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]

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