International

2009: Another hard year for American Muslims

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
asghazali@gmail.com
  • Minnesota Congressional candidate says Islam promotes criminal behavior and that the US constitution does not apply to Muslims.
  • In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, vandals spray-paint "go home sand n**ger" and Nazi swastikas on a truck owned by a Muslim of Mideast descent. The victim also finds a racist flier from the Aryan Nations on his lawn.
  • In Gresham, Illinois, a Muslim woman was verbally abused by a security guard at a Citibank branch because she wears a religious head scarf, or hijab.
  • Al-Fatiha Masjid in southern California is vandalized. It was the 4th mosque vandalism reported nationwide within one month.


These episodes of this month symbolize the dilemma of American Muslims in the post-9/11 America. More than eight years after the tragic event, seven-million strong American Muslim community remains under siege with constant attacks on their faith and infringement of their civil rights through reconfiguration of American laws, policies, and priorities. It will not be too much to say that the 9/11 tragedy is still being 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.

Fort Hood Massacre: American Muslims react with grief & fear of backlash
As the story of Fort Hood, Texas, shooting of Nov 5 — in which 13 people were killed and 30 injured - unfolded, the American Muslims, like other fellow Americans, were shocked and grieved but they also feared a backlash as the shooter, Major Nidal Malik

Hassan, happens to be a Muslim. All major Arab and Muslim organizations were swift in unequivocally condemning this heinous crime.

Within hours after the attack, all major civil advocacy Arab and Muslim groups and Islamic Centers vehemently denounced the vicious attack and stressed that "No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence."

At the same time, American Muslim groups urged the national political and religious leaders and media professionals to set a tone of calm and unity. However, predictably this tragic incident once again provided fodder for talk shows and websites, which exploit such isolated events to ratchet up Islamophobia. For example: Fox News host Shepard Smith asked Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas on air: "The name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?" Hutchinson’s response was: "It does. It does, Shepard." As John Nichols, author of "Horror at Fort Hood Inspires Horribly Predictable Islamophobia," said with those words, the senator leapt from making assumptions about one man to making assumptions about a whole religion.

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post, a major reputable newspaper, ran a story titled "Suspect, devout Muslim from Va. Wanted Army discharge...." The story was illustrated with a picture of an Islamic center with this caption: "The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring where Maj. Nidal M. Hasan used to pray. John Esposito, Professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, asks why immediately rush to brushstroke Islam, Hasan’s religion, by linking it to this tragedy?

Several new reports suggested that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan saw a deployment to Iraq as his "worst nightmare" and recounted how he had treated victims of combat-related stress and was upset about the war. He began having second thoughts about a military career a few years ago after other soldiers harassed him for being a Muslim. Alluding to these reports Prof. Esposito pointed out that it apparently wasn’t challenging enough to figure out an already complex puzzle:

(1) Why had this American-born psychiatrist, a serious, quiet, and reserved military officer, who joined the Army over his parents’ initial objections in order to serve his country, made substantial efforts to get out of the military in recent years? (2) What was the connection between reports that Hasan had been deeply affected by his work with veterans from the Iraq war and his refusal to accept the fact that he was to be deployed to Iraq? (3) How serious and substantial were reports that post-9/11 harassment by colleagues over Hasan’s Muslim name had contributed to his growing disaffection with and desire to get out of the military?

The Fort Hood tragedy provided an opportunity to the Muslim-bashers to launch fresh attacks on Islam and Muslims to generate hostility towards the Islamic faith and to marginalize American Muslims. Television evangelist Pat Robertson described Islam as a violent religion and suggested that the Muslims should be treated as communists or fascists. Dave Gaubatz, author of a Muslim-bashing book "Muslim Mafia," called for a "backlash" against American Muslims. Gaubatz wrote on a right-wing Web site: "Now is the time for a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders." The American Family Association (the "family values" anti-gay, pro-life, Islamophobic group) called for a ban on Muslims in the military, saying: "This is not Islamophobia, it is Islamo-realism. The reason is simple: the more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security."

