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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

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.

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5

Posted by on in Elections

It's election season. That means over the last several months, you've been inundated with ads from candidates who've collectively spent hundreds of millions of dollars vying for your vote.

If that makes you feel special, it should. Clearly, your vote matters.

Yet the results of CAIR's recent survey of Muslim voters indicate that less than 70% of registered Muslim voters will head to the polls this year. While that number is an improvement over Muslims' participation in past elections, we can do much better.

Many American Muslims who don't vote may say it's for one or more of the following reasons.

I'm disillusioned by the government's disregard for civil liberties and by growing Islamophobia. None of the candidates' positions reflect my views.

No one can blame you for feeling this way. But remember: the most effective way to change policies and affect problems like Islamophobia is by speaking out against them. Your vote is your voice.

By voting for the candidate whose views are most in line with yours, you are establishing yourself as someone who has invested in their career as a politician. It gives you credibility to make your concerns a priority for legislators. This makes you a stakeholder and ensures that you have a seat at the table.

Elected officials are public servants. They have an obligation to meet with their constituents and to listen to concerns, but they will prioritize the thoughts and opinions of people who go to the polls and cast their ballots.

If their position on one issue conflicts with yours, let them know how you feel. Build support for your position by mobilizing your friends and community. Organize grassroots campaigns. Launch petitions via sites like www.change.org. Whatever you do, don't remain silent and do nothing.

I don't know where the candidates stand on issues that matter to me.

The best voter is an educated and informed voter. Rather than becoming discouraged, learn about the candidates' positions on issues that matter to you.

Many organizations publish candidate scorecards that grade each candidate on their positions on important issues. Familiarize yourself with candidates' positions on issues that are important to you and learn what issues or causes they've supported in the past. Find out where candidates will be speaking and attend so you can listen to them speak firsthand or even ask them questions.

Research and watch past speeches and media appearances. Have they authored books or written articles? Reading these can help provide deeper insight on their views. Most importantly, the best way to learn is by asking questions. Speak with the leadership of your local mosque or another organization to organize a candidate forum.

I don't know how to register to vote.

Each state has a state board of elections whose website contains important information on the application process such as requirements to register to vote and important deadlines. The deadline to register to vote on November 4 is nearing or has already passed in most states.

If you are too late to register this election season, register now so you'll be prepared for the next election. And you can still make a difference by volunteering to be an election judge, volunteering for candidate campaigns, encouraging your friends and family who are registered voters to cast their ballots, and by helping to provide transportation to polling stations for the elderly and disabled.

I don't have a car and don't have any way of getting to the polling station nearest to me.

If you have trouble physically getting to the polls, there are other solutions. CAIR encourages people to carpool to and from the polling stations. Carpooling helps more people to vote in greater numbers, is more environmentally friendly, and provides transportation for people who otherwise may not be able to make it out.

Contact your local mosque to find out if arrangements are being or can be made to transport congregants to the polls. Call your state board of elections and find out what kind of transportation services they are providing and in what areas. Ask a family member, neighbor, friend or colleague if they would mind giving you a ride. Many cities provide free transportation to and from polling stations for the elderly and physically disabled.

It's just one vote. I don't think it matters.

Correction: It does! There's power in numbers. Never doubt the impact of a single vote, especially in critical battleground states where the Muslim vote has the potential to play a key role. Not only is voting your constitutional right, it is also your voice. It's a way to express your views.

If you don't vote, you allow others who do to affect decisions on important issues like the economy, healthcare and education -- and you may like the outcome even less. The next generation is depending on you to make important decisions that affect their future. One way to do your part to secure your children's future is to vote in their best interests.

County and statewide elections stand to have a greater impact on an individual level. The role you play and the decision you make in whether to vote will be instrumental in deciding the direction of our collective future. Don't sit this ride out -- buckle up and head to the polls on November 4 to make your voice count.

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8

Posted by on in Hate Crimes

Two years after the senseless shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed six innocent lives, the challenges facing the Sikh American community have only been compounded.

Members of this religious minority continue to be subjected to hate and bias attacks from racists due to their physical appearance and traditional attire.

Last Thursday, a Sikh man walking with his mother was approached by three teenagers who yelled racial and ethnic slurs at his mom before calling him "Osama bin laden" and physically assaulting him.

Only a few days before that, a 29-year-old father of two, Sandeep Singh, was also victimized in a brutal hate crime. As he walked home with friends, a man in a truck began shouting racial slurs and abuse at Singh, who wears a turban. When Singh confronted him, the man reportedly mowed him down with his truck. Singh is now hospitalized, struggling to recover from the extensive injuries he sustained.

Physically, both of these victims are expected to recuperate; however, the mental and emotional trauma they have endured will take much longer to heal.

This most recent wave of attacks has heightened tensions in an already marginalized community that has suffered tremendous backlash in post-9/11 America.

These incidents fueled by bigotry and hatred must stop.

It is unconscionable, unjustifiable, and un-American to verbally or physically assault anyone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

Hate is divisive and robs us of compassion and understanding. Intolerance blinds us to the vast diversity that strengthens and beautifies our nation.

The Sikh community is compassionate, and proud. Many Sikhs in America have shared heartbreaking stories of their struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with their American identity.

It is unacceptable that they -- or members of any ethnic or religious group -- feel fearful of practicing their religion.

As a civil rights activist committed to advancing justice for all people, I strongly believe that if we are not a part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

Martin Luther King, Jr. rightfully said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We cannot afford to idly sit back and ignore the threat bigotry and racism pose in our society; we must unequivocally condemn it.

Groups in both public and private sectors must work together to combat these issues that overshadow the discourse in marginalized communities across the nation.

Faith in our justice system must be restored. Law enforcement officials must take appropriate steps to discourage repeat attacks; they must conduct thorough, fair investigations and they must be held accountable in making sure justice is served.

And, perhaps most importantly, victims like Sandeep Singh and their families must be made to feel safe again in an environment that appears increasingly hostile towards all they represent.

Only when we unite as Americans to send a strong, clear message that racism and bigotry are unacceptable, can we effectively work to cure the intolerance that infects our society.

Tagged in: CAIR Hate Crimes Sikh
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19

Posted by on in Freedom of Religion

My English classroom in high school was covered in posters. Some had grammar rules, some showed pictures of authors, and others featured cats in funny costumes. But the one poster I remember most was a quotation. It read:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

Though I didn't know it at the time, this is a famous quotation from the Christian theologian Martin Niemoller. He was a German pastor who publicly criticized Adolf Hitler during the Nazi regime. Although he remained nationalistic and an outspoken anti-Semite throughout World War II, his criticism of the Nazi party caused him to be imprisoned for seven years in a concentration camp.

After he was released by Allied forces in 1945, Niemoller became one of the first Germans to talk about the guilt of the German people and the sin they had all committed through inaction . He spent the rest of his life as an advocate for international peace.

Now that I'm in my third year of studying religion, that poster-filled classroom seems a long way away to me, but Martin Niemoller's words seem closer and more urgent than ever before. In 2012 there were 5,796 hate crimes reported in the United States, 842 million people worldwide were undernourished, and just a few weeks ago, 60 people were shot in a single U.S. city over one weekend. This must stop.

Now that I work just blocks from the U.S. Capitol as an intern for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, I'm exposed to horrifying statistics like these more than ever. A few weeks ago I attended a conference advocating for equal rights for Arab-Americans with my fellow interns. We sat at a table and a woman shortly joined us. We introduced ourselves and told her we were interns with the CAIR. She told me about some of the work she does and then asked if I was Muslim. I told her no, I'm an atheist going to school in Minnesota. This shocked her and I gladly told her about my journey through the interfaith movement that led me to work at CAIR. But is the fact that I, an atheist, am concerned about Muslim rights so shocking?

