The Al Qaeda-Harmonica Link

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/3830019543/" target="_blank">stevendepolo</a> (Creative Commons)

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On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a pair of cases that challenge the existing federal ban on providing “material support” to terroristson account of the fact that “material support,” as you might expect, can be taken mean almost anything. Including, it turns out, teaching a terrorist to play the blues. Let’s check the transcript (pdf):

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Under the definition of this statute, teaching these members to play the harmonica would be unlawful. You are teachingtraining them in a lawfulin a specialized activity. So how do wethere has to be something more than merely a congressional finding that any training is bad. [emphasis mine]

Solicitor General Elena Kagan, quick on her feet, told Sotomayor that such a scenario was unlikely. Terrorists, as anyone with even an elementary education knows, hate bluegrass: “Now you say well, maybe training aplaying a harmonica is a specialized activity. I think the first thing I would say is there are not a whole lot of people going around trying to teach Al Qaeda how to play harmonicas.”

But Justice Antonin Scalia, for one, was unconvinced: “Well,” he retorted, “Hamid Hatah [note: I think he means Mohammed Atta] and his harmonica quartet might tour the country and make a lot of money. Right?” 

Merlin’s pants! The terrorists really are everywhere. The harmonica quartet may be an odd tangent to a terror case, but it does sound like a great idea for a movie: A down-on-his-luck blues musician (I’m thinking Sam Elliott), looking to revive his own career, forges an unlikely friendship with a band of aspiring Islamic extremists masquerading as music students. In the end, forced to choose between the attack they’ve secretly been plotting and their big gig, the terrorists choose musicand friendshipover terror. Or something.

Get on it, Coen brothers.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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