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Blog Archive – October, 2006

Lynne Stewart's Victory

October 17, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

They were energetic and vocal on this early Monday morning (October 16, 2006) in downtown Manhattan. Yet it was palpably not a cheerful group that made its way across the city square to the US Federal courthouse.

Six TV crews crowding around the white haired woman were not from mainstream press but from community rights organizations. Individuals behind her held banners calling: "Free Lynne Stewart", Justice for Lynne", "We Love You Lynne", and "Win Lynne Win".

Civil Rights attorney Lynne Stewart made a short speech thanking supporters--those 2-300 who eschewed work that morning to give witness to her ordeal. She assured the crowd of her struggle, then slowly made her way to court. Along the route, she reached out to grasp hands of well-wishers, recognizing many in the crowd. Then she moved a few more meters, arm in arm with her husband Ralph, a retired schoolteacher and union organizer. Three of their fourteen grandchildren pressed close to her side.

The crowd passed police barriers and guards that now encircle every American courthouse. Office workers, unaware of this historic moment, rushed past, uninterested. At the courthouse gate, we found extra security guards posted--'in case of trouble'. The crowd clearly was reluctant to let Lynne and her husband proceed forward, even though they knew she must. They knew, as Lynne herself did, that she might be taken from the courtroom in shackles, never to see these streets again, forbidden to see even her grandchildren. US government prosecutors requested a 30-year sentence! At 67, this meant the rest of her life in prison.

"I brought my medications and my books to the courtroom with me today", Lynne announced to her well-wishers. She tried to smile. If the judge this morning followed the government's directive, she knew that she might be escorted straight to a prison cell.

 Two years ago, this well-known civil rights attorney with a long and distinguished record for aiding the poor and voiceless, was found guilty by a US federal court of aiding 'terrorists'. In this case, it was her own client Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman whom she had visited in prison where he is serving life.

Lynne Stewart has been a vocal defender of civil rights all her life. During the many months between the time of her conviction and her sentencing she refused to do what most fearful citizens awaiting sentencing would, i.e. lay low and try to appease the government. No. Lynne Stewart traveled to every corner of the USA speaking to community groups and college students about the erosion of American civil liberties in recent years and the injustice being directed to her.

Stewart was willing to become a martyr. She would cross the country, speaking wherever she could, warning fellow Americans how the current (Bush) administration had eliminated civil liberties and eroded constitutional protections.

Behind Stewart's conviction is the issue of the government's invasion of attorney-client privilege. This had been a sacred right in American law: namely that any exchange between an attorney and his client is private and protected. After the imposition of the first US anti-terrorist laws in the mid-1990s, the government began to wiretap attorneys' conversations with their clients. Thus the 'evidence' on Lynne's exchange with Abdul Rahman.

When Stewart herself was charged as 'abating terrorism', it was a very serious matter. Lynne took up the challenge of her defense arguing that the evidence was obtained illegally. "This is a constitutional issue," she said to me several years back in one of our many radio interviews. "This is not just about me. I am challenging the government's invasion of an attorney's rights and the erosion of our Constitution that protects this." Not only did Lynne appear on my program and other alternative media. The legal professional across the country saw her challenge as a test case for the Constitution. Thus, her struggle began to receive wide attention. She spoke out forcefully. Legal experts closely followed the case.

How was it that, in a case of terrorism, the most serious of all legal issues in the USA today, Stewart was traveling across the country addressing public gatherings. "I have two sons, both successful, and they were able to meet my half million dollars bail. So I am not in a cell. And I am going to use my freedom of movement to speak out about these injustices.

"The government has said I cannot practice law, the core love in my life--I am disbarred during the time the case is being heard. So I intend to use my 'time out' speaking wherever I can about my case. All Americans must be informed how our government is depriving us of our rights."

I've worked with Ms. Stewart since the mid 1990s when we profiled on my radio program the US government's use of 'secret evidence'. Most of those cases involved Muslims and Arabs. Stewart and a handful of attorneys successfully defended those accused men when government prosecutors had withheld evidence on the claim that it was too sensitive to share with the court. They forced the government's hand, revealing that in fact the 'secret evidence' was baseless.  It was a victory.

Then came September 11, 2001. New anti-terrorist laws were enacted and a new government aggressively prosecuted people on the slightest suspicion. Some of those men acquitted in the phony secret evidence charges were back in jail. Thousands of Muslims were apprehended; hundreds of thousands were questioned by FBI and other security officials; many were deported secretly without trial, and most of the few who were able to mount a defense were convicted. It was and remains a very tense and troubling atmosphere for Muslims in the USA.

In Lynne's prosecution, the government reached beyond Muslim victims. It targeted any attorney who dared to defend a terror suspect. It threatened that they too could face possible imprisonment. This was another reason for Stewart to fight back... and win.

