Point of View

The only clear thing is that he's Muslim

August 12, 2009 

— About 10 years ago, I interviewed a Southern Baptist seminary-educated minister who was pastor of a Carrboro church. A strong proponent of the Second Amendment, that pastor told me the day might come when American Christians might have to take up arms against the state. His comments, published in The Chapel Hill News, didn't as much as raise an eyebrow at the time. No federal agents asked to listen to the tape recording of my interview with the pastor.

Times have changed. Two of the Raleigh U.S. Attorney's claims against alleged terror suspect Daniel Patrick Boyd are that he made "radical statements" and that "he urged the group of young Muslims to raise money and learn how to handle weapons to prepare for a violent jihad by insurgents and fighters overseas."

My young children got to know Boyd when he was proprietor of the Blackstone Market, a small grocery store Boyd co-owned and managed in Garner's Forest Hills Shopping Center. My children said Boyd "was really nice and funny." He gave them discounts when they didn't have enough money to pay for a piece of baklava or a nectar drink. My children were sad when Blackstone closed.

The government, however, is painting a very different picture of Boyd, calling him the mastermind of a terrorist cell bent on waging a holy war. The evidence shows that Boyd owned a cache of about two dozen legally acquired weapons. What's so un-American about that? While my home is gun-free, I'll bet plenty of North Carolinians are as well-armed as Boyd.

And like the Carrboro pastor, Boyd apparently holds some strong opinions about religion and politics. Boyd, however, is not Christian. Muslims don't have it easy in the Christo-centered South. Since Sept. 11, 2001, many Americans distrust Muslims or just hate them for no reason. Many Christians also believe there is no salvation for Muslims.

Boyd's views are not too far afield of many conservative Christians. Boyd traveled to the Middle East. Many fundamentalist Christians travel to the Holy Land, all the while advocating U.S. military support for Israel. The Christian version of holy war is Armageddon.

Holy wars are on the agenda of many zealots, but the consequences for such talk are apparently far more severe for Muslims. All the government needs to convict Boyd is his words. We've seen no evidence that Boyd ever hurt a fly. Apparently, he only talked about swatting them.

In the three years he was being investigated, Boyd appears to have done nothing worse than spout off to a government informant. In a democracy, the standard for guilt should be higher. If the government convinces a judge that national security matters are at stake, the informant may not even have to testify at Boyd's trial, meaning the defense will have no opportunity to cross-examine the government's key witness.

The government has also cast a wide net in this case, arresting two men who have had no contact with Boyd since 2007. Imagine how willing they will be to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney with the threat of life sentences hanging over their heads. People facing those kinds of consequences might be inclined to say anything the prosecution wants to hear.

The U.S. Attorney clearly wants to make an example out of Boyd and his cohorts, but this case reeks of sensationalism, anti-Islamism and entrapment. Local Muslims are outraged and rightfully distrust a government that has waged an immoral war for almost eight years, tortured prisoners and lied about it all in the process.

Although I advocate nonviolence, I'm glad I never stopped into the Blackstone Market to talk religion and politics with Boyd because I think we would have agreed on a lot of issues. Perhaps I would have ended up as the ninth defendant in this case. Wait, that wouldn't happen. I'm a Christian.

Patrick O'Neill is cofounder of Garner's Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House, a Christian, pacifist community that serves women and children in crisis.

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