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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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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 Political Advocacy
Several weeks ago I participated in the nation's largest Muslim advocacy day at the U.S. Capitol. Hosted by CAIR, the three-day event brought representatives from the American Muslim community and over 20 CAIR chapters to Washington, D.C., where we met with a third of the House of Representatives and a quarter of the Senate.

In total we met with 168 congressional offices, 112 Democratic and 56 Republican. Some of these offices were longtime allies while others we met with for the first time.

We were there to discuss important issues that are affecting our community. One of these is the misapplication of federal watch lists such as the no-fly list to strand and pressure American Muslims traveling abroad. We also briefed lawmakers about acts of religious profiling and discrimination along the northern border and sought their intervention. Finally, we voiced support for immigration reform and anti-bullying efforts like the Safe Schools Improvement Act.

In just three days of meetings, we received overwhelming support from Congress on these issues, including definitive actions to address them. In the months ahead I hope that positive results from these meetings will be felt not only by American Muslims but all Americans.

And while CAIR remains committed to protecting the civil liberties enjoyed by all Americans and will continue our annual Hill visits, a few days of advocacy is just not enough to create significant change in Washington.

For these visits to be truly effective, lawmakers must already have strong relationships with the American Muslim community in their states and districts. The growing voice of Muslim citizen advocates needs to be heard.

These relationships should start early on -- perhaps when a neighbor announces candidacy for public office -- and span the life of political careers, starting with local offices and progressing to members elected to state legislatures, the governor's mansion, Congress, or the presidency.

As Muslim citizen advocates we need to invite candidates running for office to speak at public forums and gatherings hosted by Muslim community centers and houses of worship. Officials can also be asked to attend public and private religious celebrations and everyday events.

It is critical for Muslim communities to continue organizing Muslim advocacy days at state capitols across the nation, like the ones already being hosted in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, and Washington state.

Political capital is built over years by active Muslim citizen advocates donating their time and resources to candidates who reflect their views, regardless of political party. In turn, political capital is spent by Muslim communities visiting elected officials to let them know how they as public servants can help address important issues.

Let's not wait for CAIR to host next year's Capitol Hill advocacy days. We can start now by becoming more politically engaged and cultivating relationships that will benefit American Muslims for years to come.

Robert McCaw is the government affairs manager at CAIR's national headquarters on Capitol Hill.
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Posted by on in Indefinite Detention

As dozens of Guantanamo detainees carry on the hunger strike that began in early February over allegations of guards mishandling inmates' Qurans, CAIR is joining 24 other human and civil rights organizations today in sending a letter to President Obama calling for "immediate steps to end indefinite detention without charge and begin closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay."

Reports differ between military officials and detainees' attorneys on the number of prisoners on hunger strike. The military is claiming that 26 out of the 166 inmates are on strike, with 11 being fed through feeding tubes, while attorneys and prisoners say 130 prisoners are on strike, and that one attempted suicide. As the hunger strike continues, the possibility of prisoner deaths becomes more imminent.

After being detained for 11 years without charge or trial, many Guantánamo prisoners are willing to go on hunger strike and risk death to draw attention to their indefinite detention.

When President Obama first took office, he pledged to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay within a year. Yet five years later, Congress has repeatedly outmaneuvered the president's efforts to do so and closing the facility no longer seems to be a priority, deepening the despair of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners.

After twice failing to make good on his threats to veto the National Defense Authorization Acts of 2012 and 2013, President Obama has signed into law a number of restrictive provisions that check his ability to transfer or prosecute detainees or close the prison. While 86 prisoners were approved for release by the U.S. government's Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, none have been cleared for transfer because of these obstructive provisions.

As this crisis further develops, CAIR is joining the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Witness Against Torture, and many others to call upon President Obama to once again commit his administration "to transfer[ing] the remaining detained men [at Guantánamo Bay] to their home countries or other countries for resettlement, or to charge them in a court that comports with fair trial standards."

Moreover, we ask that the president appoint an individual within his administration to lead this transfer effort. Appointing such an individual would be an important step to show that he is recommitting to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay once and for all.

The shameful detention of prisoners at Guantánamo has become a symbol of our government's erosion of civil liberties over the past 12 years. Only when we as a nation address the issue of indefinite military detention can we begin to restore those liberties and repair our international reputation as a country committed to the rule of law.

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

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