This Fourth of July, American Muslims across the country will be celebrating the birth of our nation and its political freedoms. I will personally be hosting a traditional halal barbeque with my friends and neighbors that will be capped off with some festive fireworks – a benefit of living in the great Commonwealth of Virginia.
Inshallah (Arabic for “God-willing”), this will be the first Fourth of July cookout that my four-year-old son will remember as he gets to eat glazed honey smoked ribs, chicken tandoori, and red, white and blue layered flag cake* with sparklers atop. This year we will make sure to have the National Symphony Orchestra’s Independence Day Concert playing on the background. On this day I am usually found listening to the Boston Pops in a small coastal town just south of Boston at my mother’s house, but wanted to spare my family from Interstate 95’s holiday traffic.
What my son won’t see behind everyone’s smiles and laughter is the anxiety and fear that many American Muslims have on their minds – worry over reports of increasing anti-Muslim violence; hate crimes; acts of vandalism and arson against our houses of worship; bullying of our children in school and discrimination as they enter the workforce; anti-Muslim hate rallies across the country; government sanction discrimination like President Trump’s Muslim Ban, to be decided by the Supreme Court in October; religious questioning of American Muslim travelers by CBP; a return to the FBI placing Muslims that travel abroad on the No-Fly List, effectively exiling Muslim citizens; anti-Muslim hate groups training sheriff departments across the country; and, local city councils and zoning boards denying Muslim communities permission to build new mosques, schools and community centers.
Having to surmount these social and legal challenges that threaten our nation’s shared principles, values and constitutional rights, American Muslims and their many allies take refuge in the very foundational document that gave birth to our nation, the United States Declaration of Independence.
Published on July 4, 1776, its preamble declares in part “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is an inclusive ideal that has not always been lived up to and every generation of our nation has uniquely struggled to work towards.
Every Fourth of July – as we celebrate our national independence – we get a chance to recommit ourselves to supporting these certain unalienable rights regardless of race, religion or creed. Like our founders, “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
This Fourth of July, many Muslims will be celebrating the holiday with the understanding that whatever threat exists to our rights and liberties, or looms over other communities, it will be overcome by our nation redeclaring its commitment to what makes America great, that everyone from shore to shore is welcomed and provided the guarantee of equality before the law.
U.S. Muslims like all other Americans really do have a lot to celebrate this Fourth of July.
*The Red, White and Blue Layered Flag Cake recipe can be found here. I hope that I get it right.
The FBI under the Trump Administration has apparently revived extra-judicial exile, a tactic that prevents American citizens from returning to the United States without any judicial process. This practice is at odds with U.S. law that requires the government to allow citizens to enter the country.
In June 2017, Imam Yussuf Awadir Abdi, an American citizen and imam (Muslim religious leader) of Madina Masjid in Salt Lake City, Utah, traveled to Kenya to accompany his wife and children on their return to the United States. All members of his family are either United States citizens or have permission to enter and reside in this country. While he was abroad, Imam Abdi was added to the No-fly List and subsequently prevented from boarding his flight home.
On June 16th CAIR filed an emergency lawsuit on Abdi’s behalf in the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The government was not able to produce a credible reason as to why Imam Abdi was being barred from returning home to the U.S.
The FBI has never acknowledged the existence of extra-judicial exile as an agency tactic, policy or program. However, after several years of intense public pressure and lawsuits filed by CAIR, ACLU, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC); mounting congressional inquiries to the FBI’s liaison office; and, increasing reports in the media – the practice appeared to be abandoned in 2013.
Then came Imam Abdi. Thankfully, CAIR’s emergency lawsuit compelled the United States to allow Imam Abdi to board a flight and return to his family and congregation in Utah.
Without intervention, Imam Abdi would have been unable to return home in time for the last 10 nights of the holy month of Ramadan -- the most important nights of the month – where he is now leading prayers each night at his mosque. The last 10 nights of Ramadan began on the evening of June 15.
