By Nihad Awad
This Fourth of July weekend, friends and families around the country will gather together to celebrate the freedoms we cherish as Americans, those for which countless generations have struggled and sacrificed so much.
We celebrate our freedom from oppression, freedom to practice our religion, representation in our government, and self-determination.
Yet as recent events targeting African-Americans have made abundantly clear, we still have a long way to go to achieve full equality under the flag we will fly high this weekend.
The terror attack on an African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the abuse of African-American teens by a police officer in McKinney, Texas, and police-involved shootings and mistreatment of men, women, and children of color across our nation point to the lingering structural racism in our society. These troubling incidents must be honestly addressed before we can truly be the nation President Abraham Lincoln described as "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."
By Nihad Awad
On March 7, 1965, Americans marching in Alabama for their right to vote were met with violence. It was on "Bloody Sunday" that state troopers attacked the peaceful civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That attack on marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the national upheaval that followed led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of our nation's most important pieces of legislation.
In 1965, the first march on Selma began with African-Americans demanding the right to vote, but today the legacy of that movement encompasses all challenges to bigotry, racial prejudice, religious profiling, and unwarranted surveillance of Americans.
Sadly, nearly 50 years later the right to vote again came under attack. In January 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, a simple majority of the Supreme Court held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, meaning that states could change their election laws without advance federal approval unless Congress enacted a new coverage formula (which they have not).
By: Ibrahim Hooper
The Associated Press (AP) added the term "Islamist" to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry read:
"Islamist -- Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."
That same year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) approached AP about modifying the reference, suggesting that AP change its Stylebook to incorporate language similar to that used in the reference to "fundamentalist," which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.
CAIR urged media outlets to drop the term because it has become journalistic shorthand for "Muslims we don't like" and because it is used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term "extremist," giving it an even more negative slant.
According a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report released today on the “FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders for Business Records in 2006,” the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) twice refused to authorize Section 215 requests by the FBI “based on concerns that the investigation was premised on protected First Amendment activity, and the FBI subsequently issued [National Security Letters] NSLs to obtain information” about American citizens built on the same premise rejected by the Court.
Under Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act, the FBI is authorized to apply to the FISA Court to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations.
Critics of the FISA Court have noted that the court effectively acts as a rubber stamp only rejecting .03 percent of all government surveillance requests, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In emails between the DOJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) and FBI’s National Security Law Branch, it is reported that the FISA Court decided that “the facts were too ‘thin’ and that this request implicated the targets First Amendment rights.”
The report cites a former counsel for intelligence policy who stated the OIPR should have subsequently examined the FBI’s underlying investigation after the FISA Court rejected the Section 215 request but that it was stretched too thin to “serve such an oversight role.”
An internal FBI audit in 2007 found that the “bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.
It is deeply troublesome that the FBI would pursue national security investigations of American citizens “premised on protected First Amendment activity.” It is even more disconcerting that the FBI would use NSLs to obtain such information after the FISA Court refused to authorize a warrant, given the Court’s near 100 percent approval of such requests.
The DOJ’s OIPR lack of ability to examine the FBI’s underlying investigation at the time of the request due stretched resources also raises serious questions about how well the Office is able to protect the civil liberties of Americans.
The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General report only labels such possible FBI violations of the law as “noteworthy” cases. The report does not provide any substantive recommendations to address these possible FBI abuses – unless such suggestions were made in one of the heavily redacted sections.
 U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General “A Review of the FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders for Business Records in 2006 (U),” 2014. Report was requested by Congress via the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005.
2 Wall Street Journal, “Secret Court's Oversight Gets Scrutiny,” Evan Perez June 9, 2013. Website: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324904004578535670310514616
3 The Washington Post, “FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data,” John Solomon, June 14, 2007. Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/13/AR2007061302453.html
by Robert McCaw
"Our country's Founders understood the best way to honor the place of faith in the lives of all Americans was to fight for justice and equality as well as liberty and freedom."
- Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work, 2014 Pentagon Iftar Dinner
On Veteran's Day, American Muslims, like other communities, thank those who have served in our nation's armed forces.
The nation's military draws its service members from all communities including the American Muslim community, which has contributed over 6,000 soldiers who have served honorably in overseas war deployments since 2001.
Out of those volunteer soldiers, at least 14 American Muslims have made the ultimate sacrifice having been killed in action.
In March, CAIR staff and board members who are U.S. veterans marked Memorial Day with the release of a video featuring Muslim veterans honoring the sacrifices Muslim soldiers have made for their country.
Today's celebration finds its origins in Armistice Day, a day of national reflection and gratitude for the hard fought victory that marked the end of World War I. As history marched forward each generation of Americans has responded with courage and bravery to the call of service and we as a nation have established Veterans Day to demonstrate our deep appreciation.
There is not a single faith or community that is not represented by our nation's soldiers in uniform. When Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England helped dedicate the Marine Corps' first Islamic prayer center in 2006, he recognized that we are "a nation of people from all races and creeds who believe in liberty and freedom."
As a nation we are able to salute the service of our veterans while still publicly opposing the immoral political motivations that some administrations have used to justify sending our troops into harm's way. We are able to separate the service of volunteer soldiers from the decisions of policy makers and elected officials.
As a nation, we should better honor our veterans every day by empowering them through streamlining veterans' health care and benefits systems, securing more scholarships and educational grants for veterans, promoting veterans hiring programs, and ending the serious problem of veteran homelessness.
U.S. Muslims, like all other Americans today, will thank those who have served on our behalf and remember in our thoughts and prayers the ones who did not come home.