September 11, 2019

American Muslims 18 years after 9/11

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

18 years after the ghastly tragedy of 9/11, the seven-million strong American Muslim community remains at the receiving end with President Trump’s demonization of Muslims to bigotry, to hate crimes, to widespread discrimination, to media coverage that links Islam with terrorism.

Tellingly, attack on Muslims and their faith is coming from our top political leadership. I mean from our President. Yes, our President Donald Trump.

On July 14, President Trump sent three racist tweets against four Democrat congresswomen saying  “go back and help fix” the countries he said they “originally came” from before trying to make legislative changes in the USA. Two of the congresswomen were Muslim, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Rep. Ilham Omar of Minnesota. The other two Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are of African-American background. 

President Trump at a campaign rally on July 18 doubled down on his racist remarks about the four progressive congresswomen of color, casting them as an existential threat to modern American society and saying "let them leave."  As he took direct aim at Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a defiant Mr. Trump was buoyed by the raucous crowd, which chanted "send her back!" 

The president claimed that the four Democratic congresswomen "originally came" from foreign countries but only Omar was born outside the U.S. Pressley, an African American, was born in Ohio. Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican heritage, was born in New York. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was born in Detroit. Omar, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Somalia, a country she and her family fled from because of a civil war and ethnic strife.

The Democrats-led US House of Representatives formally condemned President Donald Trump’s Twitter posts as racist. The House vote was split largely along party lines despite pressure for Republicans to denounce the president’s attacks on four Democratic Congresswomen. The vote, 240-187, fell nearly entirely along party lines with only four Republicans voting with Democrats.  USA Today/Ipsos survey found that nearly sixty per cent of Republicans agreed with the President’s racist tweets.

Discrimination against Muslims and hate crimes

Abbas Barzegar, national research and advocacy director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) told The Daily Beast in May: “We’ve already reported over 500 incidences of anti-Muslim bias or harassment just this year so far.” “That’s very preliminary reporting. I know a number of our chapters have not filed their reports yet… I believe that’s a very low estimate already of what’s happening across the country.”

Amid Trump’s Islamophobic and racist rhetoric Pew Research Center reported sharp rise in discrimination against Muslims. According to the Pews Survey released in April, Muslims, in particular, are seen as facing more discrimination than other groups in society.

On the other hand, Washington-base Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) annual poll also found that Muslims remain the most likely group to report experiencing religious discrimination. 

At the same the Muslim community remains victim of bigotry and hate crimes. Few examples:

Hate Crimes against hijab wearing Muslim women is very common. In February a man spit on a woman wearing a hijab in Long Island City. A Woman wearing hijab was pepper sprayed in face on 4th of July in Kandiyohi County (Minnesota). In January, a Muslim woman from Oklahoma said an attacker pulled her hijab and told her to “go back to [her] country”

A billboard advertising an Islamic art exhibit at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa (Oklahoma)was vandalized. The billboard featured a piece of ceramic pottery and text that read, "1,200 years of Islamic Art." Someone wrote "HOME GROWN TERROR!" in black spray paint on the billboard and the one below it.

William Patrick Syring, 61, of Arlington, Virginia, was sentenced in August to 60 months in prison for threatening Dr. James J. Zogby president of the Arab American Institute (AAI) and other AAI employees because of their race and national origin, and because of their efforts to encourage Arab Americans to participate in political and civic life in the United States.

Attack on mosques

In recent years, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked. Although these sentiments manifest themselves in many ways, attacks on mosques directly take aim at religious freedom, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Existing and proposed mosque sites across the country have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts, and there have been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

Perhaps in the first attack on a mosque in the USA directly linked to the massacre of worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, a mosque in the Southern California city of Escondido was briefly lit on fire on March 24 in an apparent arson attempt. The blaze was extinguished by members of the Islamic Center of Escondido, and no one was injured. The suspect in an arson attack left behind graffiti referencing the deadly attacks of New Zealand killing 51 worshipper.

In May, there was an arson attack on the Turkish Mosque in the city of New Haven, Connecticut.
Turkish officials said the fire started at the mosque's entrance and reached the third floor through the exterior side of the building. "There was no loss of life or injury in the fire, but it is determined that the mosque has suffered large-scale damage.”

In May also, a Queens, New York, man was indicted on hate crime charges for allegedly trashing a mosque during an anti-Muslim tirade. And a Florida man was arrested for allegedly targeting a mosque and threatening to kill Muslims.

In January, two men have pleaded guilty in federal court to bombing a Minnesota mosque and attempting to bomb a women’s health clinic in Illinois. Prosecutors say the two men and another man accused in the case were part of an Illinois militia group that called itself  “White Rabbits.” The U.S. Justice Department last year charged Michael McWhorter, Joe Morris and a third man, Michael Hari, with using an explosive device to damage the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., in 2017.

Pressured to spy on NYC mosques for two years

In April 2014, Police commissioner in New York William Bratton put an end to the Demographics Unit, an undercover surveillance operation controversial for targeting Muslim communities, including maintaining files on individual houses of worship. However, surveillance continued long after Bratton’s announcement as manifested by the story of an Uzbek immigrant.

New York Public Radio, Gothamist, provides a graphic account of an Uzbek Muslim who was forced to spy on his community in mosques. Bilol, an Uzbek immigrant, who asked not use his actual name for fear of retaliation, was undocumented, having overstayed the tourist visa with which he first arrived in the U.S. in 2012.

In 2017 around 25 people raided his house at night. That night he was asked to hand over his passport and was handcuffed and taken in. And then the officials proposed a deal. He could legally remain in the U.S., but only if he helped the FBI “catch criminals.”

Bilol insisted he had never interacted with criminals before, and wasn’t qualified to do what was being asked of him. But reluctantly, he agreed. In return, he received a letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that put off any deportation proceedings—so long as officials found it beneficial to their purposes.

“Deferred action will allow you to remain in the United States until it has been determined by the United States government that the need for this type of action is no longer warranted," the letter read. The authorization was good for one year and required Bilol to “report periodically to a case agent or officer.”

Soon, he said, he was in regular touch with FBI agents, who had him spending time in various mosques around the city, especially those with Uzbek congregants. Faiza Patel, a national security expert at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, said immigrants like Bilol have been deployed by the FBI within Muslim communities for many years, especially since the 2001 September 11th attacks.

But she said this type of “fishing” is problematic. “It creates distrust among community members,” Patel said. “Because people are always looking at the guy next to them, and thinking, ‘Oh, is he an informant?’”  As time wore on, Bilol said he became more and more reluctant about working for the FBI.

A few months ago, an activist in the Muslim community put him in touch with the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility (CLEAR) project at CUNY School of Law for help. [August 22 - Gothamist]

Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Bigotry against Muslims is now pervasive and considered normal in the US society. Tennessee’s Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott posts a series of anti-Muslim comments on Facebook. In his Facebook posts, Northcott stated: Islam is an evil belief system. To deny that their religion teaches hate is also a denial of the truth. Practicing Muslims must kill anyone who doesn't accept their lie. Muslims are evil because they profess a commitment to an evil belief system and are no less evil because they don't act on their belief system if they refuse to disavow that system. To be Muslim is no different than being part of the KKK, Aryan Nation, etc. I will not be cowered into pretending that their belief system is legitimate or one of peace. We are fools if we don't recognize this and protect ourselves, our families, our communities and our country from succumbing to this present and growing threat. Take a look at what is happening in Europe and see if you want that for America.

The Sussex County (New Jersey) Republican Committee ran a Twitter page filled with offensive comments including a call to "eradicate Islam from every town, city, county and state in our homeland." The Twitter account includes retweets of memes with hateful language about Muslims and specifically about Muslim Reps. Ilhan Omar ad Rashida Tlaib, calling them in one case "the enemy within."

