THREE men were convicted last week in U.S. District Court in Toledo of conspiring to plan attacks to kill or injure U.S. troops and providing materials and support to terrorists. That was - or should have been - all there was to the story. It wasn't, of course, because in post-9/11 America the fact that the three are Muslims of Middle Eastern descent takes on added, some unfortunately would say critical, significance. But much to Toledo's credit, this trial seems to have played out with a minimum of fear-mongering inside or outside the courtroom.
Instead, Lady Justice's blindfold remained firmly in place. Mohammad Amawi, Marwan El-Hindi, and Wassim Mazloum were tried on the facts, and a jury, after due deliberation, found them guilty. The three defendants face the possibility of life in prison when they are sentenced, although sentencing may not occur for several months and appeals are likely.
When the three conspirators were arrested more than two years ago, there was fear of a backlash against Muslim and Arab members of the greater-Toledo community. Fortunately, those fears proved unfounded, and the ties binding the various faiths that make up the fabric of life in northwest Ohio seem as strong as ever.
Even Stephen Hartman, one of El-Hindi's attorneys, said that while he was disappointed with the verdict, "we had a judge who worked very hard to assure a fair trial. We had an incredible, attentive jury. They just disagreed with our theory." Only one attorney, Ed Bryan, a public defender on Amawi's team, suggested the jury might not have been able to relate to his client's religion, culture, and politics.
Sadly, federal officials did not show similar judgment and restraint. "This case demonstrates the stark reality of home-grown terrorism," FBI Special Agent C. Frank Figliuzzi warned, adding, "if a plot like this can be developed in Toledo, it can happen anywhere."
In his rush to make political points, exploit ignorance and fear, rationalize Bush Administration policies many see as dangerous restrictions on freedom, or whatever his purpose might have been, Mr. Figliuzzi also spoke of the "radical extremists in our midst," an interesting phrase most likely to evoke images of swarthy, bearded men of Middle Eastern extraction.
That image, of course, ignores the fact that "home-grown terrorism" comes in many forms. Abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski were no less terrorists than the men convicted last week in a Toledo courtroom. Indeed, Rudolph, McVeigh, and Kaczynski were worse because they both plotted and acted while Amawi, El-Hindi, and Mazloum never actually blew anything up.
Some members of Toledo's 6,000-strong Muslim community expressed the hope as this trial ended that it would not also become a conviction of Muslims and Arabs in general. To the city and northwest Ohio's credit, again it has not. Of that we can all be proud.