The FBI’s resurrection of its extra-judicial exile program may in part be a response to the Trump Administration continued public support for its unconstitutional and discriminatory “Muslim Ban” – an unlawful set of executive orders that have been halted in several federal circuit courts. If the Trump Administration publicly supports banning entire nations of Muslims, then it is extremely likely the FBI feels free to return to banning individual American Muslims.
How Extrajudicial Exile Works
As CAIR has noted previously, “Many of these U.S. citizens pose no security risk and are victims of unwarranted or incorrect placement on the government’s no-fly list or other federal watchlists. Most often, when attempting to return home while abroad, these U.S. citizens are informed at the airport that they have been barred from flying or placed on the no-fly list, often by the FBI. They are often coerced into submitting to interviews with FBI agents or foreign law enforcement while being denied legal counsel.”
In all cases these American citizens at the time of their ordeal faced no criminal charges in their destination country, no criminal charges in the U.S. or outstanding allegations of wrongdoing. In all cases these Americans could return to the U.S. only after intense public appeals, media coverage, and legal challenges. In many cases they presumably remain on the no-fly list.
How Congress Can End Extra-Judicial Exile
CAIR believes that the government is depriving these citizens one of the most basic rights of American citizenship: The right to be in the U.S. The Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship guarantees prohibit the government from any action that curtails or restricts the citizenship rights of Americans. This protection extends to citizens residing in the U.S. and returning home after traveling abroad.
Last year Republican legislators, backed by groups including CAIR, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Riﬂe Association, opposed “No Fly, No Buy” legislation because it violated the due process rights of those placed on the watch lists. Many in congress already understand that federal watch list system has high error rates and listed individuals are unable to adequately challenge their designation.
Congress should act now by immediately requesting the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General to investigate the FBI’s practice of placing Americans on the no-fly list while they are traveling abroad.
It should be determined how many cases of extrajudicial exile the FBI has engaged in; how many of these citizens were able to return home; how many remain abroad; and, what follow-up the FBI effected in such cases.
Congress should also work to ensure that national security and law enforcement agencies (such as the NCTC, TSC, FBI, DHS, CBP, ICE, and TSA) only place American citizens on the no-fly list if they pose an imminent or violent criminal threat to aviation security.
Finally, Congress should take steps to ensure that Americans who have been charged with no crime can board a flight back to the United States.
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.
By Robert S. McCaw
The Fourth of July is a time when we come together as a nation to celebrate our independence and political freedoms. This Independence Day, I will be joining my family in a small coastal town just south of Boston to show off my newborn son and enjoy a traditional halal barbeque and lobster clambake.
I will also be observing Ramadan, a month of spiritual reflection marked by fasting and appreciating the blessings God has provided my family, community and nation. On this day, the American Muslim iftar, or fast-breaking meal, will be accompanied by neighborhood barbeques, sweet dates and fireworks.
I will not take my independence and freedom for granted. I will thank my maternal grandfather and great uncle, who joined the U.S. Coast Guard and Marines respectively, for their service during the Korean War. I will remember my paternal grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy as an aviator during World War II and the Korean War, my father and paternal uncle who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and send a note of appreciation to my cousin who currently serves as a command sergeant major in the Army.
While my family eats together, we'll surely be listening to the Boston Pops on the radio and hearing the distant roar as spectacular city fireworks are met with local neighborhood firecrackers. That day, we will be celebrating America as much as our ties to each other.
My family is a reflection of America's religious and politically diversity. Politics aside, my mother is Methodist, my aunt is Universal Unitarian, my grandfather is Episcopalian, my mother's cousins are Jewish, and my wife, son and I are Muslim.
My great grandmother, the daughter of Swedish immigrants who became the matriarch of a sprawling New England family, would often sit on the porch during such celebrations and smile to herself with a sense of great pride while gazing at the diversity of her linage.
As Americans, we each have a personal story for how we have come to express ourselves as patriots and how we celebrate our hard-won freedoms. From the Declaration of Independence, through wars and struggles for equality and civil rights and acknowledging our diversity as a source of national strength, celebrating the Fourth of July is a reminder of who we were and what we have all become: American.
Robert S. McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.