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Dateline Wahington: 
Muslims in democratic America

By Kaleem Kawaja

What many of us Muslims in America are watching everyday for 3 months is a no holds barred, unlimited condemnation and demonizing of Islam and Muslims on TV, newspapers and magazines, that are the most popular ones in US. CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Time magazine, Newsweek magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times etc etc are broadcasting very twisted and derogatory material on Muslims. Every aspect of the lives of Muslims, from the practice of their faith, to treatment of women, to tolerance in society, to personal behaviour, to the life of prophet Mohammad and his wives, to verses from Qur'an and elements from Hadith are being subjected to grotesque and ugly attacks. Some commentators on CNN and other major TV networks are openly exhorting the US government to take this opportunity to launch war on all Muslim countries. 

One such recent interview of Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan became so hostile to Muslims that even Pat Buchanan asked the CNN anchor to stop maligning Muslims in such a vicious manner. In their special report on December 11 evening, CNN network held a half hour program called "Night of the Power" relating to Lailat-ul-Qadr on the next night. Rather than describe that it was the night when typically Muslims pray hard and seek forgiveness from God, the CNN anchor Greta lampooned this night as a potentially violent night, when Muslims were likely to commit suicide attacks on non-Muslims and run a rampage of violence in order to obtain martyrdom and reach heaven. The media attacks are hysterical and open hate mongering yet no authorities are taking any notice of it. Such is the state of the much heralded freedom of Muslim citizens in democratic America.

The Justice Deptt and FBI have launched a no holds barred discriminatory attack on the basic civil liberties and citizenship rights of Muslims. By shutting down and seizing the assets of 3 major Muslim charities, without disclosing any reasons why they have done it, or without even seeking approval of their action or warrant of seizure of assets, from a judge or magistrate, as the US laws require, the FBI is literally preventing American Muslims from practicing one of the core elements of Islam ie ZAKAT. And it is causing serious hardship for the poor Muslims who expect to receive this Zakat. 

About 1100 Muslims have been detained without any specific charge. Neither their names have been released nor they have been allowed access to lawyers. 5000 Muslims (including many with green cards) have been told to meet FBI for interviews. The major questions in these interviews are the records of the interviewed folks in the areas of giving charity to Muslim organizations and being active in Muslim institutions. Even though FBI had said that the interviews were voluntary, since only 300 Muslims responded to this call, FBI has now decided to visit those who have not responded. Applicants for US Visitor's visas from Muslim countries only are being subjected to intense scrutiny. FBI is keeping close watch on all charities and relief funds of Muslim organizations only and community/religious centers of Muslims only, to see who is coming who is going and what is happening in Islamic Centers. The FBI is keeping close watch on social/cultural gatherings of Muslims. The US laws define such intense monitoring as stalking, which is felony in US laws. Yet, Muslims are being subjected to it. Even respected American citizen Muslim travelers of airlines, many of them scholars and professors in major universities, whose names or appearances (eg beard of Hijab) indicate that they are Muslim, are often being offloaded from airplanes, or prevented from boarding at the gates in airport terminals and grilled by FBI. Many Muslim taxi drivers have reported that many White Americans are refusing to ride in their cabs. Muslims who wish to enroll in pilot training at various flight training schools are not being allowed to do so. 

Muslims with Arab sounding names or names that are obviously Muslim eg names with the word Mohammad are being openly harassed and subjected to extraordinary security scrutiny. Suspicion of Muslims as peaceful US citizens is in full swing. In short, Muslims who are citizens or immigrant visa (greencard) holders in US, and hence have citizenship rights like other US citizens, are being denied their basic citizenship rights. And our President and top political leaders say that this is not a war on Islam and the Muslim community. Is this the same America about which our President said recently that terrorists hate America because there is so much freedom in the society in America? The top American officials recently gave Iftar parties and felicitated Muslims on Eid ul Fitar. But the mid-level officials who are responsible for implementation of laws, are implementing a totally different policy of open harassment of Muslims. If we believe the top leaders of the US government on face value, what name should we give to this unlimited harassment of Muslims in America, the frenzied anti-Muslim US domestic policy, and the malicious hate campaign of the American media against Muslims since September 11? 

While the basic premise of the US laws is that a person is considered innocent until proven guilty, Muslims in America are being considered guilty until they prove themselves innocent. I recall from history that this is how Black American citizens were treated in the first half of the 20th century in US, when theoretically the US laws on civil liberties and citizenship rights were elaborate, but Black Americans were not allowed to utilize the due process of laws. Since Muslims became a community in America about 40 years ago, this is the worst time for them. In fact now even many well educated White American professors, intellectuals and lawyers have started denouncing such intense harassment of American Muslims by FBI and the Immigration authorities as purely illegal and harassment of Muslim citizens. While almost all American Muslims and their organizations have condemned the terrorist attacks on US, have fully supported the US global war on terrorism, continue to be constructive, continue to be on their best behaviour as citizens, and continue to build bridges of understanding with White Americans, as the war in Afghanistan dwindles, it remains to be seen when the full citizenship rights of American Muslims will be restored to them in practice. 


Originally from India, the writer is the President of the Maryland chapter of the American Muslim Council of Washington DC. q

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