Arrest of five American Muslim youths in Pakistan
Amid this anti-Islam and anti-Muslim campaign, the Muslim community was shocked by the arrest of five American Muslim youths in Pakistan for allegedly seeking to join militant groups. The incident once against raised the issue of the so-called radicalization of the American Muslim youth. It also highlighted the cooperation between the community and FBI. The disappearance of the five students from Virginia was reported by the concerned families to CAIR which arranged a meeting of the parents of these youths with FBI officials. The five - Ramy Zamzam, 22; Ahmad Minni, 20; Umar Chaudhry, 24; Waqar Khan, 22; and Aman Hassan Yemer, 18 - were arrested in Sargodha, Pakistan on December 9.

The incident provoked deep concern in the Muslim community about the existence of homegrown extremism among Muslim American youth. The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) has issued a paper on the issue which advocated intense grassroots engagement among police and U. S. Muslim neighborhood leaders to thwart the emergence of homegrown extremism. However, the report pointed out: "Unfortunately, in the current political climate, the actions of certain law enforcement agencies – whether spying on peaceful activist groups and houses of worship without reasonable suspicion, or religious profiling – have added to difficulties." Such a "heightened sense of fear and grievances also creates a greater pool of alienated people terrorists can tap into for recruitment," the report added.

Interestingly media in Pakistan is describing the five Muslim youths as American agents and a High Court in Pakistan has barred the authorities not to handover them to Washington. The High Court in Lahore, where the men are being held for questioning, said they could not be sent back to the United States until the court had a chance to review the case.

The Status of American Muslims’ Civil Rights in 2009
Four days before the arrest of five American Muslim youth in Pakistan the Council on American-Muslim Relations (CAIR) released a report on the "Status of American Muslims’ Civil Rights in 2009" which pointed out the American Muslim community continued to face barriers to their full and equal participation in American society.

A PEW Research Center report of September corroborates this observation of CAIR. Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U. S. than other major religious groups, according to the 2009 annual survey of PEW. "Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons."

In the wake of discrimination and profiling reports, U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation’s first African-American attorney general, said in November that full rights of American Arabs and Muslims must be protected. He told a gathering in Detroit that it’s vital that all ethnic and religious groups in America be treated equally. "For the last nine months, I’ve heard from Muslim and Arab Americans who feel uneasy about their relationship with their government, who feel isolated and discriminated against by law enforcement," he said adding: "Some of them have told me that they feel denied the full rights of citizenship."

Holder said "It is inconsistent with what America is all about."

American Muslims continued to fear profiling, surveillance and undue scrutiny by law enforcement and other authorities, the CAIR report said adding: "The government’s ability to conduct surveillance without adequate oversight or control has expanded and shows no immediate sign of contracting." The report was alluding to the Attorney General’s Guidelines issued in the waning days of Bush Administration and adopted by the Obama administration.

The guidelines are similar to COINTELPRO, an FBI program used in the 50s and 60s to spy on civil rights, environmental and labor groups, with the goal of unearthing Communist ties those organizations may have had. At Congressional hearings last May, FBI Director Mueller - who continues to serve as FBI director in the Obama administration - said the guidelines simply formalized processes the FBI had begun to use, post-9/11. President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have not indicated whether they intend to scrap the new guidelines.

At the same time, fear of government surveillance ranks consistently high as a key concern in the American Muslim community. Two main concerns are: mosque surveillance and the warrantless wiretapping component of the Presidential Surveillance Program. The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request "to determine if the intelligence including spying on civilians, particularly Southern California Muslims and their mosques." The request is currently pending.

In November the American Muslim community was shocked when the government moved to seize four mosques in New York, Maryland, California, and Texas. On November 12, 2009, the U. S. government filed a complaint in a U. S. Federal Court to seize the assets of Alavi Foundation which controls the assets of four US mosques named in the complaint. The government has accused the foundation of being tied to the Iranian government.

