Sep 4, 2006

The wrong idea

By L.G.B.
A vibrant democracy is supposed to uphold the freedom of speech, regardless of its content, in order to facilitate the exchange of ideas and better inform the citizenry so that they can be better decision makers.

That’s the idea, anyway.

However, a neoconservative think tank called the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies recently snitched on a Pakistani-American from Brooklyn, New York to the Feds. Javed Iqbal, a 42 year-old father of four and an American citizen, is charged under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, or IEEPA for supporting terrorism and is being held on a 250,000-dollar bond.

His crime? He isn’t being charged for operating a training camp, gunrunning, stockpiling weapons, plotting a terrorist attack or even being a member of a terrorist group. Iqbal’s crime is offering to sell the Hezbollah TV channel Al-Manar to an undercover FBI agent.

Before being hauled away, the Staten Island resident ran HDTV, Ltd. In the Dyker Heights section of Brooklyn when he was contacted by a Lebanese informant asking for satellite television to be hooked up in his apartment. According to the prosecution, upon finding out he’s Lebanese, Iqbal offered him Al-Manar. Al-Manar has been banned as a global terrorist entity by the Treasury Dept. since March. Despite the fact that the channel can be seen on the Internet for free, it’s a crime to sell it, as Iqbal found out. The irony is that a group whose name calls for the defense of democracy would put a man in prison for offering a satellite channel which would offer nothing more than an alternative point of view. But according to the snitch himself, David Dubowitz, that was the idea all along. “The general thrust of the content is glorification of suicide bombings and calls for violent attacks against American troops in Iraq,” he told the New York Daily News. In other words, the threat that Al-Manar posed was portraying resistance in Palestine and Iraq as rational and, dare I say, justified.

This is the opposite of what we’re fed by the likes of MSNBC, Fox and CNN.

The Daily News, in fact, goes on to quote Hezbollah’s spiritual adviser, Hassan Fadlallah calling CNN, “the Zionist News Network,” a truthful statement considering, for example, that The Situation Room’s Wolf Blitzer is a former correspondent for the Jerusalem Post.

Dubowitz went on to state that Al-Manar is a terrorist organization and not a TV station because it’s used to raise money for Hezbollah. While that may be true, most of Hezbollah’s money doesn’t come from viewers outside of Lebanon, but from inside the country and mainly from Iran. Ruining Iqbal’s life won’t serve to disrupt the flow of money to Hezbollah, but rather the flow of information to the American public.

Much has been said about Bush’s call for democracy as a foreign policy goal, but what is overlooked is that “democracy” in Washington-speak means “hegemony” and “influence,” or “stability” when they’re having rare moments of honesty.

Specifically, stability in the Middle East means securing the interests of Israel and the Persian Gulf monarchies; Seymour Hersh’s revelation in the New Yorker that Israel’s Lebanon invasion was coordinated with Washington would explain the timing of Al-Manar’s new status.

Under the IEEPA, the President is granted the authority “to deal with any unusual and extraordinary threat … to the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.” In this sense, the charges against Iqbal since Hezbollah is a threat, especially to the foreign policy as it currently exists. In fact, if the charges are proven to be true – his lawyers insist that Iqbal was entrapped and that the prosecution’s case violates the first amendment – then he broke the law and there’s not much more to it.

Every government has its interests and there will always be safeguards in place to ensure that nothing will interfere with those interests. The question isn’t about legality but morality, i.e. the equal application of the law. The IEEPA was established in 1977 in order to clarify the powers presidents had dealing with national emergencies, according to Wikipedia.

In addition to Iqbal, the IEEPA-related charges have also been brought against Americans who traveled to Iraq before the war to act as human shields. Marc Rich, the financier who was convicted under the act in 1983, was pardoned by Bill Clinton in 2000, exposing how privileged people can escape the legal noose that Iqbal isn’t likely to avoid. Worse yet, Vice President Dick Cheney himself violated the law while CEO of Halliburton and - to the shock of many, no doubt – hasn’t been charged under the act.

Incidentally, both Rich and Cheney’s violations had to do with Iran: Rich traded in Iranian oil in 1983 during the hostage crisis, while a subsidiary of Halliburton had an office in Tehran. Publications such as Fortune magazine have documented this, and according to, Cheney and his company have a history of working\ with governments that are officially under IEEPA sanctions by Washington.

Those countries include Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Libya and Iraq during the 1990s, despite Cheney’s involvement in creating the Project for a New American Century, a think tank that called for the invasion of Iraq. Halliburton violated sanctions against Azerbaijan and the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act in 1997 alone, only having to pay $15,000 to the Dept. of Commerce for the latter, but no jail time. Among the “classes” of those charged include those that support or threaten to commit terrorism and terrorists who threaten to undermine the Middle East peace process.

While commerce is restricted with Iran and Syria under the IEEPA, Israel is nowhere to be found for their occupation and settlement of the occupied territories, nor for their state terrorism in support of such clear violations of international law. And while Belarus and Zimbabwe are subject to the IEEPA for undermining democratic institutions, Egypt and Azerbaijan are notably absent.

This political weapon produces a lopsided system in which the interests of an empire override democracy and the rule of law. Law is war by any other means, to quote Clauswitz, and Iqbal is another tragic and unnecessary casualty of that war.