From a statement read in court by Tarek Mehanna, a twenty-nine-year-old Massachusetts man who in April was sentenced to seventeen and a half years in prison on charges including materially supporting terrorism, for offenses such as translating and posting Al Qaeda propaganda online.

I was born and raised right here in America. This angers many people: How can an American believe the things I believe, take the positions I take? In more ways than one, it's because of America that I am who I am.

When I was six, I began putting together a massive collection of comic books. Batman implanted a concept in my mind, a paradigm as to how the world is set up: that there are oppressors, there are the oppressed, and there are those who step up to defend the oppressed. Throughout my childhood, I gravitated toward any book that reflected that paradigm - Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, even The Catcher in the Rye.

By the time I began high school and took a history class, I was learning just how real that paradigm is. I learned about the Native Americans and what befell them at the hands of European settlers. I learned about how the descendants of those European settlers were in turn oppressed under the tyranny of King George III. I read about Paul Revere, Tom Paine, and how Americans began an armed insurgency against British forces - an insurgency we now celebrate as the American Revolutionary War. I learned about the fight against slavery in this country, and the struggles of the labor unions, working class, and poor. I learned about the civil rights struggle.

From all the historical figures I learned about, one stood out above the rest. I was impressed by many things about Malcolm X, but above all I was fascinated by his transformation. I don't know if you've seen the movie Malcolm X by Spike Lee - it's over three hours long, and the Malcolm at the beginning is different from the Malcolm at the end. He starts off as an illiterate criminal but ends up a husband, a father, a protective and eloquent leader, a disciplined Muslim performing the hajj in Mecca, and, finally, a martyr.

Malcolm's life taught me that Islam is not something inherited; it's not a culture or ethnicity. It's a way of life, a state of mind anyone can choose no matter where he comes from or how he was raised. Since there's no priesthood, I could directly and immediately begin digging into the texts of the Koran and the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. The more I learned, the more I valued Islam like a piece of gold.

With that, my attention turned to what was happening to other Muslims in different parts of the world. And everywhere I looked, I saw the powers-that-be trying to destroy what I loved. I learned what the Soviets had done to the Muslims of Afghanistan. I learned what the Serbs had done to the Muslims of Bosnia . I learned what the Russians were doing to the Muslims of Chechnya. I learned what Israel had done in Lebanon - and what it continues to do in Palestine - with the full backing of the United States.

I learned what America itself was doing to Muslims. I learned about the Gulf War and depleted-uranium bombs. I learned about the American-led sanctions that prevented food, medicine, and medical equipment from entering Iraq, and how - according to the United Nations - over half a million children perished as a result. I remember a clip from a 60 Minutes interview of Madeleine Albright in which she expressed her view that these dead children were "worth it." I watched on September 11 as a group of people felt driven to hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings from their outrage at the deaths of these children.

I watched as America attacked and invaded Iraq. I saw the effects of "shock and awe" in the opening days of the invasion - the children in hospital wards with shrapnel from American missiles sticking out of their foreheads. I learned about the town of Haditha, where twenty-four Muslims - including a seventy-six-year-old man in a wheelchair, women, and even toddlers - were shot up by U.S. Marines. I learned about Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a fourteen-year-old Iraqi girl gangraped by five American soldiers, who then shot her and her family and set fire to the corpses. These are just the stories that make it to the headlines.

I mentioned Paul Revere. When he jumped on a horse and went on his midnight ride, it was to warn the people that the British were marching to Lexington to arrest Sam Adams and John Hancock, then on to Concord to confiscate the weapons stored there by the Minutemen. By the time they got to Concord, they found the Minutemen waiting for them, weapons in hand. From that battle came the American Revolution. There's an Arabic word to describe what those Minutemen did that day. It was a word repeated many times in this courtroom. That word is jihad.