ABDUS SATTAR GHAZALI
[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]EAR after year we wrote about the eroding civil rights as the biggest challenge for the seven-million strong American Muslims in the post-9/11 America. However, after the Snowden revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting data on each and every US citizen, the civil rights of everybody now stand abridged.
In his year-end press conference. President Obama was in step with the intelligence community that the en masse NSA surveillance was imperative to “protect the US citizens.” Not surprisingly, on December 28, federal Judge William Pauley III in New York City ruled that the NSA program that collects the telephone metadata for every call made in the United States and many of those made overseas is legal and constitutional. Dismissing a lawsuit against the NSA spying program brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Judge Pauley lashed out at Snowden who was named “Tech Person of the Year” by the USA Today and Runner up Person of the Year (after Pope Francis) by the Time magazine.
“The ACLU would never have learned about the (Patriot Act) section 215 order authorizing collection of telephony metadata related to its telephone numbers but for the unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden,” he writes. “Congress did not intend that targets of section
215 orders would ever learn of them. And the statutory scheme also makes clear that Congress intended to preclude suits by targets even if they discovered section 215 orders implicating them. It cannot possibly be that lawbreaking conduct by a government contractor that reveals state secrets-including the means and methods of intelligence gathering-could frustrate Congress’ intent.”
Tellingly, in a decision handed down on December 16, a federal district court judge in Washington DC, Richard Leon, came to the opposite conclusion. Describing the NSA program as Orwellian, Leon wrote, “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval… Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”
Now what remains of privacy? The ultimate logic of Judge Pauley’s ruling is that the only thing that is private is something you tell or share with no one. Every spoken word, every thought communicated to anyone else, becomes the property of the government.
Undoubtedly, the conflicting rulings increase the likelihood that the challenges could someday end up before the Supreme Court. However, at present every US citizen’s civil rights are violated by the NSA surveillence programs. The American Muslim community joins the fellow Americans in the struggle to regain their usurped civil rights protected by our constitution. Arab and Muslim groups have joined more than 50 organizations in an open letter to the Congress opposing the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) Improvements Act sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein which seeks to codify and expand the NSA’s mass domestic surveillance programs.
To borrow Paul Craig Roberts, an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration, today Americans are unsafe, not because of terrorists and domestic extremists, but because they have lost their civil liberties and have no protection from unaccountable government power. One would think that how this came about would be worthy of public debate and congressional hearings.
Alarming Rise of Islamophobia
After the shrinking civil rights, Islamophobia was perhaps the biggest challenge for the American Muslim during 2013. Recent years have witnessed an exponential rise in Islamophobia which should be understood as a potent political tool that is used to exploit fear to gain political mileage.
Many experts think Islamophobia should be recognized as a distinctive form of racism. For Deepa Kumar, the author of the book Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, Islamophobia is the name given to anti-Muslim racism. It is a form of prejudice. And it involves making generalizations about an entire group based on the actions of a few through this mythical understanding of what Islam is supposed to be.
For Steve Rose, a British journalist, the racism can manifest itself epistemically since this idea draws on the historical notion of non-Western ‘inferiority’ and ‘savagery’ due to a lack of intelligence and rationality. As a result, only the West can be a moral force. Only the West can be democratic. Any thinking outside this hegemony invites suspicion, repression and exclusion from the debate. Muslims can only become accepted in this discussion if they agree to this Western-centric framework.
What is the impact of Islamophobia on the Muslim community? The quarter-million Muslims live in the San Francisco Bay Area face ongoing, entrenched Islamophobia more than a decade after
9/11, according to a study released in May last. “The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Community and Identity” found 40 percent of Muslims in the region have experienced personal discrimination and 23 percent have been victims of a hate crime. The discrimination against Muslims was particularly pronounced in school-aged children.
Another survey of Muslim students ages 11-18 in California schools reports that half experienced some sort of social bullying along the lines of taunting or remarks, and one- tenth experienced physical bullying. The survey was released on December 19. Seventeen percent of girls who wear hijab said they’d had someone inappropriately touch or pull on their hijab. The new survey that tracks bullying directed at Muslim children and teens in California finds that half have at some point been subject to “mean comments and rumors” over their religion.
The anti-Muslim sentiment in America is being generated by a cottage industry of Muslim bashers and Islamophobic groups. Some individuals, institutions and groups are at the center of pushing Islamophobia in America. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim groups received more than $119 million in funding between 2008 and 2011 according to a report titled “Legislating Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States.
