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American Muslims remain in the dock 11 years after 9/11

Seven million-strong American Muslim community remained in the dock 11 years after 9/11 with Republican Party’s witch-hunt against Muslims in the U.S. government and meteorite rise in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric in the 2012 election campaign.

 This is an election year and for many hysteria-peddling politicians fear-mongering remains the best tool to exploit the fear among masses fomented by the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric by media and extreme right politicians as well as some religious leaders.

Not surprisingly, the Republican Party has adopted Islamophobia by including a plank in its platform that opposed the imagined threat of Sharia. It will not be too much to say that just as the threat of undocumented immigration is used to justify discrimination against Hispanics, the specter of Shariah is used to justify discrimination against Muslims.

Tellingly, Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state who may be best known as the brains behind Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, also pushed an amendment to the GOP platform to support a ban on foreign law (read Islamic law).  Kobach hopes that will give anti-Muslim activists a tool for pressuring more states to pass their own anti-Sharia laws. In 2011 and 2012, 73 anti-Islam bills were introduced in 31 states. So far, six states have passed the bills.

Hate speech and rhetoric continue to add to the culture of hate and violence and lead to a dramatic surge of violent activity and harassment directed at places of worship. In a climate of increasing fear-based rhetoric, we have seen a rise in hate crimes not only against American Muslims and but also fellow Americans perceived to be Muslim. On August 5, 2012, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee and critically wounded three others, including a police officer. The gunman was later identified as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran with reported links to the white supremacist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Centre reported that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States tripled in 2011.The SPLC also reported dramatic expansion in the radical right groups.

Within 10 days of the Sikh Temple shooting there were at least eight attacks and harassment were directed at Mosques, Islamic Institutions and an Arab-Christian church.

Few days after Rep. Walsh told a room of people at a town hall meeting that “Islam is a threat,” an assailant launched a homemade bomb at The College Preparatory School of America -- A private Islamic school in the 8th Congressional District of Illinois, represented by Rep. Walsh. The bomb exploded outside of the mosque, and did not cause any injuries. It was not a coincidence. The facts are clear -- By proclaiming to the public that “Muslims are trying to kill Americans every week,” Walsh raised suspicion of the American Muslim community and incited fear. Hence, Rep. Walsh is responsible for the assailants’ actions.

Muslim Americans are not the only ones impacted from the hate and bigotry. Shortly after vandals defaced the Mother of the Savior Church in Dearborn, MI, the Rev. Rani Abdulmasih wrote to Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) stating, “As a Christian Arab and Middle Eastern congregation, we have sensed the profiling in more ways than one. [...] It is unfortunate that racial profiling, bigotry and racism continues to exist and flourish in our beloved country, as we live under a Constitution that supports freedom, justice and equality for all.”

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with its manufactured controversy over the Park51 Muslim community centre in New York City also known as the Ground Zero Mosque, at least 88 American mosques and Islamic centres have been targeted by hate, including 13 acts of violence and 31 acts of vandalism since 2010.

GOP leaders’ rhetoric against Islam and Muslims

A succession of Republican candidates have attempted to run to the right of party favourite Mitt Romney by asserting that only a true conservative can defeat Obama in November, says John Feffer, the author of the just-published Crusade 2.0: The West’s Resurgent War on Islam. He went to say that most of them boasted of the same powerful backer. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum all declared that God asked them to run for higher office. “Together with Newt Gingrich, they have deployed various methods of appealing to their constituencies, but none is more potent than religion. …..ugly Islamophobia has already insinuated itself into the 2012 elections in a potentially more damaging way than the 2008 elections.”

In a national security debate in November 2011, Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and once GOP presidential candidate said he would support profiling Muslims at airport checkpoints as a tactic to protect against terrorist attacks. “Obviously Muslims would be someone you’d look at, absolutely,” Santorum said.

 Herman Cain has consistently held a hostile discourse on Islam, belittling almost anything or anyone resonating Muslim. Among many instances we may take as example Cain’s opposition to the construction of an Islamic Centre in Murfreesboro, Tenn., unreasonably arguing that it’s not religious discrimination for a community to ban a mosque.

 Tennessee state Republican legislator, Rick Wommick in November last called for the removal of all Muslims serving in the military. In an interview on the sidelines of an anti-Shariah conference in Nashville, TN, Womick told ThinkProgress that he doubts that any devout Muslim could be loyal to the US military. “Personally, I don’t trust one Muslim in our military,” he said.

In July last, Connecticut Republican congressional candidate Mark Greenberg questioned whether Islam was a peaceful religion and said he believed it was “a cult in many respects.”

Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, a Republican congressional candidate from Arizona questions the presence of “Middle Easterners” in the US by asking, “Why do we want them here, either legally or illegally.”