When Niemoller died more than 30 years ago at the age of 92, he was still fighting for peace. I cannot begin to compare my effort to his long struggle for peace. I can't even compare it to the scores of people I've met in the last few weeks who dedicate their lives to advancing social justice. But I've learned how the status of one group affects the wellbeing of all.
Atheists like me must stand up to protect religious rights. Christians must stand for the rights of Muslims. Likewise, Muslims must stand up for the rights of their fellow Americans of other beliefs. Every group, minorities or majorities, liberal or conservative, religious or not, should work together to achieve peace. Not because one day they expect the other group to speak for them, but because of the loss they risk if they do not speak now.

In 1963 another international leader penned a famous letter from the cell of an Alabama prison. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote:

"I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice."

Which leads me to ask some important questions: What kind of world would we live in if people only stood up for their own rights? Where would we be if all remained silent for any justice but their own? And most importantly: is that the kind of world we want to live in?

The answer, of course, is no. So it's time to do something about it.

Robyn Adams is a religion major in her junior year of college. She is currently working as a summer intern for CAIR's department to monitor and combat Islamophobia.

Tagged in: CAIR
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17

Posted by on in American Muslims

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.

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23

Posted by on in Targeted Killing

In response to a court order, the Obama administration has released the Justice Department's 41-page legal memo on U.S. targeted killing operations. The memo was used in the decision-making process that led to the 2011 extrajudicial killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdurrahman, who was also a U.S. citizen. The memo was released in response to a court order in consolidated FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) lawsuits filed by the ACLU and The New York Times.

For the past several years, CAIR has joined the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other civil liberties and human rights organizations in calling on the president and submitting testimony to Congress seeking the release of all U.S. government targeted killing memos related to counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.

It's critical for Americans to know how our government determines its own authority to assassinate U.S. citizens suspected of supporting or engaging in acts of terrorism. And the U.S. government's targeted killing program has not only taken the lives of several American citizens but has killed thousands of other people, including countless civilians who are all too often referred to as necessary collateral damage.

As a nation we must ensure that the rule of law and respect for human life is preserved -- whether the intended target is a U.S. citizen or a foreign national -- when targeting groups like al-Qaeda. If we don't, such groups will continue to capitalize on America's targeted killing program, drawing support from popular resentment built around unintended but all too frequent civilian deaths.

CAIR looks forward to reviewing the memo, and continues to urge our government to commit to further disclosure and transparency of American counterterrorism and drone warfare programs.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs department manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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7

Posted by on in American Muslims

From-Fear-to-Understanding-IslamOn Tuesday, April 29, interfaith leaders and community members gathered at the St. Francis Convent in Little Falls, Minn., for a community dialogue on "Tolerance and the Fear of Islam." The event was organized after community leaders and activists considered the negative impact a speech by an anti-Muslim speaker had in the same community last year.

Approximately one-third of the audience consisted of individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims – and they came prepared with their Islamophobic books. They handed out hate-filled flyers and started heckling, but eventually they started to listen.

CAIR-MN Brings Dialogue on Tolerance to Little Falls

http://mcrecord.com/2014/04/30/cair-brings-dialogue-on-tolerance-to-little-falls/

CAIR-MN Civil Rights Director Saly Abd Alla presented first, when the crowd was the most hostile. She spoke about the history of religious intolerance in America and provided some much-needed context and education. The heckling gradually diminished as her presentation went on.

Then CAIR-MN Outreach Director Jaylani Hussein presented on Islam 101. His Quran recitation was one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed. I could see that, whether they wanted to admit it or not, the recitation touched some of the individuals hostile to Islam and Muslims- to the point that they were bowing their heads down. He did a great job in making connections to things community members could relate to like sports and winter weather, and showed everyone how normal Muslims are.

Lastly, Father Virgil Petermeier of the St. Cloud Muslim-Christian Dialogue spoke about his positive experiences living with Muslims in Indonesia for 36 years. He told the story of when the monastery was burned to the ground, the Muslims in their community helped rebuild it. He said how when a senior pastor fell ill, a Muslim woman doctor drove two hours while she was fasting and saved the pastor's life. He said how Muslim students attended the Catholic school and demonstrated how the local imam, Baba Haji, greeted him with both arms raised whenever he saw him. These stories were imperative in countering all the negative stories of Christian-Muslim relations some people had heard.

The Q&A was respectful and organized, thanks to the efforts of moderator Kevin LaNave, director of the Center for Learning Services and Social Change. Attendees asked real questions they have about Islam and Muslims and the panelists openly and honestly answered them.

After the event, many people stayed back. Some of the same people who had been distributing hateful flyers at the beginning of the event were now talking to us. They were asking questions.

My most memorable moment from the evening was at the very end. The host of the Little Falls Dialogue had told us that he was fielding hate calls all week. Some people were trying to intimidate him into cancelling the event. There was one call that stood out to him - it was from one of his donors. The individual said that he would withdraw his donation if this event took place. The host politely told him that he was sorry to lose the donation, but that the event would go on as scheduled. He was not going to cancel it. When the event was finished and we were all walking out together, a Muslim stopped the host and said, "You may have lost one donor for holding this event, but you gained another one,"- and handed him a personal check.

This event won't change everyone, but I saw firsthand how many people changed. Most people had never met a Muslim, let alone sat and listened to them talk for two hours. What a wonderful world this could be if everyone just listened - even if it's for two hours in a convent in Little Falls, Minnesota.

-----

Lori Saroya is executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). She may be contacted at [email protected].

Event sponsors included: Little Falls Partners for Peace, Brainerd Area Coalition for Peace, Building Blocks of Islam, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). It was hosted by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls at the St. Francis Convent.​

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16

Posted by on in Sharia

[My speech on "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" was presented in Maine on March 22, 2014. The below text differs slightly from the original as I was able to check a couple of references that I did not have access to while in Vacationland. From here forward, everything in brackets was added after the speech was delivered.]

Salaam alaykum. Peace be unto you. Good evening.

In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a basketball player for the Denver Nuggets, refused to stand during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf asserted that his action was a reflection of his understanding of the Islamic faith.

This sparked a nationwide debate.

Shortly after, one of the major news magazines ran a story about the ensuing controversy. The story featured a photo of a woman at a later Nuggets game wrapped in an American flag and crying. [She was demonstrating her outrage at Abdul-Rauf's deed.]

Abdul-Rauf's action was, in my opinion then and now, disrespectful and inappropriate. Indeed, he later stated that while he believed his motivation was correct, his choice of expression was not the best approach." So while I disagreed with the action, I would defend his right to do what he did.

Abdul-Rauf's act was political dissent, respect for which is enshrined in our national character. [This respect for dissent is why I also disagree with the woman in the photo. I defend her right to do what she did, but I think becoming angry at his act is also not the best approach.]

At the time there were calls for Abdul-Rauf to face consequences. He served a one game suspension.

Often in incidents like this we even hear legislators talk of passing laws to ban certain behaviors or to legally impose them. Outlawing flag burning, another form of protest I view as a crass political stunt, is a frequent example. I think the tension between faith, politics, ideals and their expression we see in the Abdul-Rauf incident is important to think about tonight.

Now, before my hosts get too nervous trying to figure out why the speaker is rambling on about a minor incident, I want to take a moment to increase their tension.

I respectfully disagree with our chosen topic for tonight. I think it draws on incorrect assumptions about sharia, or Islamic legal principles, and democracy. I honestly think there is another, more significant topic to be considered.

So I am going to beg your indulgence for a bit and allow me to make my case. I pray you will find by the end of our discussion that I have answered the "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" question anyway.

Sharia's ideals

To start, let's discuss sharia. Like jihad, it is a term that has been hijacked and turned into something scary.

To assist our discussion of sharia I will turn to a scholar, Asifa Quraishi-Landes. She teaches American constitutional law and Islamic law at the University of Wisconsin and has a doctorate from Harvard Law School among other honors. Here is a short passage from her paper "Sharia and Diversity" in which she describes sharia as literally meaning "way" or "street":

"Sharia refers to the way that God has advised Muslims to live, as documented in the Quran and exemplified in the practices of Prophet Muhammad. In other words, sharia can be understood as the Islamic recipe for living a good life. But of course, no one can taste a recipe. We can only taste the product of a chef's efforts to follow one. In addition, different chefs can follow the same recipe and still come up with quite varied results."