“The 160-page report was released in September last by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). The report pointed out that the US-based Islamophobia network’s “inner core” is currently comprised of at least 37 groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.
Anti-Muslim prejudice is now institutionalized at the state level, as well. Over the past two years, lawmakers in 32 legislatures across the country have targeted Muslims by moving to ban Islamic law, or “Shariah.” Seven states – Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee – have signed the proposed ban into law, despite the inability of legislators to name a single specific case in which a court ruling based on Shariah law was allowed to stand.
The bills were patterned on a template produced by a leading Islamophobe David Yerushalmi who founded an organization in 2006 with the acronym SANE (the Society of Americans for National Existence) with the aim of banishing Islam from the US. He proposed a law that would make adherence to Islam a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.
What is the fall out of the anti-Sharia campaigns. Such campaigns increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens. They encourage and accelerate both the acceptability of negative views of Muslims and the expression of those negative views by the public and government agencies like the police.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has not only manifested itself through mosque arsons, assaults, murders and invariably hostile rhetoric from society’s extreme fringes. It has also become a permanent fixture of the very institutions that should provide safeguards against those things. The fallout of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric, which is socially acceptable, appeared in different spheres. Hate crimes against Muslims or perceived to be Muslim is not an uncommon phenomenon while Mosques also became a target of hate.
NYPD’s Targeting of Mosques
Amid the concerted Islamophobic campaigns the America Muslim community was stunned to know that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has secretly designated mosques as “terrorist organizations.” The Associated Press reported on August 28 that the designation allowed the police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, even without any evidence of criminal activity. According to the AP report, designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
The AP report further said: “Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” into mosques…… The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like. Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.”
It may be pointed out that in August 2011, the AP exposed the NYPD spy program, which is allegedly being conducted with the assistance of individuals linked to the CIA. The AP reported that the NYPD is using covert surveillance techniques “that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government” and “does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.”
Understandably, on June 18, 2013, civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit charging that the NYPD’s Muslim Surveillance Program has imposed an unjustified badge of suspicion and stigma on hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers. It was filed on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organization that were all swept up in the NYPD’s dragnet surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers.
New York city and the NYPD are being sued in three separate lawsuits for that surveillance; the most recent suit, Raza v. City of New York , was filed in June by the ACLU; the lead plaintiff, Hamid Hassan Raza, is the imam at Masjid Al-Ansar, a Brooklyn mosque that the ACLU says the NYPD has been spying on since at least 2008.
Muslims Need Not Apply
“Muslims Need Not Apply” is the title of a report of the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) which revealed that a covert national security program allows the FBI and US immigration authorities the power to indefinitely delay immigration benefits to Muslims and those from Muslim countries.
According to Jennie Pasquarella, the ACLU report writer, the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, or CARRP, secret program, relies on “deeply flawed” mechanisms such as “over-broad watch-list systems” and religious, national origin and associational profiling. “It not only catches far too many harmless applicants in its net, but it has overwhelmingly affected applicants who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim.”
The ACLU report, released on August 21, has given examples of specific cases. Application of Tarek Hamdi, an Egyptian, was rejected simply because he made his annual tithing (or a religious donation, known as zakat in Islam) to an Islamic relief aid organization, Benevolence International Foundation. The government later shuttered the charity on allegations that it supported terrorism, and prosecutors charged its leader with defrauding donors like Tarek.
Nonetheless, USCIS flagged Tarek, and what should have been a six-month citizenship process took 11 years, ending only when a judge ruled in his favor (after numerous attempts by USCIS to deny his application).
On the positive note:
The US Islamophobe Network, recently described by an infamous bigot Dave Gaubatz  as money making partnership, was fomenting fear and fright about Islam and Muslims, swaying many to react and retort negatively to their fellow Muslims . However many extending helping hand. Few examples:
Islamic school gets OK from Blaine City Council, Minnesota: In June, small Islamic school in Blaine, Minnesota, aimed at helping students memorize the Quran was allowed to continue to operate in a Blaine office building. With about 150 people in attendance, the Blaine City Council has voted 5-0 to approve a conditional-use permit for the Darul Arqam Center of Excellence. The approval means the Islamic school, which already is offering classes to a handful of students, will be allowed to stay in the building and to expand its program.