In July also, Michele Bachmann and several other members of Congress insinuated that Huma Abedin, one of the few American Muslims in a high-level government job, was an agent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. John McCain, Marco Rubio, and John Boehner criticized Bachmann’s smear campaign, but Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Eric Cantor, and Romney adviser John Bolton defended it. To borrow Peter Benart of the Newsweek, Romney, predictably, tried to have it both ways, saying that Bachmann’s attacks “are not things that are part of my campaign,” but that “I’m not going to tell other people what things to talk about.” In other words, I won’t defame American Muslims myself, but if other prominent Republicans want to, go ahead. After receiving threats, Abedin now receives FBI security protection.

Exponential rise in the U.S. anti-Muslim hate groups

Not surprisingly, such anti-Muslim and anti-Islam rhetoric has fomented discrimination, hate and intolerance against the Muslims and prompted the rise of anti-Muslim groups. According to Southern Poverty Law Centre (SLPC) the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled in 2011, jumping from 10 groups in 2010 to 30 last year. In a special investigative report released in March 2012, the SLPC said:

“Anti-Muslim hate groups are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, most of them appearing in the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier anti-Muslim groups tended to be religious in orientation and disputed Islam’s status as a respectable religion. All anti-Muslim hate groups exhibit extreme hostility toward Muslims. The organizations portray those who worship Islam as fundamentally alien and attribute to its followers an inherent set of negative traits. Muslims are depicted as irrational, intolerant and violent, and their faith is frequently depicted as sanctioning pedophilia, marital rape and child marriage.

“These groups also typically hold conspiratorial views regarding the inherent danger to America posed by its Muslim-American community. Muslims are depicted as a fifth column intent on undermining and eventually replacing American democracy and Western civilization with Islamic despotism. Anti-Muslim hate groups allege that Muslims are trying to subvert the rule of law by imposing on Americans their own Islamic legal system, Shariah law. Anti-Muslim hate groups also broadly defame Islam, which they tend to treat as a monolithic and evil religion. These groups generally hold that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.”

“Americans need to wake up to attacks on U.S. Muslims,” is the title of Peter Benart’s recent article published by the Newsweek in which he argues that in the 1950s, Joseph McCarthy-believing that it was too difficult to fight communism abroad-declared that the real threat came from communists at home. In so doing, he fueled a hysteria that ruined the lives of countless Americans who had dabbled in leftist politics but never remotely posed a threat to their fellow citizens, he said adding: Today, with the Bush era’s epic “war on terror” ending with a whimper, a new generation of anti--Muslim -McCarthyites is doing something similar.

“The more American politicians insist that Islam is inherently hateful and violent, the more hate and violence they foment against Muslims in the U.S.” Benard argues.

American Muslim community remained under surveillance

Eleven years after 9/11, the American Muslim community remained under surveillance.

Since August 2011, the Associated Press has been reporting how the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and monitored Muslim neighbourhoods with plainclothes officers. The NYPD even conducted surveillance of Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups in New Jersey.

Tellingly in more than six years of spying on Muslim neighbourhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation. The Demographics Unit is at the heart of a police spying program, built with help from the CIA, which assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed.

But in a deposition by NYPD Assistant Chief Thomas Galati conceded that in the six years he has commanded the NYPD Intelligence Division, he never got a single lead from a demographics unit report and none of the conversations the officers overheard has ever led to a terrorism investigation. Galati was questioned in a lawsuit challenging the spying as a violation of a 1985 court-monitored agreement that set federal guidelines prohibiting the surveillance of political activity when there is no indication of unlawful activity.

In March last, a group of 110 advocacy and activist organizations teamed together to send a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to investigate whether the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of American Muslims with its widespread Muslim surveillance program.

However to their disappointment, John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s Homeland Security adviser, supported the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim American communities. Brennan said during a law enforcement conference in April: “I have full confidence that the NYPD is doing things consistent with the law, and it’s something that again has been responsible for keeping this city safe over the past decade… the Muslim community here is part of the solution to the terrorist threat, and they need to be part of that effort, and that dialogue needs to continue.” 

FBI’s friendly visits to mosques were for spying

 American Muslim community was shocked to know that for several years, the FBI’s San Francisco office conducted a “Mosque Outreach” program through which it collected and illegally stored intelligence about American Muslims’ First Amendment-protected beliefs and religious practices. This was revealed by the government documents released on March 27, 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Northern California, Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.  

The San Francisco FBI’s own documents show that it recorded Muslim religious leaders’ and congregants’ identities, personal information and religious views and practices. The documents also show that the FBI labelled this information as “positive intelligence” and disseminated it to other government agencies, placing the people and organizations involved at risk of greater law enforcement scrutiny as potential national security threats.

 The “Mosque Outreach” documents, from between 2004 and 2008, detail information and activities including:  FBI visits to the Seaside Mosque five times in 2005, documenting the subject of a particular sermon and congregants’ discussions regarding a property purchase for a new mosque.

 Despite an apparent lack of information related to crime or terrorism, the FBI’s records of these discussions show they were classified as “secret,” marked “positive intelligence” and disseminated outside the FBI.  FBI meetings with members of the South Bay Islamic Association four times from 2004 to 2007, documenting discussions about the Hajj pilgrimage and “Islam in general.”

