Opinion

Hassan Shibly: Why America Needs Hoda Muthana Back On Trial in the U.S. | Opinion

The case of an American who joined ISIS wanting to come home is not about how much we all hate ISIS. We do. That’s a given. It is about us being better than ISIS. It is about rule of law and due process.

Before I address that, let me first talk about the responses I received from many friends who share my faith and heritage after they saw me making the argument that President Donald Trump does not have the authority to deprive Hoda Muthana of her citizenship.

Some appealed to my identity as a Syrian-American. These murdering ISIS heretics have destroyed the land of our fathers and have killed thousands, they said. People already wrongfully assume they reflect our faith, why would you help the family of someone who joined them and thereby have people think you are linked yourself to such monsters? Others insisted that I should have left it to a lawyer of another faith to speak out. With your beard and cap and being Muslim yourself, they argued, people will see you as a fellow traveller—or worse—instead of as a lawyer doing his job: defending the law and Constitution.

I have never received so much pushback from my faith community. And it is not surprising.

The vast majority of Muslims abhor ISIS. ISIS has committed the worst crimes against humanity, while misrepresenting the faith we cherish. That is why I supported a letter a number of key Islamic theologians, law makers and community leaders sent to the head of ISIS in 2014. That letter offered theological refutations of his group’s misinterpretation of Islam and concluded that ISIS and its ideological allies have committed “a great wrong and an offence to Islam, to Muslims and to the entire world.”

People often forget that most of ISIS’s victims are Muslim. And yet we hate them because 100 percent of their victims are the sacred creation of God. Hurting God’s creation, regardless of religion or lack thereof, is the worst of sins.

And let us be clear, ISIS hates mainstream Muslim organizations around the world as well. They hate our belief in civil society, our belief in the rule of law, and our acceptance of people from all faith traditions. In a tweet, a video and in one of its magazines, ISIS has publicly threatened the largest American Muslim organization three times. In 2016, they issued a hit list of western Muslim leaders. These actions tell us that our efforts to counter ISIS here in the United States were effective and caused them anger. Good.

So as you can see, the last thing many American Muslims wanted was a prominent American Muslim attorney representing a family with any association with ISIS.

I became the Muthana family attorney after I gave a lecture at the largest mosque in Alabama about the importance of valuing and defending our liberty as Americans. Shortly after, Hoda’s father approached me and asked for my help. He told me he feared his daughter had left for Syria to join ISIS.

I connected with the Department of Homeland Security and FBI to report the possibility that Hoda had left to join ISIS, hoping they could intercept her. I helped organize a press conference condemning her choice to join ISIS, saying that she will have to answer to God for abandoning her family to join a gang of monsters. I also delivered a seminar at the local mosque on how groups like ISIS are heretics and the enemies of our faith.

But now assisting the family has turned into something far more than just condemning ISIS. It is about our fundamental principles of the rule of law, due process, and the rights enshrined in our Constitution. It is precisely because I am an attorney that I have a professional and ethical responsibility to ensure Hoda comes home to face charges in court—the American way.

The Founding Fathers made clear that every criminal defendant has the right to an attorney, no matter how odious their crime may be. John Adams, who signed the Declaration of Independence and was our nation’s second president, was the attorney who defended some of the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. The incident was a major spark in igniting America’s revolt against England, but Adams called his legal defense of the soldiers, “one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country.” This is because rule of law and due process are our core values. These values make us better than ISIS.

The Founders made clear that the rights enshrined in the Constitution apply to all Americans. Period. Throughout our history, our values have been most severely tested when we face hard choices and difficult cases like this one. To abandon these values as if they were a mere inconvenience tells the world the American experiment was never serious. I hope you agree that such a message should never find any support.

Yet President Trump, taking advantage of the fact that Hoda is not a sympathetic figure, is seizing on the opportunity to strip an American of their citizenship without due process or court proceedings. This 90-degree turn away from the rule of law is exactly the type of abuse of power that the Founders sought to prevent. As Americans we must have faith and confidence in our legal system.

And in a more immediate sense, Trump’s move can set a terrible precedent. If the President is able to wrongfully strip someone you hate of their citizenship today, his successor may be able to do so to someone you love tomorrow.

The executive branch uses cases where the public is unsympathetic to usurp power. Challenging the government in these cases may not be  popular, but it is necessary for the long term survival of our nation. Our enemies can never destroy us but we will destroy ourselves if we allow fear and hate to turn us against our principles and  our Constitution.

If we set aside the distraction of who this case is about and focus on what this case is about, it becomes very simple. Hoda Muthana seeks to return to the United States. She must face trial in an American court of law, where she will potentially face lengthy imprisonment. She must take responsibility for her actions. As an American, she has that right. As fellow Americans, we have an immediate, vital interest in her retaining that right. No attorney in the United States can afford to stay on the sidelines and support stripping away one citizen’s rights—all citizens’ rights—under our Constitution.

Hassan Shibly is a civil rights attorney representing the Muthana family.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​

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