There are a few things I hope we hear in this reading.

First, Muslims recognize that the process of understanding God's will is ongoing. There is not a set of books equivalent to the U.S. Code sitting somewhere that spells out what the law is in fine detail. There is the ideal of divine law [found primarily in the Quran and the life of Islam's Prophet] and the reality of human interpretations of the law, which we can define using the Arabic term fiqh.

Second, we are painfully aware of our humanity and that we can interpret and express these ideals wrongly.

Third, there can be a wide variance in the understanding of Islam.

I like Quraishi-Landes's use of the recipe metaphor. Sharia is the recipe, but different religious scholars produce varied dishes from it.

Let me give you a real world example of the variety [available to Muslims.]

One of Islam's most important holidays is Eid Al-Fitr. It comes at the end of Ramadan, the month wherein Muslims eat no food, drink no water and avoid other physical indulgences during daylight hours. Ramadan is a time of great spiritual reflection and self-denial, Eid is the party at the end. I would be lying to you if I did not admit that after a month of food and sleep deprivation it is a joy to get this party started.

The problem is, we have a hard time agreeing on when it starts. Islam is on a lunar calendar, and thus the date of Eid changes each year in relation to our own calendar. Some Muslims maintain Eid starts when someone of good reputation sees the new moon with their eyes, thus starting the new month. Others say we can use scientific calculations to know the exact moment of the birth of the new moon. Many immigrant Muslims prefer go with when their country of origin says Eid starts. Others say that since Islam is now worldwide, we should all go with when Mecca, the place all Muslims face when we pray, recognizes the start of Eid.

As a result, every year we hear conversations in mosques along the lines of "Are you celebrating Eid on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday?"

We have people going to their employers and saying, "next week is our most important religious holiday of the year, I need to take the day off." The boss usually replies, "Sure, what day do you need?" Then we get the rather awkward response of, "Well, it might be Monday, but maybe Tuesday, perhaps Wednesday."

As an aside, next time someone tells you Muslims have some shady conspiracy to subvert the Constitution, remember this holiday. If we cannot organize our major holidays, I doubt we can pull off a vast conspiracy. I have also never encountered any actual Muslim interest in such a conspiracy.

So, sharia was and is developed to be flexible and dynamic in practice. This was done in order to achieve two main goals, and protect six main principles in society. The two goals are to bring good to humanity community, and to repel harm from humanity. Please note, this is not bring good to Muslims, and to repel harm from Muslims. It is humanity.

All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of Sharia, presented here as written out by Sumbul Ali-Karamali:

  • "The right to the protection of life.
  • "The right to the protection of family.
  • "The right to the protection of education (intellect).
  • "The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
  • "The right to the protection of human dignity.
  • "The right to the protection of religion."

Sharia must then adapt with respect to the social, political, and cultural climate of a given place and time in order to ensure that these two goals are met, and these six principles are protected. In fact, sharia mandates that a Muslim practice their faith while respecting the law of the land in which they reside.

Throughout history the way to achieve these goals and protect these principles has differed between various philosophies, eras, communities, and leaders. At the center of these various interpretations is always intended to be human good.

Ibn al Qayyim, a notable medieval-era Islamic jurist put it this way, "The foundation of the sharia is wisdom and the safeguarding of people's interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transforms justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the sharia. ..."

So these are the ideals behind Islamic legal principles. We Muslims, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.

Let's think about one example. In Islamic inheritance a son gets a full share and a daughter gets a half share. This is done because the son is expected to pay for funeral expenses and support all family members. The daughter can choose to help, but it is not an obligation. Similarly, a man is obligated to financially support his family. Any money a wife earns is hers to do with as she chooses, she can contribute or not as she wishes.

These are the ideals aimed at ensuring everyone is supported financially and it is clear who is responsible. Does it always work out that way? No.

American ideals

In my opinion, ideals are at the core of our conversation tonight. They are precious things. We in America have them and strive for them. We Americans, like every other way of life with which I am familiar, do not always live up to our own ideals.

In 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they chose. John Adams -- who went on to sign the Declaration of Independence and become our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In 2013, shortly after revelations of overly-broad warrantless surveillance of the American public by the National Security Agency, or NSA, the Pew Research Center found 56 percent of Americans think this is an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism." Sixty-two percent agreed that it is more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if it intrudes on personal privacy." A stark contrast to the men who founded our nation.

More recently, Pew reported, "Today, 40% approve of the government's collection of telephone and internet data as part of anti-terrorism efforts, while 53% disapprove." Pew adds, "In addition, nearly half (48%) say there are not adequate limits on what telephone and internet data the government can collect."

So here we see an example of our national struggle to balance our ideals with reasonable concerns for public safety and less reasonable fears that may cause us to be too willing to give up ideals the founders valued.

John Adams, by the way, set the standard for placing ideals over emotions when he acted as legal counsel to British soldiers accused in the Boston massacre, one of those iconic incidents that contributed to sparking full scale colonial revolt against King George.

The ideal, broadly embraced in our society, was later expressed in the Sixth Amendment as an accused having the right to the assistance of counsel to his defense.

Writing in his diary, Adams expressed fear he felt for his own safety, as well as that of his family from more radical elements of the revolutionary movement. Of his decision to defend the soldiers Adams concluded: "It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country."

Let's consider a couple of more recent examples.

In 2004, three years after the 9/11 attacks, Cornell University reported that "nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim-Americans." This included "27 percent of respondents supported requiring all Muslim-Americans to register where they lived with the federal government."

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any "religious test" for public office. However, in 2010 Time reported that "twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court" and that "nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for president."

The lesson I see here is that we have grand ideals in this nation, but our reality does not always live up to them. The struggle to enshrine our ideals is long and difficult.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book on the Civil War, James McPherson reports on English Protestant Americans' suspicion of German and Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. in the nineteenth century. He writes, "most of these new Americans worshipped in Roman Catholic churches. Their growing presence filled some Protestant Americans with alarm. Numerous nativist organizations sprang up as the first line of resistance in what became a long and painful retreat toward acceptance of cultural pluralism."

Striving to "civilize" Native Americans, the federal government instituted a practice of taking children away from their parents and placing them in off-reservation boarding schools. Here, the children were to learn a culture not their own. These schools still existed in the 1960s.

It took until 1920, 144 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to pass a constitutional amendment granting women full voting rights. The Lilly Ledbetter Act, signed into law in 2009, reminds us that women in America still struggle for equal pay for equal work.

Our nation placed Japanese-Americans in internment camps following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The deeply troubling story of the African-American struggle for full equality is well known. Sadly, it is commonplace for minority groups and their leaders to be vilified.

Martin Luther King, a non-violent, civil rights icon, has a federal holiday named after him and won a Nobel Peace Prize.

However, before his assassination, he was branded the "most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country" in an FBI memo. His calls and sometimes hotel rooms were wiretapped. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover labeled King a degenerate.

Which Democracy?

I hope by now you may begin to see why my concern is not "Is sharia compatible with democracy?" The term democracy may not even be the best for our thoughts tonight. Like Islam, democracy takes many forms.

The citizens of Athens, a direct democracy where only landed males could vote, would hardly recognize our system. Pirate democracy, entertaining as the subject is, is probably not a focus for us tonight. On a pirate ship, all crew got a vote and the captain was elected.

Some -- maybe Vladimir Putin -- would call the recent referendum in Crimea an instance of democracy. But voting is not necessarily an indicator of a healthy democracy. We are all familiar with despotic rulers who handily win "vote me or else" elections.

Indeed, our own democracy, the recipe the Founding Fathers gave us is constantly being assessed by new chefs. When the U.S. Constitution came into effect, 10 of the 13 states required a voter to own property or pay some form of tax. Today, such requirements cause outrage.

Examining the ideals side-by-side

But, as you may have noticed, the ideals, the principles behind our expression of democracy do offer us a guide to the target of our thoughts tonight.

Two documents give us a sense of the recipe:

The Declaration of Independence asserts that the right of the people "to alter or to abolish their government" must remain intact and the people must have the freedom to lay government's "foundation on such principles" and organize "its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The Constitution adds additional thoughts: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.""

These are the goals of the democracy our founders created. These are the ideals, the recipe.

Let me remind you of the two main goals and six main principles of sharia. The two goals are to bring good to humanity, and to repel harm from humanity.

All religious rules must be in line with these six principles of sharia:

  • The right to the protection of life.
  • The right to the protection of family.
  • The right to the protection of education (intellect).
  • The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
  • The right to the protection of human dignity.
  • The right to the protection of religion.

I hope you are beginning to hear what I concluded long ago -- that the similarities between Islamic sharia ideals and western democratic ideals are fairly obvious.

Many Muslims have already concluded the ideals are similar. This is not just my opinion. Early after my decision to embrace Islam I heard a story. I do not know if it is fact, but it expresses a reality I have heard many Muslims agree with. In short, after visiting America, a Muslim scholar is reported to have said, "I went to the east and found Muslims without Islam. I went to the west and found Islam without Muslims."

This scholar is saying he saw in the west Islamic principles in action where Islam was not the majority faith. He is saying in many countries where Islam is the majority faith, politics and history have created circumstances where Islamic principles are not expressed in society.

In 2011, the Fiqh Council of North America adopted a resolution titled "On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans."

Here are a few lines from that resolution:

  • Like other faith communities in the US and elsewhere, we see no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
  • Likewise, the core modern democratic systems are compatible with the Islamic principles of Shura -- mutual consultation and co-determination of all social affairs at all levels and in all spheres, family, community, society, state, and globally.
  • Islamic teachings require respect of the laws of the land where Muslims live as minorities, including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so long as there is no conflict with Muslims' obligation for obedience to God. We do not see any such conflict with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primacy of obedience to God is a commonly held position of many practicing Jews and Christians as well.

Aside: Al-Qaeda is everybody's enemy

At this moment of thinking about the parallels between Islamic ideals and western democratic ideals, let me insert a couple of thoughts about Al-Qaeda and their ideological allies.

Extremists who claim that Islam motivates, or worse, sanctions, their atrocities have done deep harm to Islam. Their terrorism, the blatant human rights abuses, their complete distortion of the faith -- these provide the breeding ground for much of the anti-Muslim extremism we are living through today.

The worldview of violent extremists is a complete distortion of Islam. Islamic teachings clearly state that the killing of one innocent is the moral equivalent to the killing of all humanity.

To the more than a billion Muslims worldwide, Islam is a religion that teaches tolerance, justice and compassion. Unfortunately, for many who know little of Islam or Muslims, violent extremists have come to personify both.

What many do not realize is that in the struggle against Al-Qaeda and its ideological allies we can adopt an us [America] vs. them [Muslims] attitude or we can adopt a "we are all in the struggle against violent extremism together" approach.

At least 31 Muslims were among the victims of the 9/11 attackers. This includes Mohammed Salman Hamdani, who went into one of the Twin Towers to offer assistance and died while doing so. His sacrifice was noted in the USA PATRIOT ACT.

After reviewing a 2009 report titled Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al-Qaida's Violence Against Muslims, Ralph Peters wrote in the New York's Daily Post, "Al-Qaeda does one thing extremely well: killing Muslims."

President Obama echoed this conclusion at a White House Ramadan fastbreaking reception in 2010 when he noted, "In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion and that list of victims includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11."

American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals

The more we think about it, the more the us [democracy] vs. them [sharia] dichotomy falls apart.

Now here is a key, and for this gathering, crucial reality, that may surprise you: American Muslims are on the front lines of protecting American ideals.

Anti-Muslim sentiment in America has resulted in a certain willingness by a significant proportion of Americans to undermine the Constitution.

We are not just talking about [survey respondent's] words and opinions. In 2010 Oklahoma voters approved SQ 755, a state constitutional amendment banning judges in that state from considering Islamic religious principles in their rulings. In practice this would have prohibited a judge from probating an Islamic will, marriage agreement or other contracts such as home financing structured according to the Islamic prohibition against interest-bearing loans.

In the voting booth, Oklahomans were told that "Islamic religious principles are based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teachings of Mohammed."

This language rather directly contradicts the First Amendment in two key ways. First, the Establishment Clause prohibits government from condemning or endorsing any religion. Second, the Free Exercise Clause guarantees all persons of faith equal liberty to practice their faith.

Now, persons of faith regularly enter contracts or enact incorporating elements of their faith. So long as such provisions do not violate U.S. law, it is irrelevant to courts from where the provision originates.

For example, if a Jewish person enacts a will that directs a court to divide his estate in accordance with a particular verse found within his religious tradition, a court would likely comply with this request. But if a Muslim person were to attempt something similar in a state that has passed an anti-Islam bill such as Oklahoma's SQ 755, that Muslim would be prevented from doing so. This differential freedom accorded to members of one faith over another is what the Free Exercise Clause was written to protect against.

For this reason a CAIR staff person in Oklahoma challenged the law in court. Interestingly, CAIR was accused of trying to subvert the Constitution while we were making the First Amendment arguments I just presented to you. In 2013 a federal judge struck the amendment down as unconstitutional.

Oklahoma's bill wasn't unique. In 2011 and 2012, 78 bills or amendments designed to vilify Islamic religious practices were introduced in the legislatures of 29 states and the U.S. Congress. I am still tallying 2013, but it looks like another [37 bills in 16 states] total bills. Anti-Islam bills are now law in seven states.

As a second example that Muslims are on the front line of protecting American ideals, let's look at the 2012 presidential election, one of our nation's most visible platforms for political thought.

Herman Cain was for a while the frontrunner for the GOP's presidential nomination.

Speaking to Christianity Today on March 11, 2011, Cain said that followers of the Muslim religion have "an objective to convert all infidels or kill them." Cain also said that Muslims who wanted to serve in his administration would have to take loyalty oaths. He explained to Fox News host Glenn Beck that he would not require similar oaths from Mormons or Catholics "because there is a greater dangerous part of the Muslim faith than there is in these other religions.""

As we know from earlier, this would violate Article VI's ban on "religious tests" for public office. So, here we have a man, a frontrunner, committing to undermining the Constitution. Did he get tossed from the stage? No. He got applause.

Rick Santorum, also a frontrunner for a time, endorsed religious profiling during one of the GOP presidential debates, saying, "Obviously, Muslims would be someone you'd look at." In January 2012, journalists brought attention to a lengthy Islamophobic rant Santorum gave in 2007 during which he asserted that in order to "win" against a vaguely-defined Muslim enemy, Americans must "educate, engage, evangelize, and eradicate."

A former speaker of the U.S. House, Newt Gingrich, yet another onetime frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, told an audience that he feared that by the time his grandchildren reach his age "they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." If you find Gingrich's assertion that a future secular atheist America will be run by Islamic radicals confusing, don't worry -- so does everyone else.

While these facts are disconcerting, they are nothing new. Just as Jews, Catholics and others stood up to prejudice, so, too, are Muslims. In fact, Muslims benefit from the lessons these other faith traditions learned in their struggles against prejudice. America's Muslims also recognize that while the lens of prejudice may be on us today, it will eventually turn elsewhere. We want to make sure our struggle is a benefit to this next group and our nation as a whole. We should stop splitting into two different camps.

So, to my understanding, our original topic tonight has the effect of slicing us into two different camps. "Is sharia (them) compatible with democracy (us)?"

I am pretty sure, hearing that topic, most of you did not come here expecting an American history lesson. However, I pray that what I have said tonight brings you to share my conviction that we are, in fact, allies.

Islam and American democracy may disagree on some things. However, just as best friends often disagree without it hurting their relations we too can be adults and debate differences while partnering on ideals. Frankly, those differences are relatively minor. Violent extremists like al-Qaeda may trying to convince you otherwise, but they are everyone's enemy.

I also pray that we can now start our conversation from a healthy place -- not one of "us vs. them," but of how do we work together to establish our shared ideals of justice.

Thank you.

