A few weeks ago, the US Supreme Court, the highest federal court in the United States, turned away an appeal by thousands of Sept. 11 attack victims who sought to sue Middle Eastern individuals and companies for allegedly providing crucial support to Al-Qaeda. A federal appeals court had thrown out the claims in 2013, and the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 30 now finally puts this case to rest.
In the US legal system, the Supreme Court is the final interpreter of federal constitutional law. That it has now dismissed these outlandish claims is significant. Very significant. Yet, for some reason, this remains relatively unreported — in sharp, very disturbing contrast to the near media frenzy the initial filing had caused. I understand, of course, that a story accusing prominent companies and individuals (regardless of their ethnicity) of financing terrorism is infinitely more appealing than a story about a case being dismissed — but the fact remains that all of those who were very publicly accused of these heinous crimes have yet to be publicly exonerated. I am not a legal expert — but I believe that, at least in this specific example, the court of public opinion is more powerful than even the Supreme Court.
Effectively, the US Supreme Court left intact a lower federal court’s ruling that dismissed the claims filed by the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York against several Middle Eastern individuals and banks, which they accused of indirectly supporting militants. The plaintiffs, who include the relatives of those who died or were injured at the World Trade Center, were suing several banks, charities and financial institutions, including Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust. The federal appeals court in New York had dismissed much of the case in April 2013, ruling that the plaintiffs’ attorneys failed to provide sufficient evidence of a direct connection between the financial institutions and the militants’ actions. The federal court’s ruling was appealed and, ultimately, brought before the Supreme Court which, on June 30, 2014, denied the petition.
I understand that a story of “a case against” will always get more media attention than a story of a “non-case” — but the dramatic differences seem to point, as I said before, to something more insidious at work: latent prejudice, compounded by a broader bias. Let me be clear: The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 were heinous crimes. The terrorists, as well as their direct and indirect supports, must face justice. This is undeniable. But so is the principle that an individual must be considered innocent until proven guilty. Not vice-versa.
In particular, it seems to me that the US media remains intent on continuously demonizing people — and companies — from the Middle East. As I said earlier, when the case was first filed, rarely in the Western media do I read anything about our food, our culture, our paintings or our poetry. I just read how bad we are as Muslims. This US media bias, although unacceptable, is still less damning than the soft, almost spineless positions that our elite in the Middle East continue to take.
In fact, I am very disappointed — even deeply disturbed — at the manner in which the region’s elite chose to address both the initial claims and the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision to dismiss them. Their silence is deafening. To their credit, the US saw the case through, taking it all the way to the highest court before dismissing the claims as baseless — and then announcing as much. The Middle East media, and the governments that control much of it, have yet to even relay this announcement.
Instead, the Middle East chose to watch silently as some of our most prominent, most respectable individuals and companies — as well as our very culture — came under increasingly obvious attack. Not only did our elite not rise to defend, but they now also refuse to acknowledge the innocence.
This is particularly ironic considering how the region’s central banks have literally bent over backwards to accommodate demands for regulation to help fight the war on terror. One would have thought that the central banks in the region would have, at the very least, demonstrated equal zeal and commitment to clearing collective reputations as they do to monitoring and investigating financial transactions in search of criminal activity.
The writer is Group Chief Executive Officer of Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust.