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American Muslims six years after 9/11

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali, United Muslims of America

- A Muslim bus passenger en route to Chicago is put off with his bags in Toledo after he told the driver he is from Iraq. (Detroit Free Press - June 12, 2007)

- Dearborn offices of two Muslim charities - Al-Mabarrat Charitable Organization and Goodwill Charitable Organization - are raided. (Detroit Free Press - July 24, 2007)

- A mosque in Rochester (New York) has been vandalized for the three times this year. (Associated Press - May 30)

These recent episodes symbolize the dilemma of American Muslims in the post-9/11 America. Six years after the terrorist attacks, American Muslims remain under siege with institutionalized profiling, discrimination, high profile trials, raid on Muslim charities and defaming of mainstream Muslim organizations. Muslim Americans have experienced a large volume of negative reprisals from sectors of the American public in the form of violent hate crimes, defamatory speech, attacks on hijab-wearing Muslim women and discrimination and harassment at work place. There is discrimination against non-citizen Muslims. American Muslims were shocked to find their bank accounts closed for no other reason but because of their faith.

There is a rising tide of Islamaphobia, intensified by the war in Iraq and U.S. government measures at home. 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. The vilification of Islam and Muslims has been relentless among segments of the media and political classes since 9/11. Politicians, authors and media commentators are busy in demonizing Islam, Muslims and the Muslim world. Six years after 9/11 attacking Islam and Muslims remains the fashionable sport for the radio, television and print media. Unfortunately, the events of 9/11 were used as an excuse to greatly magnify the hostility toward Muslims and cloak it in pseudo-patriotism. Alarmingly, Muslim-bashing has become socially acceptable in the United States.

Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo threatens to bomb the holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina if there is a terrorist attack on USA. Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode says that Muslims would want U.S. currency to say "in Muhammad we trust," with an Islamic flag flying over the White House and U.S. Capitol. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, is vilified for taking a ceremonial oath of office on the Quran. A Christian evangelist, invited to speak at a North Carolina High School, distributes pamphlets denouncing Islam. An anti-Islam group known with the acronym SANE: the Society of Americans for National Existence is formed with a mission to banish Islam from the US by making "adherence to Islam" punishable by 20 years in prison.

Islamophobia has created an atmosphere of suspicion among the fellow Americans towards the Muslims. In this Islamophobic charged atmosphere, it is not surprising that thirty-two percent Americans believe that their fellow citizen Muslims are less loyal to the U.S., as reported in a July 2007 Newsweek Poll. Although forty percent of those surveyed believe Muslims in the United States are as loyal to the U.S. as they are to Islam but 46 percent of Americans said the U.S. allows too many immigrants to come here from Muslim countries.

Besides attacks on Mosques, another 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. In the pre-9/11 era, there was an extensive growth of mosques and Islamic centers that has now been arrested although in some cases building and expansion of existing mosques has been approved despite opposition and ligitation.

Hate Crimes and discrimination

Six year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American Muslims and Arabs continue to suffer a severe wave of backlash violence. The hate crimes included murder, beatings, arson, attacks on mosques, shootings, vehicular assaults and verbal threats. Tucson, Arizona, mosque vandalized twice within a span of two months. Another Arizona mosque was attacked with acid bomb. A mosque in Rochester in New York has been vandalized for three times this year. A Muslim home was torched by arsonists in Florida. Surely those involved in such hate crimes were motivated by evangelists, some politicians and anti-Muslim elements in the media.

According to the 2007 annual report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) there were 167 reports of anti-Muslim hate crime complaints during 2006. The CAIR report - the only annual study of its kind - also recorded almost 25 percent increase in the number of anti-Muslim bias incidents in 2006. The CAIR report outlines 2,467 incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment, the highest number of civil rights cases ever recorded in its report.

There is a substantial increase in law enforcement discrimination against American Muslims which was causing delay in citizenship process for Arab-sounding immigrants. There were 729 complaints related to Legal and Immigration issues during 2006. These issues primarily involved government agencies and citizenship/naturalization delays.

The depth of the citizenship delay problem was highlighted by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHR&GJ) at the New York University School of Law. The NYU report states: The U.S. government is illegally delaying the naturalization applications of thousands of immigrants by profiling individuals it perceives to be Muslim and subjecting them to indefinite security checks. The 63-page report, titled Americans on Hold: Profiling, Citizenship, and the " War on Terror," documents the impact of expanded security checks on the lives of those experiencing citizenship delays, often for years on end.

The CAIR 2007 Report release was marked with an announcement by the CAIR Chicago office of the resolution of a citizenship delay case that has been pending for the past five years. Despite successfully passing his citizenship exam in 2002 and taking part in repeated interviews, CAIR-Chicago's client had his naturalization delayed pending a background check.

Several national human rights organizations have joined hands to help litigate these citizenship delay cases to ensure that the legal rights of all people are protected. According to immigrant advocates 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. 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 response, CIS decided it will stop interviewing people whose FBI background checks have not cleared.

Prominent Muslim civil rights groups are being targeted

In the post-9/11 America, Muslims are witnessing a smear campaign against their prominent Muslim 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 an unusual move, prosecutors publicly named 307 individuals and organizations as "unindicted co-conspirators" (UCCs) relating to the Holy Land Foundation charity that was shut down in December 2001. Among those listed are three major American Muslim organizations: the Islamic Society of North America, the North American Islamic Trust and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Collectively, these groups represent the interests and viewpoints of the mainstream American Muslim community. Media and anti-Muslim groups are seizing this as an opportunity to defame these organizations.

In this atmosphere it is not surprising that an award given to Basim Elkarra, executive director of CAIR-Sacramento Valley, by Senator Barbara Boxer was recalled later due to pressure from some right-wing groups who claimed that CAIR has terrorist ties. Similarly, in March this year the CAIR was forced to cancel a forum titled "Global Attitudes on Islam-West Relations: U.S. Policy Implications," after the right wing Washington Times accused the CAIR of refusing to disavow terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and the Republicans urged House speaker Nancy Pelosi to retract permission to use the conference room for the seminar.

While defamation campaign continues against major American organizations, certain marginal groups were propped up by interested individuals and organizations to replace the mainstream American Muslim organizations. After 9/11, attempts have been made to divide the community and establish alternate compliant American Muslim groups in the name of moderate voices. Establishment is encouraging one such fringe Muslim group - the Free Muslim Coalition - whose president says that investigations of many Muslim organizations after the September 11th attacks were justified and many of them deserved to be closed. Not surprisingly, the group was chosen to represent the U.S. and more than six million American Muslims at the Organization for Security and Cooperation Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance held in Cordoba, Spain.

Campaign against Muslim charities

Six years after 9/11, Muslim charity organizations remain under pressure. Two Muslim charities were closed in Dearborn, Michiga on July 24, the day trial of the largest Muslim charity, The Holy Land Foundation (HLF), began in Dallas. The HLF was being tried on suspicion of tieswith the Palestinian militant group Hamas while the two Michigan charities - the Goodwill Charitable Organization and Al-Mabarrat Charitable Organization were suspected of having ties to extremist groups in Lebanon. Just like the Holy Land, assets of the two Michigan charities have been frozen.

September last year, FBI agents raided the Muslim charity Life for Relief and Development and carted away computers and records but charged nobody and allowed the agency to continue operating. Nearly one year later, when the charity asked the U.S. Attorney's Office to return nearly 200 boxes of paperwork return, the Attorney's Office said it is willing to provide the records, but only if Life for Relief pays copying charges of between $21,000 and $115,000. The paper work is critical to the charity's operations, including tasks such as filing its federal tax. These kinds of charges will be putting an exceedingly high burden on the charity that seeks to use these funds to help people who are facing starvation.

Since 9/11, the government has frozen the assets of six large Muslim organizations and shut them down--although no one has been convicted of “terrorism.”

As Ramadan fast approaches, the American Muslim community fears more measures against the Muslim charities. Last year, the US authorities raided one of the biggest Muslim charities in the United States, the Michigan-based Life for Relief and Development on the eve of the beginning of the month of Ramadan. However, in meetings with the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes, Muslim groups failed to get absolute assurances that they could not be prosecuted for giving to a charity that is legal today but could be deemed a terrorist front tomorrow. Such meetings proved no more than public relations exercise for the government.

Most people used to give 70 percent of their donations for charities abroad and 30 percent to local causes. Now, it's the opposite, with 70 percent going to local organizations and mosques. People have begun donating in larger numbers to local charities, assuming these organizations to be free of international ties and safe from government interference. Many donations are in cash in order not to leave any paper trail.

High profile trials where charges usually don't hold up in the end

A continuing stream of high-profile trials on terrorism charges, the allegations usually don't hold up in the end, continue to keep the American public afraid. However, a Justice Department audit report pointed out that federal prosecutors counted immigration violations, marriage fraud and drug trafficking among anti-terror cases in the four years after 9/11 despite no evidence linking them to terror activity. Overall, nearly all of the terrorism-related statistics on investigations, referrals and cases examined by department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine were either diminished or inflated.

In February, Muhammad Salah, a Chicago businessman, and Abdelhallen Ashqar, a Virginia professor, accused of furnishing money and fresh recruits to the militant Palestinian group Hamas were acquitted by a Chicago jury of racketeering. However they were found guilty of lesser charges of obstructing justice. In their trial an American court for the first time allowed the testimony of two Israeli intelligence agents in a U.S. courtroom. Despite the use of Israeli torture, secret evidence and former Attorney General, John Ashcroft's incitement in the press that Mr. Salah, a US citizen, was running a “U.S.-based terrorist-recruiting and financing cell” he was proven innocent of any connection to terrorism in the United States or abroad.