"Islam is a growing threat in the United States of America," said Pastor Dr. Donald McKay, head minister at Bloomfield Hills Baptist Church, Michigan. It was written on the flier for an event on Sept 11 and 12. "I am an Islamophobe, I wear that badge proudly," he said adding: "We don't hate Muslims, we hate the ideology they are identified with." "We believe that Muslims, committed Muslims, that are familiar with their faith are committed really to the overthrown of the United States and to world domination," McKay said.

US charities fund fringe Islamophobia network

American philanthropic organizations, including mainstream foundations, have funneled tens of millions of tax-free dollars to anti-Muslim groups influencing public opinion and government policy all the way up to the White House, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights group said in a report in May.

In a report called Hijacked by Hate: American Philanthropy and the Islamophobia Network, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) documented how 1,006 charitable foundations provided nearly $125 million to 39 anti-Muslim groups between 2014 and 2016, the dates of the latest publicly available tax filings.

"Anti-Muslim animus and Islamophobic messages are now pervasive features of our country's mainstream political, legal, educational, and media landscapes because these ideas are perpetuated by organizations and institutions with deep and extensive sources of funding and deliberate political agendas," CAIR said in the report, adding that the 39 anti-Muslim groups it identified had combined financial resources of $1.5 billion.

"The money was used to support anti-Muslim legislation and policies, conduct anti-Muslim lobbying, distribute false and defamatory information to mainstream media and on social media, and run public campaigns promoting conspiracy theories," according to CAIR.

Some private funds and foundations, many on the evangelical and Zionist far-right, are ideologically aligned with the Islamophobia network's efforts to fuel anti-Muslim bigotry in politics and society. And a number of members of the Islamophobia web have deep connections to the White House, which under President Donald Trump has at times stoked anti-Muslim sentiment.

On the positive note

California judge vacates conviction in 13-year-old Lodi terror case of Hamid Hayat

In a stunning decision in July, the Senior United States District Judge Garland Burrell Jr., who oversaw the trial and conviction of accused Lodi terror suspect Hamid Hayat 13 years ago in 2006 has ordered the conviction and sentence vacated. Burrell’s decision comes seven months after U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Barnes issued a 116-page recommendation to Burrell that the conviction be vacated because of ineffective representation by his original defense attorney, a woman who at the time had never tried a criminal case in federal court. Barnes’ recommendation followed weeks of testimony in a 2018 hearing in which his attorney hammered home his contention that the FBI had coerced Hayat into false confessions, that the training camp he supposedly visited was not even open at the time he was in Pakistan and that alibi witnesses who could prove his innocence were not produced at the original trial.

Hayat had been accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Pakistan and planning to wage jihad on the United States. Hayat, who was born in San Joaquin County in 1982, had visited Pakistan with his family in 2003 on what his lawyers say was a trip for his mother to receive medical treatment and to find a wife for him. But Hayat had come to the attention of a paid government informant who can be heard on wiretaps urging Hayat to attend such a camp. His appellate lawyers say that despite his confession – which came after hours of questioning by the FBI and is now the subject of a Netflix documentary – he never went to a camp. They also say the one he was alleged to have attended was not open at the time he was in Pakistan.

The case made national headlines when federal officials announced they had broken up an al-Qaida cell in Lodi, where at one point agents suspected Osama bin Laden’s No. 2 man – Ayman al-Zawahiri – supposedly had been seen. Hayat’s defense team dismissed that notion as a fantasy created by the informant, but federal prosecutors have fought for years to keep Hayat’s conviction from being overturned, noting repeatedly that he confessed. 

The FBI’s terrorism watch list violates the Constitution, says federal judge

On Sept 4, a federal judge ruled that an FBI watch list of more than 1 million “known or suspected terrorists” violates the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in the database. The decision from U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia in favor of 23 Muslim Americans who sued over their inclusion in the Terrorist Screening Database found that the watch list infringes on their constitutional right to due process.