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Posted by on in Surveillance

By Gadeir Abbas

There was a time not long ago when the vast size of our world and the sheer number of people inhabiting it provided a degree of privacy protection against an intrusive government. No government could monitor everything that happened everywhere. So instead, governments had to pick and choose who to follow, what to listen to, and which information to collect. God might be omniscient, but we hoped our government never would be.

Unfortunately, we now know that there are places in the world in which the United States is omniscient. The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the National Security Agency (NSA) was able to "collect, sort, and make available every Iraqi email, text message, and phone-location signal in real time."

Last month we learned from the Washington Post that, through an NSA program called MYSTIC, the agency is making a recording of all phone calls that occur in an entire undisclosed country. And the NSA has not been reluctant to extend its reach. Last year's intelligence budget provided the NSA the opportunity to extend its gaze to an additional five nations.

The NSA can now reduce to zeroes and ones the life of whole nations. The government no longer needs to pick and choose what information to collect. They can know it all. The privacy protections afforded by being just one person among many no longer apply.

And while the United States developed this monitoring capacity in secret, citizens must now decide for themselves whether their government should have it. One would hope that this question -- whether omniscience is an appropriate policy objective -- answers itself.

Just consider for a moment the recordings and intercepts the United States has now collected from half a dozen countries in the world -- calls to the doctor to discuss a complicated pregnancy, messages from a mother informing her children of their father's death, conversations between youngsters in love, pleas for help from those in dire financial straits -- the NSA would have a record of all these otherwise fleeting interactions stored away for as long as it likes.

It does not make one a terrorist sympathizer to find this objectionable. The NSA should not spy on foreign populations in ways that make our stomachs churn and tyrants green with envy. Foreigners are people like us and desire privacy as much as we do. This must count for something.

Though foreigners are subject to the NSA's omniscience today, Americans inside our borders will be tomorrow. If we cannot muster the empathy to respect the privacy of innocent foreigners, let's just be selfish. Government omniscience anywhere is the first step toward government omniscience everywhere.

The amount of information in the world there is to monitor no longer exceeds the United States' capacity to monitor it. And with this development, a pillar that once supported our right to privacy has crumbled.

Because we now have to answer the question of whether we want the United States to be omniscient, let us make clear that such attributes should be reserved for God alone.

Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at CAIR's national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

John Guandolo is a former FBI agent who claims that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret Muslim agent of a foreign power, and says that American Muslims "do not have a First Amendment right to do anything." Guandolo left the FBI shortly after reports surfaced that he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a key witness in a corruption trial. He also falsely claims "it is a permanent command in Islam for Muslims to hate and despise Jews and Christians."

In February 2014, Guandolo was scheduled to conduct a counter-terrorism training hosted by the sherriff's office in Culpeper, Va. According to documents obtained by CAIR's anti-Islamophobia department, the training was initially accredited for 19 hours of career development, three hours of legal and two hours of cultural diversity continuing education units.

Hints of federal government participation

An email Guandolo sent on February 17, 2014 stated: "Included in the training are: Several from Fairfax County PD, the [redacted] from the [redacted] of [redacted] and two detectives, Albemarle County deputy, VA state Police, Arlington County and a couple from the military." In a separate email the same day, Guandolo wrote: "Some military folks, DC police and others are still trying to figure out how to get folks there."

These sentences raise serious questions. In 2012, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered a top to bottom review of its training materials to remove anti-Islam content. If Department of Defense representatives are being paid and receiving training credits to participate in biased and inaccurate anti-Islam trainings, it is at least violating the spirit of the 2012 order. More research on this issue is needed.

Accreditation withdrawn

After Guandolo's credibility was challenged by the Southern Poverty Law Center and CAIR, the accreditation for continuing education units was withdrawn.

In an email obtained by CAIR, Mike Harvey, executive director of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, which approves in-service training credits, wrote in part:

"In speaking with another academy director who also pulled support for this training I learned Mr. Guandolo appears absolute in his message that all Muslims ascribe to a violent ideology against westerners. While I support much of his message I cannot support one that casts all people of one faith in the same light. Certainly there are Muslims who are terrorists and I support training that discusses this but I cannot in good faith support a training that espouses because one is Muslim he or she must support violence and hatred toward those who are not Muslim." [Email obtained by FOIA request.]

The unaccredited course still cost Culpeper County taxpayers $4,375.

Questions regarding Guandolo's resume and supporters

Guandolo's biography for his company, Understanding the Threat LLC, asserts the he "served as an adjunct instructor at the Joint Forces Staff College and the U.S. Army War College." However, Major General Tony Cucolo, a commandant with the US Army War College, wrote in a personal email to CAIR's Ibrahim Hooper that "Mr. Guandolo's claim (in print) that he teaches at the Army War College and any other references (e.g., online) identifying him as an adjunct instructor here are simply untrue." Cucolo adds, "At some point during the Spring of 2011, during the elective portion of this course, Mr. Guandolo was invited to speak as a guest lecturer during one lesson of an elective entitled, 'Strategic Intelligence for Counterterrorism: Contemporary Threats to National Security.' This invitation was made by the faculty member who was in charge of that elective. To our knowledge, Mr. Guandolo came here, participated in an academic small group discussion that lasted no more than three hours, and then departed. That is all."(March 6, 2014)

Announcements for the event distributed by the Culpeper County Sherriff's Office included a supportive quote from retired Lieutenant General William Boykin. Boykin asserts that "[Islam] should not be protected under the First Amendment," that there should be "no mosques in America," that Islam is a "totalitarian way of life," and that there can be no interfaith dialogue or cooperation between Muslims and Christians. In 2013, Boykin warned, "If you are tied to the mainstream media you will never know anything about the true nature of Islam."

As pre-training viewing, Guandolo recommended Glenn Beck's The Project. In February 2011, Beck hosted anti-Muslim speaker Joel Richardson on his Fox News program and the two "tied Islam to the Antichrist in the New Testament." In 2013, Beck implied that Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) failed run for president was under investigation because, "We have been sold to radical Islam." Bachmann had previously led a campaign falsely alleging that many Muslims in public service were operatives of the Muslim Brotherhood. This false allegation was rebuked by senior members of the Republican party.

Guandolo's program in Culpeper included a presentation by former CIA Case Officer Clare Lopez. In 2013, Lopez told an audience, "When people in other bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people -- Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine, they become jihadists." Lopez is on the Clarion Project's board of advisors, on the Florida-based United West's board, and is a fellow at the Center for Security Policy. All three groups have well-documented histories of spreading falsehoods, fear and mistrust of Islam.

CAIR has long maintained that good counter-terrorism training leads to good law enforcement. Gunadolo's conspiracy theories and broad-brush condemnation of an entire faith do not qualify.

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Posted by on in Political Advocacy

On Tuesday night President Obama delivered his 2014 State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. In response to the president's speech, I'd like to highlight several key areas of the address that are important to the American Muslim community and provide CAIR's response.

Domestic surveillance

"[W]orking with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs -- because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

Two weeks ago, CAIR again urged the president to end the bulk collection of citizens' telephone and internet metadata. On January 17, the president addressed public concerns over the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of citizens' phone records, promising to develop a solution, although not actually providing one. The president asked Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to decide who will store Americans' phone call records, whether it be phone companies or a third party that doesn't yet exist.

CAIR disagrees with the president on this issue and believes that the privacy of ordinary people is being violated. CAIR instead concurs with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board's recent report declaring that the NSA's bulk collection of citizens' phone records is illegal and should immediately be ended. Moreover, bulk collection of phone records is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to domestic surveillance programs. CAIR calls on Congress to restore the privacy rights of all citizens with the introduction of the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act.

Closing the prison at Guantanamo (by 2014?)

"[W]ith the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay -- because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR is pleased that the president has once again called for the closing of the prison at Guantanamo. After six years of promising to do so without any results, he recently signed into law an annual defense spending bill passed by Congress that eases transfer restrictions on inmates from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign nations. The law will ease some of the more rigid transfer provisions that Congress had previously placed on the administration and foreign nations willing to accept prisoners.