In another high profile “terrorism” trial case, a federal judge in June extended the contempt citation against Dr. Sami al-Arian, a former Florida professor who has refused to testify in the investigation into whether Islamic charities in Northern Virginia were financing “terrorist” organizations. Though a Florida jury acquitted him or deadlocked on all counts in 2005, the Feds kept him in prison. Faced with a retrial, Al-Arian agreed last year to plead guilty to the least serious charge in exchange for what was supposed to be a small addition sentence and his deportation. But Al-Arian's nightmare continues. First, federal Judge James Moody ignored prosecutors' recommendations and sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum possible. Al-Arian's release was set for April 13, 2007. Last year, Gordon Kromberg, the assistant U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, had Al-Arian transferred to Virginia to testify in an investigation into a Muslim charity there -- despite an agreement with Florida prosecutors, recorded in court transcripts, that he would be exempt from future testimony. When he refused to testify, Al-Arian was found guilty of civil contempt -- adding an additional 18 months onto his sentence and opening up the possibility that the government can keep him in prison indefinitely by extending the contempt charge, which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld. This was one of the first big show post-9/11 trials in which the U.S. government has gone out of its way to make an example of this outspoken advocate for Palestinian rights.

The case of Bilal Yasin, a Chico, CA, market owner is another illuminating example how the FBI tries to trap innocent Muslims in “terrorism” cases. Bilal Abdul Yasin, his brother Muwaiia Abdulra Yasin, 35, and a co-worker, Alberto Cabrera, 39, were arrested in March 2005 for allegedly purchasing dozens of cartons of cigarettes from an undercover agent with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control who said the cigarettes were stolen. However, once they were arrested, FBI agents questioned Bilal Yasin about connections to his Palestinian homeland, his Muslim religion, his relationship with other Middle Eastern shopkeepers in Butte County and whether he sent money to terrorist groups. The FBI not only provided the initial tip that led to the ABC sting, it installed a surveillance camera across the street from the Chico neighborhood market months earlier. In dismissing, in July this year, the case the judge said testimony in the case suggested the real focus of the investigation was not about cigarettes, but the store owner's "connection to his Palestinian homeland, his practice of the Muslim religion, and relationship with other Middle Eastern shopkeepers in Butte County.

What is the long-term impact on Muslims of the post 9/11 configuration of laws and government policies. A new study by Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, "Voices from Silence," documents the impact on Minnesota's immigrant, refugee, and religious minority groups. The study finds that even six years after 9/11, without exception, all of the people interviewed had either directly experienced some kind of discriminatory or hostile act after 9/11 or knew of people who had. At the same time, a report by the USA Today pointed out that the Arab Muslims who came to Dearborn, Michigan, eight decades ago to work on Henry Ford's new assembly line believed their American future was limitless but after six years on the home front in America's war on terrorism, many of their descendants are hunkering down, covering up and staying put. Another study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Woodrow Wilson International Center found that six years after the 9/11 attacks, US Muslims remain "largely outside the US mainstream." Some existing Muslim American institutions have avoided foreign policy issues for fear of drawing unfavorable scrutiny, said the report. "There is an urgent national need for Muslims and non-Muslims to work together to create full and equal opportunities for civic and political participation of Muslim Americans," concluded the one-year study.

On the positive note

On the positive note, as the Muslims respond to the post-9/11 challenges with pro-activism, several Muslims are appointed and elected to public offices and political candidates seek support of Muslim voters. Three Arabs have been appointed this month to official positions in Michigan and New Jersey. Ismael Ahmed was named to lead Michigan's Department of Human Services by Governor Jennifer Granholm. In New Jersey, Samer Khalaf and Tawfiq Barqawi were appointed respectively to the Executive Committee of the State of New Jersey Human Relations Committee and the New Jersey Governor's Blue Ribbon Advisory Panel on Immigration Policy.

In a display of their emerging political power, Muslims were two of the top three vote-getters in last month's primary election in Hamtramck for City Council in Michigan. Political candidates at the state and local levels are courting voters in northern Virginia's Muslim community. More than 70 candidates for the Virginia General Assembly and county offices showed up recently in Reston to tout their records and issue campaign promises to the fast-growing community. The seventh annual "civic picnic" was organized by area mosques to encourage area Muslims to get more involved in local politics. More than 56,000 Muslims are registered to vote in Northern Virginia, and last year, more than eight in 10 turned out to vote.

In a spirit of solidarity with Muslims, Alabama House and Connecticut and Texas senates are opened with Islamic prayers. Kareem Abdullah, Imam of the Birmingham Islamic Center, gave the opening prayer in the Alabama House. Dr. Saud Anwar, co-chairman of the American Muslim Peace Initiative, delivers the invocation in the Connecticut Senate. Imam Yusuf Kavacki offered blessings from the Quran on the Texas Senate floor. Interestingly, in a law suit to allow use of the Quran when administering oaths, a North Carolina County judge has ruled that any religious text can be used to swear in a witness or juror in the state's courtrooms, not just the Bible.

American Muslims join the nation in commemorating the 6th anniversary of this ghastly tragedy with an optimism that the state of present anti-Muslim campaign in the name of war on terrorism will subside in due course of time as happened during the Second World War with the Japanese Americans who also endured similar national intolerance, social prejudice and legal injustice.




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