The case had a chilling effect in the legal profession. Attorneys who had once defended Muslim suspects had already stepped back from taking their cases. Some even distanced themselves from Lynne when she dared to challenge the government.

As the 'war on terrorism' expanded, the political atmosphere across the USA grew less tolerant. The government has managed to thwart attempts to apply the rule of habeas corpus for the Quantanimo captives and others accused of association with al-Qaeda or terror. This mood was not a promising one for Lynne Stewart.

She had been extraordinarily brave in speaking out. She summoned extraordinary energy to fight back. With the result that thousands began to rally in her favor. Over 1,200 letters were written to the judge attesting Lynne's fine character and her life of service. Defense funds were raised. Stewart herself wrote a lengthy letter to the judge explaining her actions and asking for mercy.

Something worked.

At 2 pm yesterday afternoon, Lynne Stewart emerged from the court to be met by hundreds of cheers and a now expanded national media.

The judge had been extraordinarily responsive. He handed down a 28-month sentence: two years and 4 months. It was a victory. "Heck, I can do that standing on my head," was Lynne's tearful although smiling response.

Moreover, Lynne does not have to serve this sentence until her appeal on the original charge is settled. That will take another year, perhaps longer. So Lynne is gearing up for another court battle. Forty-eight hours later she attended an ifthar dinner in Brooklyn and gave a rousing speech to the crowd.

Stewart's is one of the few victories in the long struggle to restore democratic rights in the USA. Citizens must seize it and follow this woman's courage.

Details of the case are available on www.LynneStewart.org.

[ Lynne Stewart's Victory ]

Ramadan is here

October 03, 2006

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Ramadan Is Everything I Ever Had 

by Rachida Mohammedi

Ramadan is our literature: words received from AllahRamadan is our sociology: we pickup the phone to call "come to ifthar with us".Ramadan is our psychology: each wants to prove to himself how patient he is, he doesn't eat or make love the whole daytime.Ramadan is therapy: our yearning stomach can still enjoy the quiet of its emptiness.Ramadan is art: all around, nasheed sinks into our souls, singing tunes of Allah.Ramadan is catering: a space to offer creative flavors from across our world.Ramadan is meditation: on dawn at al-Fadjr, on setting sun at Al-Maghreb.Ramadan is childhood memories: togetherness and sharing favorite delights.Ramadan is a full basket: spiritual and physical fruits together in a heap.Ramadan is a book to read, a mouth to feed, a soul to welcome faith's seed.Ramadan arrives.Marhaba Ramadan!        24/09/2006

"Ramadan is here"

The city sounds, pipes twang, motors roar by, clock ticks,sick baby's cry. Many layeredsymphony orchestratedelsewhere, played outhere. But in the

irony of opposites, elsewhere is here, it is

here that is elsewhere. So it is by the tight scrutiny of the indefinable Wayhere that it is orchestrated. There where it isplayed out, and it is even bothorchestrated and played out here as well.All far dimensions fit into onepassing sphere.Here.

"Apprehension", Abdal Hayy Moore, from Ramadan Sonnets 1996, listen on RadioTahrir.org/poems www.danielmoorepoetry.com  

Here, where every Muslim reads Qur'an.Ramadan is not a Middle Eastern holiday. It is everywhere today--a month of reflection, readings, and community prayers for all Muslims. In Connecticut and Qatar, in Algiers and Jakarta and Hyderabad, it brings familiarity, anticipation and relief. Ramadan is here. We have a new meaning to our day; we try to mentally prepare ourselves and the children, we welcome the liberation from routine; we strengthen our family bonds. The month brings high prices in the market and nervousness on the roads as we rush home before sunset. Fasting raises tension; it is proved. In Amman, it's more than in Cairo, they say. In Saudi Arabia, I hear, no one is nervous. Not because of piety, but because they simply reverse the routine, sleeping through daylight to rise and pray and work after ifthar, all night. We go to school all month, and offices and businesses open, but only until 2 pm. That's it for the day. So if you need to read books, buy and sell, travel, and make decisions, do it before noon.

The month before, families celebrated triple the normal number of weddings. Every night, not simply weekends, crowds gathered to dance and sing for the married couple. Train schedules change; so do television programs. These last years, Ramadan brings us evening TV specials by satellite--comedies and dramas, singers, players, and poets. Egyptian channels vie with Syrian for the most compelling production of the year. Ramadan TV series are 30 days long, from the first to the end of the Holy Month. We remember stories years after that best Ramadan film.  Radio producers scour the country for sweet nasheed, and find the art of celebration of Holy Hadith and life of Prophet Mohammed. Nasheed vie with robust songs from our favorite vocalists all day on radio and television. Presidents and kings sit with their people reciting Quran. Small children endeavor to fast for a day, or two, maybe a whole week.  Above all, we remember our holy book, recall our favorite sura, speak it and hear it explained, ponder it, and savor its words.   B. Nimri Aziz, Ramadan, Algiers

[ Ramadan is here ]


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