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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 American Muslims

By: Ibrahim Hooper

The Associated Press (AP) added the term "Islamist" to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry read:

"Islamist -- Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

That same year, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) approached AP about modifying the reference, suggesting that AP change its Stylebook to incorporate language similar to that used in the reference to "fundamentalist," which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.

CAIR urged media outlets to drop the term because it has become journalistic shorthand for "Muslims we don't like" and because it is used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term "extremist," giving it an even more negative slant.

Islamophobes routinely use the term to disingenuously claim they only hate "political" Islam, not the faith itself. Yet they, and the media, fail to explain how a practicing Muslim can be active in the political or social arena without attracting the label "Islamist."

In a 2013 update emailed to online Stylebook subscribers, AP modified the "Islamist" reference to:

"An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

While CAIR welcomed AP's move as a step in the right direction, concerns about the use of the term remained. In a statement, CAIR said: "The key issue with the term 'Islamist' is not its continued use; the issue is its use almost exclusively as an ill-defined pejorative."

There are few, if any, positive references to "Islamist" by the media and few attempts to actually define the term or outline what criteria are used when applying the label.

The unremitting linkage of the term "Islamist" to violence and denial of religious and human rights harms interfaith relations worldwide, unjustifiably links the entire faith of Islam to the violence of a tiny minority of extremists (and some governments) and serves to alienate the vast majority of Muslims who know their faith does not endorse violence and resent being tarred with the same brush as terrorists.

When the term "Islamist" is used to describe both those engaged in wanton acts of violence and those engaged in peaceful political participation, the line between the two is blurred and peaceful faith-based activism is stigmatized and made the subject of suspicion. And the media's use of "Islamist" is not equivalent to its use in academic circles, in which depth of analysis offers a less subjective definition.

By not dropping use of the term, the media are making a political and religious value judgment each time it is used.

The bottom line: Every journalist must determine whether there is such a thing as a "good" Islamist. If they answer is "no," then the term is clearly a pejorative and should be dropped.

Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for CAIR. He may be contacted at: [email protected]

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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 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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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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