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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Empowering American Muslims

Posted by on in Border Questioning
As Americans, we have a lot to be thankful for. In the hustle of everyday life, we might take for granted the little things that we have grown accustomed to, such as the ability to speak freely and defend our own rights, or the ability to travel freely whether on business, for leisure, or visiting loved ones. Yet even when we're accustomed to these everyday liberties, it's always good to pause and put things in perspective.

What happens when those liberties start to be taken away? 

Imagine you're on a road trip with your family, and as you cross from Canada or Mexico at a U.S. border checkpoint, you're signaled to pull your car to the side of the road. Imagine you're asked to step out of your car and are put into a holding room -- and held for up to 10 hours.

Imagine an unidentified government agent comes in and begins aggressively interrogating you, asking personal questions like: How many times a day do you pray? What do you pray for? What mosque do you go to? Do you believe in the Qur'an?

Now imagine that your personal belongings such as your wallet, purse, cell phone, and laptop are confiscated and held by the government, possibly for several months.

What if this begins to happen every time you travel? Highways and airports would become barriers rather than facilitators to moving freely.

These scenarios that I've described are not hypothetical: they are happening as we speak, on an alarmingly frequent basis, to Muslims travelling in North America and abroad. 

Suddenly, travelling has become a nightmarish experience for many ordinary Americans whose names that raise a flag in a clearly imperfect system. 

Some of these people believe they've been placed on a government watch list, but even if they wanted to appeal that placement, there's no reliable path to have your name cleared from those lists. Many in the American Muslim community are now finding themselves lost in a seemingly endless maze of secrecy, red-tape and frustration. From an advocacy and activism standpoint, we must stand up and help find a resolution for these issues.

A few weeks ago, staff and board members from CAIR chapters across the country sought to find a solution to this situation as we participated in Muslim advocacy days on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. This has become a yearly tradition that enables us to meet face-to-face with our elected officials and their staff. Each year, our reach increases; this year we met with 168 congressional offices.  

I come from the border state of Arizona, and this issue hits especially close to home for me, as the number of reported instances of religious questioning and lengthy detainments at the borders is on the rise. The same is true for states along the northern border with Canada. CAIR offices in these states have been handling these religious questioning cases for years and have filed inquiries with DHS. 

We might assume that our elected officials are aware of such cases of religious questioning or improper behavior by law enforcement, but most of the time they're not. It is our job to educate them on these issues -- as the Rev. Al Sharpton said during CAIR's national banquet last year, we need to "bring light to dark places."

When we sat down and described these issues that many of their constituents are facing, the congressional offices responded with surprise and a great deal of support and concern about this trend. By bringing forth such stories, we are able to ask these members of Congress to support letters of inquiry or other possible legislative routes that could eventually bring about a resolution. The members of our community who have been unfairly targeted by these egregious practices deserve nothing less.

As we move forward from these productive meetings, we must continue to do our part to bring these issues to light. I hope we all realize that even though these types of intrusive tactics are happening to a targeted segment of the population, it is vital to always stand up for the inalienable rights of all Americans.

We live in times where civil liberties are slowly eroding for the population at large; therefore, issues such as this should be of grave concern to all. The liberties that we should all be thankful for are in jeopardy; our choice is to stand up and defend them or face an uncertain road ahead.

Imraan Siddiqi is a board member for CAIR-Arizona.

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Posted by on in Empowering American Muslims

Word Count: 713

[Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He can be contacted at: [email protected] ]

As we mark one of history's most triumphant acts of liberty, I want to share with you some of the many things America's Muslims are doing to preserve this fundamental principle of the American identity.

The revolution we honor each year on July 4th was in part sparked by unreasonable government intrusions into individual liberty. 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' speech, "Then and there, the child Independence was born."

In times of threat, public opinion often shifts away from liberty. Ten years after the 9/11 terror attacks, the Pew Research Center found that a troubling number of Americans supported government monitoring of credit card transactions (42%) and phone calls (29%). Similarly, the Associated Press found disconcerting percentages of Americans embracing the ideas of warrantless monitoring of domestic phone calls (23%) and email (30%).

A lawsuit filed on behalf of a California Muslim serves as one example of turning to the Constitution to preserve American liberty from over-broad or warrantless government intrusions into individual liberty. The lawsuit asserts that the FBI violated Yasir Afifi's First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights when the bureau failed to obtain a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on his car to monitor his daily activities.

American liberty is about going before a judge, providing reasonable suspicion and getting a warrant, not about unchecked government power to intrude into a person's life.

Liberty in the form of free exercise of religion is also crucial to our nation. Everyone who went to elementary school in this country knows the pilgrims came to the New World to escape religious persecution in Europe.

In 2011, 54 bills or amendments aimed at interfering with Muslims' religious practices -- so-called "anti-sharia" bills -- were considered in 25 states and the U.S. Congress. This trend continues today. It is often carried out under the banner of a conspiracy theory that asserts Muslims are working to undermine the Constitution and replace it with Islamic law.

Yet we know that no religious code can replace American law. Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, "This Constitution ... shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby."

Laws intended to target Muslims have been passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, and South Dakota. This is a serious threat to the First Amendment, which prohibits government from making any law "respecting an establishment of religion."

Muslims, along with interfaith and business partners, have been active in opposing such bills. The 2010 amendment to Oklahoma's state constitution, which violates the First Amendment by explicitly subjecting Islam to government censure, immediately faced a legal challenge from a Muslim living in that state. A federal judge put the law on hold after determining that the challenge had merit and will likely result in the law being ruled unconstitutional.

There are countless examples of Muslims defending American liberty. Muslims have worked to undo the sections of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow for indefinite detention of Americans without charge or trial. The NDAA is unconstitutional because it disregards the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process for "all persons" and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial.

When presidential candidates Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich asserted that they would impose loyalty oaths on Muslims who may have wanted to serve in their administrations, Muslims again asserted American principles, pointing out that Article VI of the Constitution prohibits "religious tests" for public office. America is about who merits the position, not what their faith might be.

I am grateful for the opportunity to live the American dream and help fulfill that dream for all our nation's citizens. On July 4th, I will join my fellow Americans of all beliefs and backgrounds to mark the courage the Founding Fathers showed in asserting liberty from a tyrannical British king. The next day, I will go back to defending American ideals, because that is what my faith compels me to do.

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