2006: Another tough year for American Muslims
Abdus Sattar Ghazali
The Milli Gazette
» Six Imams, on their way home from Minneapolis after a meeting of the North American Imams Federation, are detained in a holding cell, questioned by police and FBI agents and released after several hours.
» Virginia congressman, Virgil Goode, opposes oath on the Quran by Keth Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the US Congress and calls for a ban on the immigration of Muslims to prevent election of more Muslims to the Congress.
» Radio talk-show host Dennis Prager says that Keith Ellison should not be allowed to take his congressional oath on the Quran because America is interested in only one book, the Bible.
These recent episodes symbolize the dilemma of American Muslims in post-9/11 America . More than half a decade after 9/11, seven-million strong American Muslim community remains under siege with constant attacks on its faith. The events of 9/11 were used as an excuse to greatly magnify the hostility toward Muslims and cloak it in pseudo-patriotism. Unfortunately, Muslim-bashing has become socially acceptable in the United States . Bigots' venom against Islam and Muslims, once shocking has become the mainstream.
There was a surge in Islamophobia and bigotry towards Muslims this year. The growing anti-Islamic sentiment in this country was reflected in the unfortunate use of the offensive term "Islamic fascist" by President George Bush who equated Islam with fascism.
Many political and religious leaders continued their anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric. Franklin Graham reaffirmed his scorn for Islam again when he told an interviewer of the ABC News "Nightline" in March that he hasn't changed his mind about Islam. He says that the Quran teaches violence and that the God of Islam is not the same God of Christians.
At the same time, radio talk-show hosts continue to spew venom against Muslims. Talk-show host, Michael Savage calls on the lawmakers to institute an outright ban on Muslim immigration and on the construction of mosques. And when radio host Jerry Klein suggests that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.
Americans' attitudes about Islam and Muslims are fuelled mainly by political statements and media reports that focus almost solely on the negative image of Islam and Muslims. Tellingly several opinion polls conducted this year amplify this point.
A July Gallup poll finds that thirty-nine percent Americans say they felt at least some prejudice against Muslims. The same percentage favored requiring Muslims, including U.S. citizens, to carry a special ID "as a means of preventing terrorist attacks in the United States."
Two polls released in March indicated that almost half of Americans have a negative perception of Islam and that one in four of those surveyed have extreme anti-Muslim views. The Washington Post-ABC News Poll indicated that the proportion of Americans who believe that Islam helps to stoke violence against non-Muslims has more than doubled since the attacks, from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent today.
According to the CAIR poll some one-fourth (23 to 27 percent) of Americans consistently believe stereotypes such as: "Muslims value life less than other people," and "The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred." only six percent of Americans have a positive first impression of Islam and Muslims.
One impact of Islamophobia was negative public reaction to the building of new mosques and expansion of the existing ones. In many cases permission to build a new mosque or expansion of the existing mosques was resisted by communities conditioned by the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Prejudice against Islam and Muslims allowed our politicians to whip a frenzy in rejecting the approval of the Dubai firm to operate American ports in March 2006.
The continuing anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric has contributed to the rise of discrimination against Muslims. According to the 2006 annual report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) there was an almost 30 percent increase in the number of anti-Muslim bias incidents from 2004 to 2005 with a substantial increase in California which has one of the largest Muslim population. CAIR also received 153 reports of anti-Muslim hate crime complaints, an 8.6 percent increase from the 141 complaints received in 2004.
And the hard feelings are damaging the mental health of U.S. Muslims, suggest new studies released at the American Psychological Association. Verbal harassment and discrimination correlate with worse mental health in studies of Muslims and Arab-Americans since 9/11, says psychologist Mona Amer of Yale University School of Medicine. Muslims, who made up 70% of the study's participants, had poorer mental health than Christians.
Discrimination and stereotyping Muslims has had other profound effects. A national study released in August 2006, by economics researchers at the University of Illinois, found that the earnings of Muslim and ethnically Arab men working in the United States dropped about 10 percent in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Hundreds - if not thousands - of men with Arabic-sounding or Muslim names were experiencing endless delays in what should be the pro forma final step of the citizenship application process. Some applicants are waiting for years for their swearing-in ceremonies. In April 2006, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee launched a national legal campaign to get the government to resolve hundreds of cases. More than 40 lawyers filed lawsuits in federal courts, requesting that a judge step in and force U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to complete the stalled naturalization cases. In May, ten Chicago area Muslim men filed a class-action lawsuit against the federal government alleging their quest to become U.S. citizens is being delayed because of their Islamic faith and male gender. The Syrian, Moroccan, Jordanian, Pakistani and Egyptian natives have no criminal records, but they have been waiting one to four years for the government to make a decision on their applications.