 At the same time many Muslims are approached by the FBI to become informants. According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, it is getting regular calls from people across the country who are being approached by the federal government to act as informants. Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman says “we are concerned about what kind of pressure is being used to get that cooperation.”

In April, Yonas Fikre, 33, from Oregon said he was imprisoned and tortured for 106 days last year in the United Arab Emirates after he refused to become a U.S. government informant and answer agents’ questions about Portland’s largest mosque. Fikre tells Willamette Week that Emirates officials denied him sleep, kept him in a freezing cell, beat him with wooden sticks and plastic pipes, and threatened to kill him if he didn’t cooperate with U.S. agents. A U.S. citizen, Fikre says his captors repeatedly grilled him with the same questions Portland-based law enforcement agents had asked him a year earlier about his mosque, the Islamic centre of Portland, Masjed As-Saber. A State Department spokesman also confirmed to WW that one of the agents who questioned Fikre works for that agency, employed in diplomatic security.

In May, Fikre was indicted on allegations that he conspired to smuggle money to Sudan. Federal prosecutors contend that Yonas Fikre conspired with his brother Dawit Woldehawariat, of San Diego, Calif., and Seattle resident Abrehaile Haile to illegally wire $75,000 to United Arab Emirates and Sudan. The allegations came two weeks after Fikre, 33, and Portland attorney Thomas Nelson held a news conference in Sweden where they alleged Fikre had been tortured by police acting at the behest of the FBI. Fikre has been living in Sweden since his release from a United Arab Emirates prison.
 
Campaign against building of new mosques

“Where there are Muslims, there are problems.” This alarmingly sweeping comment by the New York Post best reflects the dilemma of the American Muslim community. The New York Post comment came amid heated discussion and opposition to the proposed Sheepshead Bay (NY) Mosque. In a hard hitting article titled “New Yorkistan? Don’t rule it out!” Shavana Abruzzo wrote: “There’s no denying the elephant in the room. Neither is there any rejoicing over the mosques proposed for Sheepshead Bay, Staten Island and Ground Zero because where there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems.” However, in November 2011, opponents of the Sheepshead Bay mosque lost their case when the Board of Standards and Appeals gave approval of the mosque. However, still protest continued as late as last month while construction of the mosque goes ahead. In the post-9/11 America, it has become difficult to build new mosques/Islamic institutions or expand the existing places of worship which became frequent target of hate attacks.  

In February, the Michigan Islamic Academy (M.I.A.) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Pittsfield Township, saying it violated federal law by denying a zoning change that would allow construction of a 360-student school. In March, a Southern California mosque filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the small suburban city of Lomita engaged in religious discrimination when it rejected an application to rebuild and expand the worship facility. In May, a judge’s ruling has stopped construction of a Nashville (Tenn.) suburban mosque that has been at the center of a rowdy debate for more than two years.  

Concerned that prejudice rather than genuine zoning issues might be at work, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened 28 cases nationwide involving local denials of mosque construction applications since 2000. Of the 28 cases, 11 have resulted in full investigations and four remain open, according to The Hour online.
 
Mosque attacks common nationwide

The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric has created a hostile climate for the Muslims that resulted in discrimination, hate crimes and attacks on their religious places.

On August 6, a mosque in Jolpin, Missouri, was burned to the ground in the second fire to hit the mosque in little more than a month. A fire reported on July 4 has been determined to be arson. One simply has to type the words “mosque fires” into a search engine to determine how common fires like the Islamic Society of Joplin (Missouri) mosque are. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations have tracked dozens of fires, fire bombings and incidents of vandalism at mosques around the country over the past five years.

A few examples:  A mosque in Queens, N.Y., was firebombed in January with worshippers inside. There were no injuries.  An arson attack on a Houston, Texas, mosque was reported in May 2011.  Construction equipment was set afire at the site of a mosque being built in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in August 2010.  An Oct. 31, 2011, arson fire at a mosque in Wichita, Kan., caused an estimated $120,000 in damage.  Someone in April 2011 burned three copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, and left a threatening letter near the entrance of the Islamic Centre of Springfield mosque (Missouri). The anonymous letter claimed that Muslims would “stain the earth” and that Islam wouldn’t survive. The mosque had earlier been vandalized with graffiti.

American Muslim response

The seven-million strong American Muslim Community has responded to the post-9/11 challenges with intensive outreach by building bridges with all ethnic and faith groups, holding interfaith peace picnics and interfaith iftar (fast breaking) during the month of Ramadan. At the same time the community is more proactive politically. The CAIR and other American Muslim civil advocacy groups have launched voter registration campaigns to encourage Muslims to participation in the country’s political process.

This year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) hosted a record number of American Muslim delegates representing some 20 states. It is estimated that around 100 Muslim delegates attended the convention. At the 2008 Democratic convention 43 Muslim and Arab-American delegates were present while in 2004 only 25. Not surprisingly, only a handful of Muslim delegates attended this year’s Republican National Convention (RNC), during which the RNC adopted a platform plank targeting the religious practices of Muslims.
 
 Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) Email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 September 2012 on page no. 16

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