With that said, CAIR now encourages President Obama to use his newly granted authorities to begin the process of transferring prisoners who have already been cleared for release to the nations willing to accept them. And while CAIR remains optimistic that in 2014 the situation at Guantanamo will improve, we remain concerned about the lack of due process for prisoners who remain in indefinite detention at Guantanamo without a hearing or trial, and disappointed in Congress for not doing anything to address the controversial threat of indefinite military detention of persons on U.S. soil as authorized by the 2011 NDAA.

Use of Drones

"[E]ven as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks -- through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners -- America must move off a permanent war footing. That's why I've imposed prudent limits on the use of drones -- for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR continues to hope that the president's words translate into action when it comes to moving the U.S. off of "permanent war footing"; it's good to see him acknowledging that our national security is jeopardized when "people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence."

A drone strike on December 12 in Yemen hit a wedding party, killing 12 and injuring 14 others. Such unlawful killings, just one of many examples, cannot be written up as "collateral damage" in the war on terrorism.

CAIR believes that if the administration is truly interested in limiting the use of drones it will publicly address the drone program's lack of public accountability and transparency, claims of executive overreach, possible lack of due process in lethally targeting American citizens, and the high number of civilian casualties that have resulted from these attacks.

As outlined in CAIR's congressional testimony on the use of drone warfare, the president must establish transparent and accountable guidelines and procedures that better define the U.S. drone program's legal framework and avoid civilian deaths and injuries.

Comprehensive immigration reform

"Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, and contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let's get immigration reform done this year." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR applauds the president for reaffirming his support for comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants. CAIR strongly supports Congress passing immigration reform this year, and urges the House of Representatives to reject piecemeal measures that would increase racial and religious profiling, unconstitutional detention, and militarization of the U.S. border. Rather, Congress should adopt comprehensive immigration reform that provides a framework for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to obtain legal status and eventual citizenship.

Securing a fair living wage

"Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn't involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise." - President Obama, 2014 State of the Union

CAIR supports the president in his call for an increase to the federal minimum wage and also on the right to work. Looking for Islamic spiritual guidance on the issue of wages, we find in the Holy Quran: "And O my people! Give just measure and weight, nor withhold from the people the things that are their due" (Quran 11:85). The Prophet Muhammad said that on the Day of Judgment one group of people he will oppose are those who "hire a worker, but do not pay him his right wages owed to him after fulfilling his work."

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

Please consider the following commentary for publication.

One of the bigoted themes often promoted by the growing cottage industry of Muslim-bashers is that the increasing level of Islamophobia online and in the public arena is merely a legitimate response to the violent actions of Muslims worldwide.

These Islamophobes scour the Internet to highlight every act of violence or political instability that can be tied to Islam and Muslims.

If a Muslim in a remote village in Pakistan violates Islamic beliefs by abusing his wife, we will hear about it and about why Islam should be blamed for his actions. Reports on every crime committed by a Muslim are assigned to the faith, whether or not there is even a remote religious connection.

This leads to a collective "mental list" of outrages committed by Muslims that is used to justify Islamophobia and suspicion of Muslims.

The list grows with each new crime or act of violence committed by a Muslim anywhere in the world.

For example, when Muhammad Ahmad Ali was recently stopped for speeding in Ohio and some 50 bombs and four guns were found in his vehicle, that was added to the list.

And when chemicals, fuses, guns, bomb-making materials, and how-to manuals with titles such as "Boobytraps," "Deadly Brew," and "Highly Explosive Pyrotechnic Compositions" were found recently in the Maryland home of Omar Ahmed Muhammad, that too was added to the list.

Never heard of these cases? Perhaps that is because they involved not the stereotypical pseudonyms used above, but instead involved individuals named Andrew Scott Boguslawski and Todd Dwight Wheeler Jr., who are apparently not Muslim.

We all know about and condemn the Boston Marathon bombings, but how about the bomb targeting the route of a Spokane, Wash., Martin Luther King Day march? That bomb was packed with fishing weights coated with an active ingredient in rat poison.

How about the plot to kidnap or kill Alaska state troopers and a Fairbanks judge? The plans included "extensive surveillance" on the homes of two Fairbanks troopers.

Never heard of these incidents in which no Muslims were involved? You are not alone.

Does anyone truly believe that anyone anywhere would remain unaware of these cases if it had been Muslims who were charged?

That is the problem with the "list," it only grows if the perpetrator is an "Ali," "Ahmed" or "Muhammad." Violent acts or crimes committed by others are either ignored, attributed to the "deranged" nature of the perpetrator, or quickly forgotten.

This "list" phenomenon can be expanded to include political instability around the world.

The campaign to sever South Sudan from Sudan was portrayed as a struggle for liberation from oppressive "Muslim and Arab" rulers. We now see "liberated" South Sudanese killing each other based on having the wrong pattern of tribal scarring.

Thousands of Muslims rallying in support of democracy have been killed or injured by the forces of a military coup in Egypt, yet the world acquiesces to the slaughter.

Would the world have similarly failed to stop the slaughter of 130,000 Syrians or the persecution of Burmese Muslims if the governments committing the killings and abuses were "Islamist?"

The answer to that question is intuitive based on the selective information accumulated in the "list."

Only when we view all acts of violence or instances of political instability through the same intellectual lens will we be able take the steps necessary to achieve what should be everyone's goal - a more just and peaceful world in which people of all faiths and backgrounds are equally valued and respected.

Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for CAIR.



ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the above commentary for publication.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, [email protected]

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Posted by on in Surveillance

 

By Robert McCaw

How would Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have reacted to recent revelations that the U.S. government is collecting and storing nearly every citizen's phone records and gathering their electronic data?

From 1958 until his 1968 assassination, the FBI conducted extensive surveillance on Dr. King, amassing over 17,000 pages of material on his day-to-day activities.

Today King's legacy as a civil rights leader is celebrated; there is even a federal holiday named after him. But during his lifetime, the government tracked his movements, tapped his phones, bugged his offices and hotel rooms, and planted informants to spy on him. In addition, the FBI anonymously sent him a letter threatening to destroy his credibility and suggesting that he commit suicide to avoid this.

King was also separately targeted by an NSA domestic spying program called "Minaret." With others, including Muhammad Ali, Dr. King was labeled and watch-listed as a possible "domestic terrorist and foreign radical" suspect.

We know that Dr. King was aware of his constant surveillance and the threat that it posed to him, yet he continued to teach and promote the ideals of peaceful organizing and resistance, equality, fraternity, and freedom until his life was taken.

So how would he react to the recent disclosures that the NSA and FBI, along with the CIA, DEA, and even local law enforcement agencies like the NYPD are spying on U.S. citizens by collecting communication metadata and infiltrating public demonstrations, activist circles, and houses of worship?

Today Dr. King would be confronted with the Orwellian truth that we are all under surveillance, although some groups -- like American Muslims -- are under more scrutiny than others. However, whether you are white or black, Hispanic or Asian, Muslim or Christian, the government is spying on all groups as potential "domestic terrorist and foreign radicals."

Just as it was 50 years ago, the NSA and FBI have once again been caught abusing their surveillance powers, infringing on the liberties they are sworn to protect -- all in the name of national security.

These government spying programs constitute a clear violation the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures, and chills First Amendment freedom of speech.

Dr. King supported the Constitution as a framework for all citizens to achieve equal rights, and I believe he would have vocally opposed such government intrusions and spying. While he may have remained publicly silent on the government's unlawful invasion of his personal life, it's hard to believe that he would have sat idly by and let every American experience similar attacks on personal liberties as he faced while leading the battle for civil rights and the nation's soul.

To honor Dr. King's legacy and the values on which our nation was founded, Americans should work together to challenge these expansive domestic spying programs that are robbing us of our civil liberties.

Some members of Congress and the Obama administration make the claim that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Dr. King would know better -- the Constitution is clear and these programs are illegal and need to be ended.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national office in Washington, D.C.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

By Corey Saylor

According to a January 6, 2013, Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) guest column, "All the evil storms of history visited upon humanity did not expose to the people of Europe (who today host well-established enclaves of radical Islam in their midst) even the surface of the slaughter and injustice carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam, 'the religion of peace,' against Jews and Christians."