One of the first victims of the post-9/11 climate of fear in the Muslim community is charitable giving. Support for both Palestinians and victims of the US occupation of Iraq is now considered precarious. Donating to charities is especially hazardous because so many of these institutions have been targeted by law enforcement as terrorist-related. In February 2006, the Treasury Department froze the assets of KindHearts USA, padlocking the doors of the Toledo-based charity "pending an investigation." In Sept. US authorities, raided another major Muslim charity, the Michigan-based Life for Relief and Development (LIFE). Federal agents also raided the home of the charity's President and Chief Executive officer, Khalil Jassemm, and the Dearborn office of Muthanna Alhanooti, a former official of the charity.
A New York Times report has confirmed what Muslims have believed since the Sept. 11 attacks that the FBI has been working to infiltrate their community. A young Muslim police detective testifies at the Herald Square bombing plot trial that he was recruited from the Police Academy 13 months after 9/11 to work deep undercover in the Muslim community. He took an apartment in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where his assignment was to be a "walking camera" among Muslims there.
In another headline-grabbing terror trial of two Pakistani Americans - Hamid Hayat and his father Umer Hayat - a Muslim informer was paid $ 250,000 to infiltrate the large Muslim community in Lodi, California. The trial ended in August after a US Federal Judge in Sacramento sentenced Umer Hayat, to time he served in detention since his arrest in June last year. In April -- the same day Umer Hayat's trial ended in a hung jury -- a federal jury in Sacramento convicted his son, Hamid, 23, of providing material support to terrorists and lying to the FBI about it. However, Arcelia Lopez, one of the jurors in the case later filed an affidavit alleging that she was bullied into a guilty verdict by fellow jurors who exhibited a pattern of misconduct and racism. Hamid's attorney has asked for his retrial.
An operative of the FBI was a part-time employee for three years at KindHearts, the Toledo-based Muslim charity shut down by the government in February 2006. His work led to the arrests of three men on terrorism charges. KindHearts' attorney and a board member Jihad Smaili believes investigators planted the operative inside KindHearts in an effort to link the charity with terrorists.
The trial of Dr. Sami Al Arian, who was a tenured professor of computer engineering at the University of South Florida until being fired, says legions about the place of Muslims in the United States following the attacks of 9/11. It is part of a ruthless campaign to strip Americans of fundamental rights because of their religious beliefs. Al-Arian was found not guilty on eight of 17 counts, including conspiracy to maim or murder. Jurors deadlocked on the rest of the charges, including ones that he aided terrorists. To avoid re-trial, Dr. Sami Al-Arian, signed a plea agreement in April in which he admitted providing support to members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a State Department-designated terrorist group. In May a federal judge in Florida sentenced him to another year and a half in prison before he will be deported. But his time now seems likely to be extended since, despite plea bargaining that should have exempted him from further testimony, he has been called to testify before a secret grand jury in Virginia investigating Islamic organizations in the state. And so, although Al-Arian is scheduled to be deported in April 2007, he could now be imprisoned for an additional 18 months. The federal government has placed him in contempt of court because he is refusing to answer questions before the Virginia grand jury.
T he American Muslims have responded to the state of siege with political and social activism, media campaigns, outreach and interfaith dialogue. It is now more proactive as it believes that the best way to protect its eroding civil rights is to become more active politically. From coast to coast, Muslim and Arab-American groups organized as never before to make known their concerns about civil liberties. They have gone beyond sign-waving demonstrations to hold voter registration drives, meet with politicians and form alliances with other civil rights and religious organizations. Muslims are becoming more organized and vocal in their demands, petitioning school boards to establish prayer rooms in public schools for their children and turning to the courts when they believe their constitutional rights to practice their faith have been violated.
In the 2006 mid-term elections, Muslims and Arabs voted over whelmingly for the Democratic Party. A pre-election CAIR poll revealed that 42 percent consider themselves members of the Democratic Party while only 17 per cent are Republican. The exit polls confirmed the findings of the pre-election polls.
The Muslim community demonstrated its importance in this election particularly in the states where it has large concentration of population. In states like Virginia which has substantial concentration of Muslim population, the Muslim vote became the critical vote in tipping the balance on control of the US Senate. In Virginia Incumbent senator George Allen was defeated by his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, giving Democrats control of the Senate with 51-members.
The seven-million-strong American Muslim community got a big political push when the Minnesota Democrat Keith Ellison was elected as the nation's first Muslim member to the US Congress in the November elections. His election campaign was based on making alliances with all groups. Tellingly, he was able to defeat his Republican rival, Alan Fine, who was of Jewish faith as Ellison was able to garner the support of Jewish groups too. However, a systematic campaign was launched against Muslims when he indicated that he will take oath on the Quran. Opposing oath on the Quran, Virginia Congressman, Virgil Goode, insists that immigration of Muslims should be curbed "to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America ."
In the final analysis, the Democrats may have taken control of the House and Senate in the midterm elections, but American Muslims still suffer from President Bush's war against 'terrorism' and configuration of laws and government policies that have usurped the civil rights of all Americans but particularly target Muslims in America.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online Magazine American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com