It’s undoubtedly sheer coincidence as Michael Rubin told the AP, but just as the debate over Hasan-Son-of-Allah takes on greater intensity, the Justice Department has moved to seize what is says are Iranian assets in America. They have tagged four mosques and the Piaget Building at 650 Fifth Avenue in New York, New York.
This is stage two of an ongoing action against the Alavi Foundation, and what the government alleges to be a front company, the Assa Corporation. The government brief, in claiming that these organizations are simply agents of the Iranian regime, states that a series of Iranian UN Ambassadors, along with high-ranking officials such as a deputy prime minister (a post that has not existed for twenty years; it’s now deputy president), have been involved in management. Taken together, the mosques and the skyscraper are worth a lot (hundreds of millions of dollars); the headlines rightly say this could be one of the biggest counterterrorism operations in American history.
It’s a counterterrorism operation because Iran tops the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, and other Iranian entities–banks and companies all over the world, as well as Iranian officials–have been targeted by the US Government.
The unusual feature of the case is the move against religious institutions, the mosques and schools associated with them. I have been saying ever since 9/11 that this would prove to be an extremely messy problem, albeit an urgent one. Radical mosques, whether (as in this case) Shi’ite or (as in the many more numerous Saudi-sponsored) Sunni ones are frequently centers of jihadi indoctrination. The case of Major Hasan demonstrates this, as he was in close contact with imams of such mosques, as were some of the 9/11 terrorists. Not all mosques produce terrorists, it has been said, but terrorists frequent mosques, and, as in the case of the assassin of Daniel Pearl, otherwise normal people have turned to jihad because they were inspired by books and sermons from radical mosques.
Yet we have traditionally insisted that even such incendiary texts and sermons are “protected speech,” protected by the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free religion. As the AP story linked above puts it:
It is extremely rare for U.S. law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a step fraught with questions about the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
The story continues:
The action against the Shiite Muslim mosques is sure to inflame relations between the U.S. government and American Muslims, many of whom are fearful of a backlash after last week’s Fort Hood shooting rampage, blamed on a Muslim American major.
“we are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
As luck would have it, that Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the featured subject in today’s Washington Times. The article suggests that CAIR–which has never registered as a lobbying organization– has skated very close to the edge of acting as an advocate for Iran. Which squares the circle: religious freedom is invoked to protect organizations that, according to the Feds, act to spread the doctrines used to recruit terrorists, and to advance the interests of the Iranian regime.
We will have plenty of time to debate the fine points, one of which is whether religious speech is subject to any restriction. Justice Holmes said that there is no right to (falsely) yell “fire” in a crowded theater; even the First Amendment doesn’t permit anyone to say anything. Is it unreasonable to ban calls to jihad? Lord knows that “hate speech” is punished all over the Western world nowadays. Doesn’t incitement to violence, let alone murder, qualify?
We’ll get some answers. Not quickly, of course; those wheels of justice grind slowly. But at least it’s on the docket now. We need this debate. We should have had it long since. But on at least one point there should be no disagreement. If the Feds are right, the Alavi Foundation collects rent in the U.S. and send the profits to Tehran. That’s just not acceptable.