On Monday, the five Americans arrested in Pakistan last month denied terrorism charges, but said they had traveled to the region “only to help the helpless Muslims.” The Associated Press quoted their lawyer, Ameer Abdullah Rokri, who said,
They told the court that they did not have any plan to carry out any terrorist act inside or outside Pakistan. They said that they only intended to travel to Afghanistan to help their Muslim brothers who are in trouble, who are bleeding and who are being victimized by Western forces.
When the men were detained in Sargodha in December, they were reportedly in possession of a map of Chashma Barrage, “located near nuclear power facilities, in Punjab province,” reported the Christian Science Monitor. The news agency cited a report compiled by investigators, which said the group “had also been in contact with an Arab American named Saifullah who had promised to ensure their passage to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces there.”
Today, one of the men named Ramy Zamzam, told reporters, “We are not terrorists. We are jihadists, and jihad is not terrorism.”
Is this the case of one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, or does it go deeper than that? According to the Washington Post, the Americans – Zamzam, Umar Farooq, Waqar Khan, Ahmed Minni, and Aman Hassan Yemer – are using a strategy seen in post-9/11 U.S. courtrooms. The Post noted,
The emerging legal strategy reflects a view among some lawyers that prosecutors have misused the word jihad, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and that it is a peaceful term that can mean studying Islam and caring for the sick.
Excuse me for being snarky, but since when does “fighting the evil Americans to help the helpless Muslims” constitute the peaceful “greater” jihad, the inner spiritual struggle of Muslims? F. Gregory Gause from the University of Vermont, echoes my sentiments exactly when he asserted, “Pakistan is a strange place to go and do this other kind of more internal spiritual jihad. Why wouldn’t they do it at home?”
Although I agree with the lawyers who’ve said “it’s a great disservice when government officials use jihad and terror interchangeably,” I’d argue, as a Muslim, that it’s also a disservice when terms like jihad are used to play the “politically correct” trump card.
It will be interesting to see how such a strategy will play out in Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts, given the vernacular and the country’s history with the anti-terrorism act (ATA). Moreover, I wonder whether the men’s admission that they were planning an attack across the border rather than in Pakistan will change anything. Not for the U.S., I can tell you that much.