cases, it is helpful to understand not only the law implicated in the case, but also the motivation behind these often complicated cases.


In the wake of the horrific “Boston Bombing” attack, there were immediate calls from prominent political leaders that the surviving bombing suspect, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, be charged as an “enemy combatant” and tried before a military tribunal. As reported by Emily Bazelon in Slate, these “enemy combatant” demands were made “to make the president appear weak” on terror. Fortunately, the Obama administration maintained a cool head and put Tsarnaev in the “criminal” justice system where he belongs. He is a suspected “criminal” who committed a criminal act and should be dealt with in the same constitutional manner as all accused criminals in this country.


Congressional leaders certainly have a legitimate role to play in cases like the Boston Bombing, particularly in how we prosecute this type of crime and how we punish the individuals who use terror to satisfy their warped political agenda.  The government would also do well to understand and address the phenomenon of the “self radicalization” of individuals who might one day consider replicating crimes like the Boston Bombing.


Americans find the “self-radicalization” concept difficult to understand because, as Americans, we tend to think of our way of life as the “best in the world”—and for most it is. But for some it is not, especially those innocent Muslims who have been targeted as suspected terrorists by American law enforcement since 9/11, who have been subjected to repeated verbal and physical abuse by natural born Americans (particularly by right wing fear mongers), and who have had their community and religious lives (even while worshipping in their mosques) placed under constant surveillance by the FBI.


Writing in the April 22, 2013 edition of National Geographic, Akbar Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, D.C., and author of “The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam,” framed the issue this way after the Boston Bombing:


“Upon their arrival in the United States, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar [Tsarnaev] joined a Muslim community that bore the scarlet letter of terrorism. Expecting hospitality, they felt alienated and disillusioned, even with all of the opportunities and privileges available to them as citizens of this country.


“They opted for an act of violent terrorism, of devastation and death. It was a mutation of their religious and tribal codes. Under no circumstances is there any justification for their actions.


“For Americans, unsure of the enemy in the war on terror, the stereotyping of Muslims, even in the milder forms, only further alienates the Muslim community, especially the younger generation. If children as young as ten are exposed to Islamophobia, who will be guiding them when they become teenagers and young adults?”


Undeniably, American Muslims have seen their civil rights trampled upon by law enforcement agencies since the terror attacks of 9/11. The decency of a society, and the strength of its democratic institutions, can be measured by the tolerance exhibited toward a minority by the majority of its citizens.


Many people believe, and some have expressed as much, that the past presidential election was a modern reenactment of the same type of racial prejudice, class distinction, and cultural bigotry that has fueled discontent since before the Civil War.

Unquestionably, we are still a society divided by these same outdated fears—mindless hatred, unfounded fear, and borderline schizophrenic bigotry.


The millions of hate-filled emails routinely circulated by “white America” about President Obama, Muslims, African-Americans, and Hispanics lend credence to the possibility that we, as a nation, are indeed experiencing a rebirth of the pre-Civil War societal divide that ripped wounds so deep into the nation’s collective mindset that we still re-live them today.


The U.S. Justice Department has been forced to place extra law enforcement and prosecutorial emphasis on what is called “hate crimes.” A significant number of these crimes involve Muslim victims and they are committed by “haters” who have very little, if any, understanding of Islam. It’s a social phenomenon called “Islamophobia.”


According to human rights activist and author Ashley Moore, a 2009 study revealed that 36 percent of Americans “could not recall the basic facts about Islam” and a 2003 study showed that 45 percent of Americans believe Islam “is more likely than other religions ‘to encourage violence among its believers’.”


Ms. Moore pointed out that in 2010 there are just six million Muslims living in the U.S. whose overall population is 300 million yet Islamophobia is so prevalent that people in Oklahoma in 2010 found the need to vote to ban “sharia law” from being applied in judicial matters.


Of the 6 million American Muslims, there are 80 nationalities with varied origins, political beliefs, and ethnic/racial makeups. While most Americans view Muslims as Arab terrorist males, only 20 percent of the worldwide Muslim population “identify themselves as Arabs,” according to Ms. Moore. And according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (“CAIR”), the American Muslim population is comprised primarily of three ethnicities: South Asians (33%); African-Americans (30%); and Arab (20%).


Tragically, 9/11 produced the misconception that American Muslims are “Arabs” bent on destroying America and re-igniting the Crusades in order to obliterate Christendom. The terrorism-induced fears of those terror attacks prompted Congress to pass the Patriot Act one month after 9/11 and the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act two years later. The Patriot Act gives Federal law enforcement agencies sweeping surveillance powers (and a host of other police-state powers) while CLEAR gives local law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce Federal immigration laws.


With these kinds of law, the seeds of Islamophobia were planted. During the presidential campaign last year, Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachman (R-MN) sent a letter to the Inspector General of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence requesting an investigation into “civilizational jihad” sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood; and fellow Republican presidential candidate and former  U.S. Congressman Newt Gingrich not only endorsed Bachman’s fringe lunatic claim but took it a Joseph McCarthy-like step further by calling for an investigation of the entire Federal government to root out “Muslim jihadists.”


It is this kind of Islamophobia, in combination with an often hypocritical foreign policy and the evil rhetoric of those who use religion to justify violence, that certainly has the ugly potential to “radicalize” young Muslim men like Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This does not excuse their horrific and senseless acts of violence, but it an issue that should be considered by those officials who are now forced to deal with the phenomenon of “self-radicalization.”