IPT's special guest, Dr. Reuven Berko, goes on to report, "They know that the Arabs' thirst for blood has a multitude of causes that are not even remotely related to 'Palestine,' but nevertheless they delude themselves into thinking that the chaos in the Middle East will somehow disappear if the Palestinian issue is 'resolved.'"

Other racist gems in the article include:

  • "Europe is still ... captivated by the specious charms of the Arabs and Islam."
  • " ... pitiful Arab, whose inherent culture left him no shred of sincerity, creativity or courage."
  • "Those crimes accompanied the Arabs and Muslims from the rise of Islam and accompany them to this day."

My question for Steven Emerson: "Are you going to publically renounce Berko's Islamophobia, anti-Arab prejudice, and blatant inaccuracies?"

(On a side note, the last time I questioned inaccuracies related to Emerson and IPT, I got a letter from his lawyer asserting that what he said was his First Amendment right. I agreed. The First Amendment does not require accuracy. But since I am not the government and have no legal power to interfere in his right to say whatever he pleases, I found the approach rather odd.)

Steven Emerson's IPT is part of the Islamophobia network's inner core.

Emerson has a history of not getting the facts correct.

After terrorists bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, Emerson alleged that based on "certain classified information" he was "privy to" he was confident that the bomber was a Saudi national who was at the time in custody. The bombers turned out to be of Chechen descent. The Saudi was cleared of any wrongdoing, but rumors circulated that he may have been deported. This too turned out to be untrue. Questioned about this later, Emerson alleged, "This is the way things are done with Saudi Arabia, you don't arrest their citizens, you deport them, because [the Obama administration doesn't] want them to be embarrassed and that's the way we appease them."

The New York Times Book Review said Emerson's 1991 book Terrorist was "marred by factual errors ... that betray an unfamiliarity with the Middle East and a pervasive anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian bias."

Emerson said of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, "This [the bombing] was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait."

Timothy McVeigh, a Caucasian American, was later convicted for committing the terrorist act.

In 1996, after a plane exploded off the coast of New York, Emerson quickly asserted, "I have no doubt whatsoever, at this point, that it was a bomb that brought down TWA Flight 800 -- not a missile, but a bomb. ... " The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the cause of the tragedy was vapor in a fuel tank, a tragic accident rather than a deliberate bombing.

Emerson's credibility was further derailed in the late 1990s when the Florida Weekly Planet newspaper senior editor John Sugg quoted two unnamed Associated Press reporters who said Emerson gave them a document on terrorism supposedly from FBI files:

"One reporter thought he'd seen the material before, and in checking found a paper Emerson had supplied earlier containing his own unsupported allegations. The two documents were almost identical, except that Emerson's authorship was deleted from the one purported to be from the FBI. 'It was really his work,' one reporter says. He sold it to us trying to make it look like a really interesting FBI document.'"

 

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Posted by on in American Muslims

CAIR: Love for Jesus Can Bring Christians, Muslims Together

IMPORTANT NOTE: This commentary was very popular with readers nationwide when it was first distributed before Christmas several years ago. It is being offered again this year for those publications that were unable to publish it previously.

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ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the following commentary for publication.

CONTACT: [email protected]
TEL: Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726 (c)

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Love for Jesus Can Bring Christians, Muslims Together
By Ibrahim Hooper
Word Count: 569

[Ibrahim Hooper is National Communications Director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. He may be contacted at: [email protected] ]

“Behold! The angels said: ‘O Mary! God giveth thee glad tidings of a Word from Him. His name will be Jesus Christ, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and in (the company of) those nearest to God.’”

Before searching for this quote in the New Testament, you might first ask your Muslim co-worker, friend or neighbor for a copy of the Quran, Islam’s revealed text. The quote is from verse 45 of chapter 3 in the Quran.

It is well known, particularly in this holiday season, that Christians follow the teachings of Jesus. What is less well understood is that Muslims also love and revere Jesus as one of God's greatest messengers to mankind.

Other verses in the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the direct word of God, state that Jesus was strengthened with the “Holy Spirit” (2:87) and is a "sign for the whole world.” (21:91) His virgin birth was confirmed when Mary is quoted as asking: “How can I have a son when no man has ever touched me?” (3:47)

The Quran shows Jesus speaking from the cradle and, with God’s permission, curing lepers and the blind. (5:110) God also states in the Quran: “We gave (Jesus) the Gospel (Injeel) and put compassion and mercy into the hearts of his followers.” (57:27)

As forces of hate in this country and worldwide try to pull Muslims and Christians apart, we are in desperate need of a unifying force that can bridge the widening gap of interfaith misunderstanding and mistrust. That force could be the message of love, peace and forgiveness taught by Jesus and accepted by followers of both faiths.

Christians and Muslims would do well to consider another verse in the Quran reaffirming God’s eternal message of spiritual unity: “Say ye: ‘We believe in God and the revelation given to us and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and it is unto Him that we surrender ourselves.’” (2:136)

The Prophet Muhammad himself sought to erase any distinctions between the message he taught and that taught by Jesus, who he called God’s “spirit and word.” Prophet Muhammad said: “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”

When Muslims mention the Prophet Muhammad, they always add the phrase “peace be upon him.” Christians may be surprised to learn that the same phrase always follows a Muslim’s mention of Jesus or that we believe Jesus will return to earth in the last days before the final judgment. Disrespect toward Jesus, as we have seen all too often in our society, is very offensive to Muslims.

Unfortunately, violent events and hate-filled rhetoric around the world provide ample opportunity for promoting religious hostility. And yes, Muslims and Christians do have some differing perspectives on Jesus’ life and teachings. But his spiritual legacy offers an alternative opportunity for people of faith to recognize their shared religious heritage.

America’s Muslim community stands ready to honor that legacy by building bridges of interfaith understanding and challenging those who would divide our nation along religious or ethnic lines.

We have more in common than we think.

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Posted by on in American Muslims

Growing up, Thanksgiving was always one of my favorite holidays. It brought fun, food and family, without the stress of having to buy presents or decorate. As I've grown (a little bit) older, I've also greatly come to appreciate the opportunity to reflect on, and share, those things I am grateful for.

When life is so busy, it is easy to miss the things our family, friends and neighbors do for us. We may nod or say a quick thanks, but we also may be in such a rush that we don't even consider their contributions at all. Also, having grown up in the U.S., it is easy for me to forget all the amazing opportunities our country and society has provided me. And of course, it is impossible to fully reflect on all the blessings God provides us with.

From my discussions and work in the community, I know that almost all American Muslims feel a similar deep gratitude towards our community, country and Creator. Unfortunately, our appreciation may be missed or drowned out by Islamophobia and media distortions. But no one can correct this except us. Also, as American Muslims, we have a duty to publicly demonstrate the true spirit of Islam, which includes humility and thankfulness.

This is why myself, and others at CAIR, plan to use time to privately and publicly demonstrate our gratitude for all God has provided us. This will help communicate to our neighbors the things American Muslims truly hold dear, including our friends and family, our constitutional freedoms, and the work of our partners, allies and supporters. Of course this is not a new idea, but something we do need to be constantly reminded of. Others, such as Nadia Roumani of the Muslim Giving Project and Umar Hakim of the ILM Foundation, have already identified the need and encouraged American Muslims to share their gratitude. We are very happy to join in the campaign and add our voice to theirs.

Social media is one way we can publicly share these messages of appreciation, and this week we will be sharing messages on social media cites using the hashtag #MuslimsThank. In addition to sending messages directly to those we can thank (such as supporters and allies) we can also use the platform to identify the freedoms and ideals we benefit from. This will be a great way to show our American neighbors that we have more in common than they may think.

But before we get to the many others necessary to thank, I and others at CAIR first need to thank our supporters and the entire American Muslim community. It is an absolute blessing to be able to work to protect and empower our community; those of us able to work professionally towards these goals are incredibly fortunate. Of course we wouldn't be able to do this without your financial and other support or without the many community members who are our inspiration. May God reward you with goodness.

