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Gadeir Abbas

Gadeir Abbas

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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 Freedom of Religion

The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims
By Gadeir Abbas

Word count: 502

[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at [email protected]]

This year, the Muslim community of Murfreesboro, Tenn., will likely be able to open its doors in time to share Ramadan together in the mosque they built, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro (ICM).

Houses of worship are built and opened all the time, but this one has acquired special significance. In opening its doors in spite of unprecedented obstacles and opposition, the mosque serves as a lasting testament to America's abiding commitment to religious freedom.

The obstacles and opposition to ICM opening its doors were breathtaking. Shortly after ICM received permission to begin construction, a viciously anti-Muslim groundswell rose up to oppose it. The protests were ugly.

Mosque opponents leveled accusations of treason and disloyalty, fueled by the bigoted notion that Muslims are somehow inherently predisposed to violence and subterfuge. The humble mosque even became a campaign issue. While running for governor, Ron Ramsey questioned "whether being a Muslim is actually a religion."

This wasn't the worst of it. Mosque opponents spray painted "not welcome" on a sign announcing ICM's future location. Construction equipment was set ablaze. And there was a bomb threat against Muslims worshiping in Murfreesboro.

Then came the legal assault. Four individuals appeared before state court Judge Robert Corlew, asking him to stop ICM from finishing construction of the mosque. And disappointingly, Judge Corlew turned his court into a circus, allowing the likes of Frank Gaffney to pedal anti-Muslim conspiracy theories as a witness, and attorney Joe Brandon to make outrageous claims that ICM, because of its affiliation with Islam, is a threat to Tennessee.

In a shocking setback, Judge Corlew utilized a heightened "Muslim-only" standard he concocted to prevent ICM from using its mosque. Judge Corlew's discriminatory standard effectively required government to provide greater notice to the public regarding zoning decisions for Muslim houses of worship than those affiliated with other faiths.

Predictably, in applying this discriminatory standard, Judge Corlew found that, for ICM, the government's notice was not robust enough to meet the more onerous standard he created. The judge then refused to allow ICM to receive permission to use the mosque that it built.

All of this is a lot for a single community to handle. But vandalism and violence, discriminatory government acts, and baseless smears--these expressions of religious intolerance will always, to some degree, be present in our society. The true test of America's commitment to religious freedom is not whether discriminatory things happen but how the country's institutions respond. And here, our institutions performed admirably.

The Department of Justice indicted Javier Alan Correa who federal prosecutors believe threatened to bomb ICM. The hate speech of anti-Muslim mosque opponents was countered by more speech refuting irrational fear with rational argument. And Judge Corlew's discriminatory decision preventing ICM from using its building was invalidated just hours after the Department of Justice filed suit on ICM's behalf.

It wasn't pretty, but the system worked. Muslims in Murfreesboro will be able to worship in their community, just as the First Amendment of our Constitution envisioned centuries ago.

-----

ISLAM-OPED: The System Worked for Tennessee Muslims

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

Tagged in: CAIR
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Posted by on in No-Fly List

I hope that someday we will all look back in shame at how routinely the United States once barred traveling American Muslims from returning to their country. But while that day may be far off, Ali Ahmed serves as just the latest example of how the misguided and illegal use of the no-fly list imposes a strange form of extrajudicial exile on a growing number of Americans.

Ali, a 20-year-old American citizen studying journalism in San Diego, traveled abroad for his wedding, to visit family, and to make a religious pilgrimage to Mecca.  He performed his pilgrimage without incident, but soon after, Ali got his first hint that the U.S. was going to obstruct his movement abroad.

When he attempted to enter Kenya to visit his father and for the wedding, Kenyan authorities did not let him in and instead sent Ali to Bahrain.  The next day, distraught that his wedding had to be postponed and that he would not be able to see his father, Ali tried to return to his country of citizenship, the United States. At the airport, he was told that he would not be allowed to return because sometime after he left the United States his government had put him on its no-fly list. There was no explanation, no way to resolve the problem – just that he could not fly now or at any point in the future.

People placed on the no-fly list are not allowed to board airplanes, whether inside the U.S. or not, that will cross American airspace. Because the U.S. shares its no-fly list with other countries, it also impacts the ability of listed individuals to enter other countries. In the past few years, we've seen people on the U.S. no-fly list denied entry to Great Britain, Mexico, and now Kenya. And it's a life sentence for listed individuals: people put on the no-fly list almost never get off.

But Ali is not alone in this situation – he joins a long list of American Muslims who are not even accused of any wrongdoing, but who found themselves placed on the no-fly list in the midst of their travels. This list includes Gulet Mohamed from Virginia, Amr Abualrub from Connecticut, Aziz Nouhaili from Nevada, and Michael Migliore, Jamal Tarhuni, and Mustafa Elogbi all from Washington state. Just a few weeks ago the United States prevented another San Diego resident from returning to his country of citizenship. And these are only the ones we know about; there are surely many others who have not fought against their placement on the list and the effective exile that results.

It is unprecedented for our government to be able to effectively bar traveling Americans from returning to the U.S. This is why, many years from now when historians catalogue our government's breathtaking transgressions in the post-9/11 era, the extrajudicial use of the no-fly list will be listed along with government-sanctioned torture, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, kill lists, warrantless wiretapping, and the United States’ international gulag of secret prisons. We'll view people like Ali Ahmed as part of the vanguard of American citizens who said “Enough is enough,” and asserted their rights.  But for now, we can all do our part by demanding that our government allow Ali and others in his situation to come home.


By Gadeir Abbas

Word count: 550

[Gadeir Abbas is a staff attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at [email protected]]

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, [email protected], 202-744-7726

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