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Coming up empty

"Coming up empty" Continued...

Issue: "Elephant in the room," Nov. 3, 2007

But defense attorneys argued the money went to various Palestinian charity efforts and never financed terrorist activities. The defense further contended that evidence of Holy Land leaders making statements in support of Hamas does not constitute a crime, falling under free speech protections.

Douglas Farah, author of two books on the financing of terrorism, watched the trial closely and considers the evidence of criminal behavior overwhelming. But he believes the prosecution failed to present a cohesive narrative that jury members could follow, often conflating actions that took place before Hamas was designated a terrorist group with those that took place afterward.

Jurors spent 19 days deliberating over 197 charges, finally reaching a unanimous decision to simply give up. Farah told WORLD that the mistrial underscores the difficulty of trying such complex matters before a jury of uninitiated citizens: "It sounds like the jury had no understanding at the end of what they were supposed to be doing."

Though disappointed with the outcome, Farah believes the flood of evidence made public throughout the trial could exact irreparable damage on the reputations of suspect Islamic groups. CAIR, ISNA, the Muslim American Society (MAS), and others like them have long claimed to speak for mainstream Muslims in the United States, but are now exposed as Islamist organizations bent on the political advance of Islamic law.

The extent to which that exposure gains traction hinges on factors like media coverage. The absence of national news reports on the HLF trial has stunned Farah, who spent two decades as a foreign correspondent and investigative reporter for The Washington Post and considers the story eminently newsworthy.

He also worries that many Americans simply won't believe how dangerous and coordinated these Muslim groups are: "Most people in this country don't like conspiracy theories. When you're talking about groups that want to establish a caliphate, as the documents clearly show, it sounds scary and implausible."

But moderate Muslims in the country might be more willing to believe. In fact, CAIR complained to the court that its inclusion as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case harmed the group's membership rolls (see "A veneer of moderation," Sept. 15, 2007).

M. Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and a strong critic of politicized Islam, hopes that the government's failure to convict Holy Land leaders will not undo the exposure of CAIR and other Islamist groups. Like Farah, he does not view the outcome as an indictment on the prosecution's lack of evidence: "All a mistrial says is that these jurors were profoundly confused."

Still, Jasser is concerned that the failure to convict will provide fodder for CAIR's claims of victimization and civil-rights violations. "I'm not sure that it's going to drive people to join CAIR and MAS," he said of the mistrial, "but it is going to muddy the waters. This is a setback."

Jasser wonders if the setback might press the justice department to reconsider its strategy and challenge Congress to pass more objective anti-terror laws. But ultimately, he doubts the legal sector's ability to stand up to Islamism when so many Islamist groups avoid criminal behavior in favor of perfectly legal propaganda. "This is not a war against a tactic; it's a war against an ideology," Jasser told WORLD. "And you don't defeat ideologies in a courtroom."

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