Trenga noted that the list restricts their ability to fly and engage in everyday activities and backed the plaintiffs’ concerns that they were flagged secretly and without a clear methodology. 

“An individual’s placement into the [watch list] does not require any evidence that the person engaged in criminal activity, committed a crime, or will commit a crime in the future,” the judge wrote, “and individuals who have been acquitted of a terrorism-related crime may still be listed.”

The  Washington Post said the ruling could reshape the government’s process for a watch list that has long been criticized for inaccuracy and described by opponents as “a Muslim registry created in the wake of the widespread Islamophobia of the early 2000s.”

The watch list encompasses nearly 1.2 million people, including about 4,600 U.S. citizens or residents, as of June 2017.

In February, the federal government had acknowledged that it shares its terrorist watchlist with more than 1,400 private entities, including hospitals and universities, prompting concerns from civil libertarians that those mistakenly placed on the list could face a wide variety of hassles in their daily lives.

The government’s admission that it shares the list so broadly comes after years of insistence that the list is generally not shared with the private sector.

Gadeir Abbas, a lawyer with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has filed a constitutional challenge to the government’s use of the watchlist, called the government’s admission shocking. “We’ve always suspected there was private-sector dissemination of the terror watchlist, but we had no idea the breadth of the dissemination would be so large,” Abbas said.

The watchlist is supposed to include only those who are known or suspected terrorists but contains hundreds of thousands of names.

The government’s admission comes in a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in Alexandria by Muslims who say they regularly experience difficulties in travel, financial transactions and interactions with law enforcement because they have been wrongly added to the list.

Interestingly, in July the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act (IAA) requiring a report on the dissemination of the federal government’s watchlist to more than 60 foreign countries.

The amendment was introduced by Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and requires the Director of National Intelligence and the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress detailing various guidelines governing the government’s dissemination of the watchlist.

The FBI has acknowledged in sworn testimony that it takes no responsibility for, nor does it oversee, how foreign governments actually use U.S. watchlist information.

Muslims Celebrate Congressional Victories 

An exuberant crowd celebrated the victories of the first female Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), at a Jan. 10 reception hosted by the national office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) at Arlington, VA’s Hyatt Crystal City Hotel.

Fellow Muslim Rep. André Carson (D-IN), in office since 2008, was also in attendance.

“Our young women are now believing that their place is on the House floor, that their place is in the White House, that their place is serving others,” said Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants.

 “I don’t want us to be silent when the president of the United States calls Mexicans ‘rapists.' Don’t wait until he comes after us. Speak up now. We are all in the same element of fighting against racism and bigotry.” “I am delighted at this particular time in our nation’s history for there to be two unapologetic, unbought progressive leaders from the Muslim community who are women representing us in Congress,”

Omar told the enthusiastic audience of some 500 guests. “By our sheer presence in Congress, we say as Muslim women that we are in charge of our lives and our destiny. We decide where and how we show up.” Carson praised the qualities of Tlaib and Omar.

“Rashida and Ilhan are fighters,” he enthused. “They are smart, powerful, ready; they represent the next generation of Democratic leaders. And each and every one of you should be proud at this moment. We have fire power in Congress.”

Omar and Tlaib both ran progressive campaigns, focusing on issues such as immigration, keeping families together, racial and social justice, affordable health care and education. “These political leaders managed to galvanize the hopes and aspirations of people, and are now public servants who happen to be proud American Muslims,” noted CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad.

Meanwhile, New Mexico sworn in its first Muslim American lawmaker in state history. 

Rep. Abbas Akhil, an Albuquerque Democrat, took the oath of office Tuesday after winning a close race to represent southeast Albuquerque.  Akhil is an immigrant from India and an active member of the Islamic Center of New Mexico in Albuquerque.  He defeated Republican State Rep. Jim Dines.

 Online Magazine launched in  2003


Executive Editor: Abdus Sattar Ghazali


Front page title-000
Islam in 21st Century 2017a
MuslimsInPolitics 2017 Front