NCPCF: The War on Terror, the Bill of Rights and Jihad

By: Dr. Mel Underbakke, Director of NCPCF Education Committee

Steve Downs, executive director of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF), spoke at the Congregational Church in Decorah, Iowa on October 8. He was joined by Dr. Robert Shedinger, professor in the religion department at Luther College and author of numerous books, including his recently published book Jesus and Jihad: Reclaiming the Prophetic Heart of Christianity and Islam.

Why does a nation that boasts of guarantees of justice and personal liberty hold a growing number of Arabs and Muslims as political prisoners? Downs and Shedinger addressed this question, and also searched for some solutions.

According to Attorney Steve Downs, governmental actions previously forbidden by the Bill of Rights – preemptive prosecution, torture, indefinite detention without charges, assassination of American citizens, denial of due process, abridgment of free speech, and unreasonable search and seizure – have become the central principles of the War on Terror. And Muslims have been the principle targets of this war.

Downs said that government criminalizes otherwise protected activities, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association, and calls them “material support of terrorism”. He gave as an example the case of Ziyad Yaghi, a young man who has committed no crime but is serving a 31-year-sentence simply for his associations.

Another government method is entrapment, in which a paid informant befriends a likely target and involves the person in a fake plot created by the FBI. The FBI foils their own plot, and the hapless target is locked up for years.

The “war of terror” involves preemptive prosecution, in which an arrest is made before a crime has been committed. Downs said that such a war is a war against a concept – terror – and that is a war that can never be won.

Dr. Shedinger began his remarks by saying that these are problems that “every one of us should be concerned about because it’s a problem of injustice . . .and if we are going to make any headway in this issue of preemptive prosecution” we are going to need a jihad.

He noted that there are few words that inspire more fear in the United States than the word “jihad”, which most understand to mean a Holy War bent on conquering and killing freedom-loving Americans.

However, Shedinger said that our stereotypical images of jihad are wrong, and that in early Islam, jihad referred to an enduring struggle for justice. Jesus also was engaged in jihad. He was living under a brutal occupying force, and his primary mission was political resistance against Roman oppression.

Shedinger is calling on Christians to “claim ownership of the compatibility of Jesus with jihad while reclaiming their own fading prophetic voice” in order to begin a jihad against the current injustices in the United States.

Why should Cristians begin this jihad? Shedinger described a conference where he made the argument that America was greatly in need of the twin Islamic concepts of tawhid and jihad. The Muslim scholar who followed this presentation commented that he could never get away with saying that. Shedinger’s reply was, “I know you can’t say it; that’s why I have to.”

What has prevented people from caring about the current injustices against Muslims in particular is the Islamophobic discourse coming from well-funded professional networks teaching us to fear Muslims. However, the task today is “simply to respond to the prophetic call for justice staring at us from every corner of the Islamic and Christian traditions” and work together in a jihad to reshape the world in a way that promotes the dignity of every human being.


The National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, the Northeast Iowa Peace and Justice Center, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northeast Iowa, and Decorah Friends Meeting sponsored the event.








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