Syed Maaz Shah was sentenced to 6 and a half years in prison Friday after a Houston federal jury convicted Shah in May of two counts of unlawfully possessing a firearm while in the country on a student visa.
Born in Pakistan, Shah, 20, was on full scholarship at University of Texas at Dallas last year when he attended firearms training sessions at a camp site in Willis, near Conroe. Other participants included three Muslim students from Houston, also charged in the so-called Houston Taliban case, as well as a government informant and an undercover FBI agent.
Prosecutors said Shah should receive a “terrorism bump” and serve a decade in prison because he was training to kill Americans to avenge what he perceived as the unjustified slaughter of Muslims by the U.S. in Iraq.
On the other side:
Shah said prosecutors twisted his words and, as outsiders, misunderstood Islamic concepts like “jihad.”
“Among Muslims, we discuss things and we know what they mean,” he said. “The government is picking and choosing and interpreting my comments to mean something else.”
This business of being misunderstood is a common enough refrain for Muslims when convicted of terror-related crimes. Mere English-speakers are not capable of understanding their higher callings, just as we are not capable of understanding the Koran.
But is Shah’s case different?
The indictment accused the pair of “conducting firearms and paramilitary training to hone their skills… to fight with the Taliban to engage in a battlefield jihad.” And the indictment alleged that the men “viewed the United States and Coalition military forces on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq as invaders.”
CBS 11 found a web posting on UTD’s Muslim Student Association forum in which Shah expressed similar views and praised a video of insurgents building roadside bombs in Iraq to kill American troops. The Association pulled the entire forum off their web page after being contacted by CBS 11. You can see the video by clicking here.
According to other blogs found by CBS 11, Shah was born in Karachi and had recently lived in Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates. In a January 2003 posting on the Young Muslims of North America Forum Maaz Shah agreed with a blogger’s view about 9-11 who wrote, “I felt that America was getting wat (sic) was comin (sic) to them.(600,000 dead Iraqi children, forget the 3000 Americans)”
One damning piece of evidence, at least in the court of public opinion, is this:
In testimony before United States Magistrate Judge Jeff Kaplan, a FBI special agent assigned to the international counter-terrorism squad described 19-year-old Shah as a self-proclaimed terrorist bent on jihad.
“He held up his passport to the other members of the group and said, ‘Do you want to see the passport of a terrorist?’” the agent testified.
A third co-defendant, Kobie Diallo Williams, a 33-year-old U.S. citizen, will be sentenced in October after his November 2006 guilty plea to conspiracy charges related to raising money for the Taliban and gun charges.
Whatever evidence the government presented was compelling enough to result in a long sentence for a seemingly minor infraction.
Shah disagrees, naturally, and falls back on the defense that he is misunderstood. In own words, from a letter he wrote to the UTD student newspaper while in prison awaiting trial, Shah says:
We live in interesting times, where word from a higher authority seems to reign as the truth amoung (sic) the people. For example, president George W. Bush who claimed Iraq had WMD’s and so forth. But in the end after the dust has settled we realize the real truth of the matter. That’s kind of how my case is.
Isn’t it mind boggling that someone can be placed in prison for merely going to a shooting range? That’s what was my crime. Just think about it for a moment. Let’s say me and you go to a shooting range, like any other normal Texan, mow down a few targets, and the next thing you know I am being arrested because I was on a non-immigrant visa? So where is my 2nd amendment right? Oh wait I don’t have it, hmm wonder if I even have the 1st? You see my point, and to be straight forward I was invited by my friends to go camping and have a good time, and thats (sic) what we had.
It’s really sad to see these sort of laws which are ridiculous. And you know what, IF I had known it would’ve been against the law I wouldn’t have fired that weapon. I mean for god’s sake we live in Texas for crying outloud (sic). If you don’t OWN a gun your (sic) not a Texan, forget even posessing (sic) it. I lived in Texas 10+ years of my life; men, woman (sic), even highschoolers (sic) who often went hunting all had guns from all different echelons of society. For different purposes, from hunting to self-defense, from sporting to collecting.
