"The United States government is intent on targeting all marginalized communities," stated American Muslim activist and author Maha Hilal during a February 23 Georgetown University webinar. Introducing her new book, Innocent until Proven Muslim: Islamophobia, the War on Terror, and the Muslim Experience since 9/11, she presented America's post-9/11 defensive War on Terror (WOT) as manifesting America's inherent evil.
Hilal spoke for Georgetown's Saudi-founded Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU). Her moderator was Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at ACMCU's Bridge Initiative, which, in the name of combating "Islamophobia," defames any and all critics of Islam. Fittingly, Hilal announced that her book examined "how deeply entrenched 'Islamophobia' has been in the War on Terror from the very beginning."
Always the victim, Hilal claimed that the "very intentional targets of the war on terror" were not the Americans and others attacked by jihadists such as Al Qaeda, but Muslims. She marveled at the "uncomfortable fact" that at the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "all of those detained have been Muslim," as if non-Muslims were responsible for 9/11 and its aftermath. "It's not a coincidence," she added, affecting an air of profound insight.
Quoting from the book, Tazamal noted Hilal's rejection of the American "state manufactured and sold the story of good versus evil." Hilal questioned Americans who accepted government claims that the "terrorists attacked us for our freedom." "Did the American public have any information to the contrary? Were they reading about what these terrorist organizations actually stated about explanations for why they have attacked the United States?" she asked. She did not explain how reading, for example, about Osama bin Laden's theocratic demands for destroying America's close ally Israel or expulsion of American influence from strategically vital Middle Eastern areas would worry Americans any less.
Meanwhile Muslims themselves suffered "internalized 'Islamophobia,'" a "form of internalized oppression," Hilal asserted. "Muslims are absorbing problematic ideas, dominant narratives and tropes about Islam" such as it being "uniquely patriarchal" or "inherently violent," she stated, as if doctrinal concerns about Islam were illegitimate. "The constructions of terrorism are also built upon ideas about Muslims, specifically that they are . . . opposed to normative democratic values," she likewise added, oblivious to the sad lack of stable democracies in the Muslim world.
Descending into moral relativism, Hilal peddled the hackneyed trope that "there is no agreed upon definition of terrorism," as if intentional violence against civilians for political purposes did not suffice. "You could easily apply the definitions and the words spoken by government officials to acts of the United States itself," but "terrorism is basically what we say it is," she claimed. "The United States kills plenty of women and children" who come into crossfire as the American military targets terrorists, she argued, as if moral dilemmas of collateral damage made self-defense illegitimate.
Hilal defended the Holy Land Foundation for lending material support to Hamas.
Hilal's moral obtuseness was equally obvious in her analysis of the 2008 conviction in federal court of the Holy Land Foundation for, she noted, lending "material support for terrorism" to Hamas. Under American law this charge includes "providing a training on nonviolent tactics to a group that is constructed as a terrorist organization," she noted with bewilderment, rejecting federal law prohibiting aid to killers. Tellingly, she considered this blanket ban "overly broad and criminalizing," although admitting the "fungibility" of this support, such that any aid to terrorist organizations frees resources for violent activities.
For Hilal, such laws are "particularly problematic" in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. She suggested that organizations like the Holy Land Foundation merely donated to Hamas in order to alleviate human suffering, whitewashing how Hamas regularly diverts any such aid to terrorism against Israelis. This is a "very calculated way of criminalizing and demonizing anyone who would dare to support individuals that are in need," she lied, adding for good measure that the "U.S. government wants to criminalize Muslims and Muslim communities."
Accordingly, Hilal called on the U.S. "to dismantle in the war on terror" effective law enforcement measures such as "surveillance" and "federal terrorism prosecution." She decried unspecified "draconian immigration policies" post-9/11 that sought "to really cement and entrench criminality into the ways we understand immigration," even though many of the 9/11 hijackers violated immigration laws. Her opposition to "militarism and warfare" included the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) as an "institutionalization of bases in the continent of Africa" and a "strong foothold for further colonialism and imperialism."
By hosting Hilal, Georgetown promoted Islamist propaganda rather than truth.
Post-9/11 American actions against jihadist threats simply confirmed America's irredeemable evil for Hilal, as she dismissed the concept of "American exceptionalism." The WOT "is rooted in the United States' commitment to state violence, to imperialism, to neocolonialism," she argued. Demonstrating her ignorance of past American conflicts with end dates, including the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the World Wars, she asserted that "U.S. wars don't end. They just form into new wars that preserve the brutality of wars past."
The decades after 9/11 provide numerous complex questions concerning democracies' self-defense against terrorists, but by hosting Hilal, Georgetown chose to promote Islamist propaganda. Islamic framing does not make her tale of a rapacious America and maligned, misunderstood foreigners any more original than numerous other anti-American screeds dating back to at least the 1960s. Hilal's apologias for terrorism demonstrate yet again the need to end the enormous waste of taxpayer and tuition dollars in Middle East studies that produces false narratives designed to weaken the West's capacity for self-defense.