North Carolina University Muslim students get place to pray: In March, the N. C. Central University (NCCU) Women’s Center offered dedicated space for Muslim students to pray. Until recently they prayed in stairwells, empty classrooms, bustling hallways, and sometimes, campus restrooms.
NJ Church offers prayer space for Muslim community: In March, the Second Reformed Church, in New Jersey, offered a place for Muslim students to go for their Friday prayers. Until now, the students have had to pray in some uncommon places. The Center for Islamic Life at Rutgers University, a nonprofit organization, works for the rights of the Muslim community at the University helped find this place.
AdventistChurch sides with Muslim woman in workplace religious freedom case: On December 11, the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Silver Spring, Maryland) filed an amicus, or “friend of the court” brief in support of an American Muslim woman who claims she was denied a job because her head-covering violated company policy.
In 2008, Samantha Elauf wore a hijab when she applied for a sales position at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After a manager confirmed that her headwear crossed store policy, she was deemed ineligible for hire without discussion of religious accommodation.
Connecticut school district recognizes Muslim holidays: In September, the New London Board of Education (Connecticut) has recognized the two major Muslim holidays, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha, by including them on the school calendar along with all other major religious holidays.
LomitaCity Council Approves Islamic Center of South Bay Building Permit: The Lomita City (CA) Council unanimously approved the Islamic Center of South Bay’s application to renovate and consolidate its aged and dilapidated facilities. The Islamic Center first submitted its building application to renovate its facilities five years ago. On October 7, the Islamic Center went before the city council in its second attempt to gain permits for renovating its property.
Members from the mosque leadership and youth spoke alongside interfaith leaders from the South Coast Interfaith Council and the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints. While the majority of the comments were in favor of the project, some residents strongly opposed the project, including a few individuals who made defamatory comments referencing “Osama Bin Laden.” Yet at the end, after two of public testimony, the city council unanimously approved the mosque’s application.
Muslims, Jews form ‘watchdog’ committee: New Jersey Muslims and Jews have launched a solidarity committee to work for mutual understanding and together fight acts of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. The committee came out of a program at the Islamic Center of Morris County in Rockaway, which had been targeted by anti-Islam vandals in June.
During their gathering, the program was part of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Sixth Annual Weekend of Twinning, an initiative that brings together for joint programs synagogues and mosques on six continents. Programs were also held in New York City, Atlanta, and Washington, DC, as well as one at the Masjid-e-Ali mosque in Somerset.
Two American Muslims listed in top 50 Most Influential Muslims in the World: The US dominated the list of The Muslim 500, a listing of the world’s ‘most influential Muslims’ with 43 inclusions including Muhammad Ali and Rep. Keith Ellison. Two American Muslims appear on the top 50 list, they are , Professor Dr Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Studies professor at George Washington University got 39th position while Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson, Co-founder of Zaytuna College, Berkeley, CA. The Muslim 500, a listing of the world’s ‘most influential Muslims’ is published by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan since 2009.
In short, like the previous years since 9/11/2001, life was not so pleasant for the American Muslim community which genuinely gains strength from the principles of freedom, liberty and equality on which this great nation was founded.
With anti-Muslim rhetoric reaching epic proportions in broader US society — largely tolerated, rarely condemned — the American Muslim community remains sanguine that the current campaign will eventually subside since the religious freedom is a founding principle of this country and the main catalyst for its origins in the early seventeenth century. This principle was emphatically reiterated by President George Washington in his 1790 letter to the Jews of Rhode Island who built the Touro Synagogue:
“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy – a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship….The Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
When President Washington wrote this letter more than 200 years back, he must have been aware of the effect it would have on the fledgling nation.
 Dave Gaubatz is a former employee of David Yerushalmi’s racist group Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) which aims at banishing Islam in US. In November last Gaubatz through an email message he announced that the majority of anti-Islam groups simply exist to make money. Gaubatz wrote: “There are many good people fighting the fight from within these organizations, but the majority of the 501 nonprofit conservative organizations saying they are engaging Islam in head to head battle, are nothing more than business corporations fighting for the big bucks. I am referring to these conservative leaders who are fighting against each other (from the inside) for the $50,000 and $100,000 plus donations. … Do not allow anyone to tell you these 501 conservative acronyms are not businesses and their leaders do not make very high salaries. Many of their salaries are in excess of $150,000 plus.”