Looking at my record, ask people who actually know me then you get a more accurate picture of who I am. I have never done drugs or had even an ounce of alcohol. I loved working in community service projects when ever (sic) I got the chance. I never had a serious confrontation with anyone since middle school. I never violated the law, except occasional speeding tickets =). I mean thats (sic) me. I speak out against what I believe is wrong and injust (sic), for example the war in Iraq and US (sic) foreign policy for the past half a century (sic). This is all me because that is what my religion teaches me to be, not what the government is portraying me as now.
A lot of things were misconscrewed (sic), for example the passport comment was a joke merely poking fun at the fact I wasn’t stopped initially when I entered the US (sic)…
Another comment misunderstood was the one on weak leaders among Muslims, in specific I was speaking of those in Houston. You want to know what the whole conversation was around? Saudi Arabia, that’s right I was ranting against those leaders who refuse to acknowledge injust (sic) being done, in specific to Saudi Arabia. Where women can’t drive, vote or practically do anything normal. Where people are being thrown in prison and tortured for speaking out against these injustices and a removal of the monarchy and in it’s (sic) place a just democracy. Interesting how the fed’s (sic) leave all that out.
I could go on, but I don’t want to take much of your time. All I am saying is things aren’t portrayed as they seem. And generally what is apparrent (sic) isn’t the full truth in the matter; a good example is Iraq, oil, death, money, and etc.
Last but not least about my friends, all I can say is that it is a suprise (sic) to me and I cannot believe such accusations unless they are proven and since 1 has already pleaded guilty I really can’t believe it. It’s kind of like you knew someone for such a long time and you thought you knew them, but you didn’t … Goes to show what I said earlier “nothing is what it seems.”
Shah seems genuine and makes an interesting point about the gun culture in Texas which, as he points out, makes gun ownership quite common here. Yet are we to take him at his word? Do we dare? A jury and a federal judge didn’t think so.
Perhaps that is not even the correct question. Referring to Robert Spencer’s book Religion of Peace?—Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t, John Derbyshire says:
If what he has told us is true—and so far as the present state if Islam is concerned, I think it is—then the West should proscribe Islam, and the sooner the better. We should not allow Muslims into our countries, other than for necessary diplomatic or scholarly purposes. We should revoke the visas and permits of resident aliens who are Muslims, and ensure their departure. We should offer to purchase the citizenship of Muslim citizens, and bribe them to leave. Those who will not leave should be carefully watched by the police, and subjected to social disabilities—they should not, for example, be admitted to the armed forces, or allowed to proselytize in prisons. (Take a religion addled with violence and infused with a hatred of our society, and teach it in prisons to the most violent and antisocial of our people? Have we gone stark raving mad?) Mosques and madrassahs should be closed, or at the least punitively taxed.
For the U.S.A. there would be some constitutional niceties to be sorted out, but I am not speaking of any grave injustices here, still less of any cruelty or harm, which no civilized person wishes to a fellow human being who has done nothing wrong. Millions of harmless, peaceful Muslims will of course be inconvenienced, but life comes with no guarantee of uninterrupted convenience, and moving from one country to another is not especially arduous—I have done it myself several times. Nothing in such a program of “separationism” is immoral or improper, unless the first word in the phrase “sovereign nation” has lost all meaning.
But there, of course, is the rub. There, too, perhaps, is the real reason why Robert Spencer does not follow his analysis with the separationist prescription it so clearly implies: the reason being, that there is no chance whatsoever of such a prescription being applied in any western nation.
The west, Derbyshire says, needs to isolate itself from the influence of the new Islam.
About that he is correct, if such a thing were possible. But there is zero chance of the U.S. or any other western nation expelling its Muslim citizens and, I think, rightly so.
However, the same cannot be said about those who come to western democracies on student and work visas and those who sneak in illegally. Among this group, Shah’s case is hardly unique. Indeed, rarely does a week go by without news of a Muslim foreign national being arrested here on a terrorism-related charge.
It is very nearly enough to make one agree with Derbyshire’s conclusion. In the final analysis we will never know whether Syeed Maaz Shah was a man of peace or not.
Cross-posted at The Van Der Galiën Gazette.