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Posted by on in Civil Rights

By Nihad Awad

On March 7, 1965, Americans marching in Alabama for their right to vote were met with violence. It was on "Bloody Sunday" that state troopers attacked the peaceful civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

That attack on marchers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the national upheaval that followed led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of our nation's most important pieces of legislation.

In 1965, the first march on Selma began with African-Americans demanding the right to vote, but today the legacy of that movement encompasses all challenges to bigotry, racial prejudice, religious profiling, and unwarranted surveillance of Americans.

Sadly, nearly 50 years later the right to vote again came under attack. In January 2013, in Shelby County v Holder, a simple majority of the Supreme Court held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, meaning that states could change their election laws without advance federal approval unless Congress enacted a new coverage formula (which they have not).

Civil rights advocates decried this decision as gutting the hard fought protections of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent, said that the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the nation's commitment to justice had been disserved by the decision.

Since that time, many states and local governments have begun passing restrictive voter laws and to become more aggressive in expunging voters from registration rolls.

For American Muslims, many of whom are African-American, the struggle that began in Selma continues today in a different form. African-American Muslims face the double challenge of both racial and religious stigmatization and marginalization.

The second March of Selma succeeded because of the call Dr. King made for the nation to join hands across racial and religious lines. It also succeeded because the images of police brutality shocked many Americans and drew civil rights and religious leaders to Selma in support of the marchers and the cause of voting rights.

Today, many in our communities are still facing brutality because of their race and background, and the images can be just as disturbing.

A recent Department of Justice report on the Ferguson, Mo., police department showed that while the majority of the city's residents are African-American, less than 8 percent of police officers are black. It showed that African-Americans residents accounted for 90 percent of officers' use of force cases.

While African-American drivers in Ferguson were twice as likely as white drivers to be searched during traffic stops, they were 26 percent less likely to be found in possession of illegal contraband.

We can only overcome this type of discrimination when everyone feels the duty to confront bigotry and disenfranchisement at the social, political and personal levels.

American Muslims today face Islamophobia, stereotyping, hate crimes and discrimination.

Ordinary Muslims nationwide feel the impact of growing hate rhetoric promoted and exploited by a well-funded and well-coordinated "Islamophobia industry" that spends tens of millions of dollars on anti-Muslim propaganda, including trying to enact state laws that negatively impact Muslims.

We stand on the shoulders of giants in this struggle. Like all Americans, we are tremendously indebted to those who sacrificed before us to gain equal rights. We hope that our efforts now to end bigotry and intolerance will benefit generations to come and will contribute to helping our beloved country live up to its ideals of equal rights and equal treatment for all.

As Muslims, we tell our brothers and sisters who sacrificed and died to fulfill the dreams of the Civil Rights Movement, we are with you in Selma, in Ferguson, in New York, in Cleveland, and everywhere that dream remains unfulfilled.

Your struggle is our struggle. It is America's struggle.

Nihad Awad is the co-founder and national executive director of CAIR.

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Posted by on in Surveillance

BY: CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert McCaw, 202-999-8292, [email protected]

According a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report released today on the “FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders for Business Records in 2006,” the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) twice refused to authorize Section 215 requests by the FBI “based on concerns that the investigation was premised on protected First Amendment activity, and the FBI subsequently issued [National Security Letters] NSLs to obtain information” about American citizens built on the same premise rejected by the Court.[1]

Under Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act, the FBI is authorized to apply to the FISA Court to review applications for warrants related to national security investigations.

Critics of the FISA Court have noted that the court effectively acts as a rubber stamp only rejecting .03 percent of all government surveillance requests, according to the Wall Street Journal.[2]

In emails between the DOJ's Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) and FBI’s National Security Law Branch, it is reported that the FISA Court decided that “the facts were too ‘thin’ and that this request implicated the targets First Amendment rights.”

The report cites a former counsel for intelligence policy who stated the OIPR should have subsequently examined the FBI’s underlying investigation after the FISA Court rejected the Section 215 request but that it was stretched too thin to “serve such an oversight role.”

An internal FBI audit in 2007 found that the “bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years,” according to The Washington Post.[3]

It is deeply troublesome that the FBI would pursue national security investigations of American citizens “premised on protected First Amendment activity.” It is even more disconcerting that the FBI would use NSLs to obtain such information after the FISA Court refused to authorize a warrant, given the Court’s near 100 percent approval of such requests.

The DOJ’s OIPR lack of ability to examine the FBI’s underlying investigation at the time of the request due stretched resources also raises serious questions about how well the Office is able to protect the civil liberties of Americans.

The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General report only labels such possible FBI violations of the law as “noteworthy” cases. The report does not provide any substantive recommendations to address these possible FBI abuses – unless such suggestions were made in one of the heavily redacted sections.​

[1] U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General “A Review of the FBI’s Use of Section 215 Orders for Business Records in 2006 (U),” 2014. Report was requested by Congress via the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005.

2 Wall Street Journal, “Secret Court's Oversight Gets Scrutiny,” Evan Perez June 9, 2013. Website: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324904004578535670310514616

3 The Washington Post, “FBI Finds It Frequently Overstepped in Collecting Data,” John Solomon, June 14, 2007. Website: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/06/13/AR2007061302453.html

 

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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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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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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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