Prominent Muslim civil rights groups are being targeted

In the post-9/11 America, not only American Muslim institutions are under attack but they are also witnessing a smear campaign against their prominent civil rights groups. Established Muslim organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations

(CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) are being targeted.

In a fresh attempt to destroy a national American Muslim civil advocacy group, four Republican congressmen which have been dubbed by the Washington Independent as ‘the Anti-Muslim Bigot Caucus at the Capitol Hill’ accused the Council on American-Muslim Relations (CAIR), of attempting to plant spies in key Congressional offices in order to affect policy.

On October 14, 2009, the four congressmen - Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) held a bizarre McCarthy-era like press conference accusing the CAIR of "trying to infiltrate the offices of members of Congress by placing interns in the offices." The four are the Republican members of the Congressional Anti-Terrorism Caucus.

The congressmen formally asked the House Sergeant at Arms to launch an investigation of the Council for American-Islamic Relations.The lawmakers also wanted a Department of Justice investigation to find out "if CAIR was successful in placing interns" with key congressional committees, including the Intelligence and Homeland Security panels.

Not surprisingly, the Democrats weren’t amused by the accusations. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), have defended the CAIR, saying that Muslim-American interns on Capitol Hill should not have their patriotism questioned.

President urged to address rise in anti-Islam hate
Startled by the rising Islamophobia, President Barrack Obama was urged to address the "alarming level of anti-Islam hate in our nation." In a letter to the president sent on December 23, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) cited recent incidents in Florida in which a cross with the message "Christian nation, Christian community" was planted at the site of a planned mosque in Sanford, Florida, and an anti-Islam Christmas display was set up by the Dove World Outreach Center, in Gainesville, Florida. This church drew protests last August when it displayed a series of hand-painted signs that read "Islam is of the devil."

Tellingly, a recent poll also showed that two-thirds of Protestant pastors consider Islam "dangerous." The survey of more than 1,000 Protestant clergy by LifeWay Research found that 45 percent strongly agree with the statement "I believe Islam is a dangerous religion" and another 21 percent agree somewhat with it. Evangelical pastors were more likely to agree with the statement than mainline Protestant pastors -- 77 to 47 percent.

Hawaii celebrates the first Islam Day
On the positive note, Hawaii celebrated the first Islam Day on September 24. The Hawaii legislature had declared this day to

acknowledge the "rich religious, scientific, cultural and artistic contributions" of the Islamic world. Another delighting development for the American Muslim community was to see the names of 71 American Muslims in the list of ‘500 most influential Muslims in the world’ issued by the Amman, Jordan-based Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in collaboration with the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Georgetown University, Washington DC. One of them, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf

Hanson, the founder of California-based Zaytuna Institute, is listed in the first 50 most influential Muslims. Keith Ellison, the first American Muslim Congressman finds his place in the ‘list of Honorable Mentions.’ Ingrid Mattson, President of the Islamic

Society of Northern America (ISNA), Nihad Awad, the national executive director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Edina Lekovic communications director of Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) were also included in the list.

2009 brought no positive change in the plight of American Muslims
"Change" was President Barrack Obama’s campaign slogan. The American Muslim community, firmly believing in his "change" slogan, voted overwhelmingly for him in the 2008 presidential elections with the hope that his administration would bring an end to their humiliation and sufferings they faced in the Bush era in the name of "war on terror." Although Obama is able to give a more compassionate and intelligent speech than was possible with Bush, but the essence of their policies is identical.

Obama’s good gestures and public policy measures have little positive impact on the restoration of civil rights of American Muslims curtailed since 9/11. Profiling has been institutionalized. State and federal agencies, under the guise of fighting terrorism, have expanded the use of this degrading, discriminatory and dangerous practice. Muslim community is subject to pervasive and persistent attacks by the federal government, many spearheaded by the Joint Terrorism Task Forces. Defending civil rights remains the single most important challenge before the American Muslim community.

In short, the year 2009 brought no positive change to alleviate the plight of the seven-million strong American Muslim community which remains victim of guilt by association since 9/11.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online
 magazine American Muslim Perspective: www. amperspective.com

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2010 on page no. 27

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