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Posted by on in Islamophobia

After a recent interview with a New York Post reporter, I wondered aloud to colleagues about how my remarks would be distorted, given the obvious Islamophobic slant of the questions asked. ("'Who Cares' If US Terrorists in Kenya Mall Siege," NY Post, 9/24/13) Well, now I know.

My clear repudiation of all forms of terrorism and religious extremism was turned on its head to falsely imply that I do not care if Americans took part in the horrific terror attack on the shopping mall in Kenya. In fact, the article itself quotes me stating that "terrorism is terrorism" and should be condemned no matter the national origin of the perpetrators.

As I stated clearly -- clearly that is to anyone without a pre-determined anti-Muslim agenda -- "The American Muslim community has repeatedly and consistently condemned all acts of terrorism, in whatever form they take and wherever they occur."

Agenda-driven distortions by biased journalists are unworthy of any media outlet that wishes to be viewed as credible, especially when reporting on such an important subject.

Ibrahim Hooper is the national communications director for CAIR.

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Posted by on in Racial Profiling

If any question remained about whether racism and bigotry are alive and well in America, the Rush Limbaughs and Paula Deens of our time have laid it to rest.

Last Monday -- hot on the heels of the furious uproar that swept the nation after the jury reached its verdict in the Trayvon Martin case -- Rush Limbaugh, in true form, pounced on an opportunity to exploit racial tensions in America by dropping the derogatory N-word on the airwaves.

In a recent civil lawsuit, Food Network's ex-darling and America's embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted under oath to uttering racial slurs.

Open admissions of bigotry like these don't simply rub salt on festering wounds; they ignite a centuries-old pain that lies buried deep in the hearts of members of the black community.

To make matters worse, legislation like "stand your ground" and stop-and-frisk policies disproportionately undermine minorities and subject them to unfair, humiliating treatment. The stark racial divide within our society is made all the more apparent by laws like these that are not applied equally to everyone regardless of their skin color. This serves only to widen the gaping chasm that exists between Americans of different races and ethnicities.

Justice cannot be selectively applied to only a specific subset of the population. It must be equally upheld for all Americans.

We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the broader implications of the Trayvon Martin shooting. This tragedy provides an opportunity for all of us to recognize and confront inner prejudices that cannot be ignored, or we are doomed to leave a legacy tainted with pain, shame, and guilt for generations to come.

Dr. King dreamed that one day his four children would be judged not based on the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Today, decades later our country has a black president in the White House, but we are far still from realizing Dr. King's dream. And unless we can challenge ourselves to navigate outside of our comfort zones and engage in frank, candid conversations about this polarizing, emotionally charged subject, we will continue to drift further away.

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Posted by on in Civil Rights

On July 4, CAIR will mark Independence Day by joining fellow Americans at the "Restore the Fourth" rally in Washington, D.C. in support of the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

This rally comes at a time when the country's national security and law enforcement agencies are accused of engaging in several domestic spying programs that allowed them to obtain the daily phone, email and online records of American citizens and foreigners alike, without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing.

The Fourth of July honors that triumphant day in 1776 when the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, asserting that America's thirteen colonies were free and independent from the tyrannical British rule. That our nation would establish a new Government under the principles 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."

Our nation's founders rejected the British Crown's "absolute despotism" and its "long train of abuses and usurpations" of Americans rights and state laws. Among the colonies' grievances against King George III were that he "obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers," "depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury" and abolished "our most valuable laws ... altering fundamentally the forms of our governments."

Prior to the Deceleration of Independence, in 1761, Boston lawyer James Otis spoke against overly-broad warrants issued by the British government. These Writs of Assistance allowed the crown's agents to search any house or ship they wished, without any specific reason. John Adams -- signer of the Declaration of Independence and our nation's second president -- said of Otis's speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

Twelve years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence the U.S. Constitution was formally adopted, shortly followed by the ratification of the first ten amendments to that Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Those fundamental principles of liberty guided the American Revolution were enshrined in the Bill of Rights, preserving the personal freedoms of all American against any future tyrannies, abuses and usurpations of law.

Today, recent leaks have revealed that the National Security Agency, in cooperation with the FBI, is covertly carrying out at least two nationwide surveillance programs that collect information on the private calls and online activities of U.S. citizens and non-permanent residents alike. These programs are being carried out in secret partnership with some of the nation's top telecommunications and internet and technology companies.

That is why organizations like CAIR are celebrating Independence Day this year by rallying in support of the Bill of Rights and the Fourth Amendment. We rally under disheartening reports that our nation's national security or law enforcement agencies are engaged in domestic and international spying programs that undermine the core constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

Through secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders, the federal government is obtaining -- without any probable cause or suspicion of wrongdoing -- data from millions of American Verizon Business Network Services customers and user account information from Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and AOL. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.

While some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, CAIR and the civil rights community believe that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause. ..."

Again, CAIR urges the president and Congress to establish clear criteria for how such communication records are collected and for how long they can be stored. Congress should amend of section 215 of the Patriot Act to enact better safeguards that protect Americans from such abuses, and commit to full public disclosure and transparency by declassifying aspects of the spying programs.

Legislative initiatives like these are necessary to protect the fourth amendment rights of all Americans, including members of the American Muslim community, which has been subject to unwarranted and discriminatory acts of surveillance for more than a decade. Furthermore, without additional information about the criteria that determine "foreignness," CAIR remains concerned that these programs could discriminate on the basis of religion and national origin.

CAIR is proud to be a part of that long tradition established by our nation's founding fathers in asserting the rights and liberties of our fellow citizens against the tyranny of government abuses and usurpations of law.

In celebration of the Fourth of July, we encourage you to read copies of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, and take action by contacting the president and Congress to demand an immediate end to these abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.

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Posted by on in Surveillance
Recent reports have revealed that the FBI and National Security Agency are “tapped” directly into the servers of the nation’s top Internet providers and collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers. It is strongly suspected that the federal government is also collecting call data from all other major phone carriers.

I was told earlier today by a colleague from another civil rights organization “there is a good chance that the feds are intercepting my phone calls and emails, but I am sure that everyone in your organization and the Muslim community are under surveillance.”

My response was,“We are all under surveillance.”

I am a policy advocate for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.

As a nation we sat idly by while Congress passed and the president signed into law the USA PATRIOT Act and expanded the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) – the primary sources of authority for these expansive domestic spying programs.

While Americans were told that these programs would be used primarily to target violent extremist groups like al-Qaeda, federal law enforcement and national security agencies quickly used their new found powers to spy on American citizens.

At present, the FBI and NSA have obtained direct access, under FISA secret court orders, to the servers of Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, and AOL. Under a surveillance program, code-named PRISM, they are collecting data on personal emails, chats, videos, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, logins, and details on online social networking.

It has also been reported that FBI and the NSA are using the USA PATRIOT Act to obtain FISA secret court orders instructing Verizon Business Network Services to turn over millions of customer phone records. Under this secret court order, Verizon must provide the FBI and NSA with phone records “between the United States and abroad” and “wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”

This includes the phone numbers for both parties on a call, as well as data on time, location, duration, and other unique identifiers — but not  the names of persons participating in the calls (although such information is easily attainable) and the content of  their conversations.

Earlier today President Obama said at a press conference that we as a nation “Can’t have 100 percent safety and 100 percent security and 0 percent inconvenience.”

In response to the president, I would quote one of our nation’s founding fathers Benjamin Franklin, who said, People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.

This all-encompassing domestic spying program that collects and deciphers metadata aggregated from our phone calls, emails, and online footprints does not only affect the civil rights of American Muslims, it coercively dismantles the privacy and free speech rights of all Americans.

Such domestic spying programs can easily be dismantled, however, if all Americans who value the constitutional protections of privacy and prohibition of unreasonable search and seizure take action by contacting their elected representatives.

In 2011, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that “when the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

I believe that it is entirely appropriate in light of these recent revelations that Americans join together in expressing their shock and anger over such abusive and unconstitutional government spying programs.

Some in Congress and the White House say that these spying programs are lawful under the USA PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. During a recent conference call joined by some of the nation’s leading rights organizations that work on surveillance issues it was agreed that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is clear:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…”

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR’s national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
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