That's pretty much how American Muslims are responding to the
strange case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker, who
faces a potentially historic trial in a Virginia federal courtroom
in late September.
Rather than rallying to his cause, many Muslims and Arab-
Americans are keeping what they see as a safe distance from the self-
proclaimed Osama bin Laden loyalist and Al Qaeda member.
Federal prosecutors are seeking to have Mr. Moussaoui executed
for his alleged role in the Sept. 11 conspiracy. Although some
critics have questioned whether he can receive a fair trial, the
Muslim community in the US has remained largely silent about the
Analysts say that American Muslims do not identify with
Moussaoui's extremist political views and radical interpretation of
Islam. In addition, these analysts say, many Muslims are fearful
that if they speak up and question whether Moussaoui is being
treated fairly, they, too, might become targets of federal agents.
"Just asking the question is now tantamount to being seen as
betraying the country," says Eric Erfan Vickers, executive director
of the American Muslim Council in Washington. "There is a reluctance
to express support for those who have been detained or charged, or
to raise questions about whether the government has solid evidence."
Mr. Vickers adds, "We are in an environment now where an
accusation is the equivalent of a conviction."
Moussaoui is being held in solitary confinement pending his
trial, and the trial judge has barred him from meeting with the only
lawyer he says he trusts. All his limited contacts with the outside
world are monitored by federal agents under new terrorism trial
rules authorized by the attorney general.
To the US government, the Moussaoui trial represents an
opportunity to hold someone accountable for the massive death and
destruction on Sept. 11. Moussaoui admits that he came to the US on
an Al Qaeda mission, but he denies any involvement in or knowledge
of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.
Instead, Moussaoui says the FBI knew in advance of the Sept. 11
attacks and allowed them to go forward. He says he wants to tell his
story to Congress, to a grand jury, and eventually to a 12-member
jury at his own trial.
In addition to spawning conspiracy theories, the coming trial may
undermine years of effort by Arab-American and Muslim civil rights
workers seeking to overcome anti-Arab bias and stereotypes. …