One year ago, we called President Obama’s speech in Cairo “comprehensive, balanced and forthright.” Now is the time to assess where the initiatives resulting from this address stand. Our conclusions fall under four main points.
First, we find that the tone the administration uses toward Muslims and Islam creates an environment that is conducive to productive engagement. We have also seen the administration stand by two of its Muslim appointees who were smeared by Islamophobes seeking to keep members of our faith out of public service.
President Obama’s acknowledgment of the positive role of Islam and Muslims in America is appreciated. From the president’s inaugural speech to the recently released National Security Strategy, we find this administration consistently setting a tone that reflects “mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Islamophobes seeking to disenfranchise Muslims attacked two American Muslim presidential appointees this past year: Dalia Mogahed, appointed to a one-year term as an advisor to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; and Rashad Hussain, appointed as United States special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Conference. The White House stood by them both. In an atmosphere in which Islamophobia rather than reason too often dictates the political fate of Muslims engaged in public service, this support is refreshing.
We also welcomed the administration’s decision to allow Tariq Ramadan, an internationally respected Muslim scholar, entry into the U.S. after being barred by the Bush administration.
The president honored his commitment to host a summit on entrepreneurship to deepen ties among business leaders in the United States and Muslims from around the world.
Second, we do not feel that the administration has realized its commitment to ensure that American Muslims can fulfill their religious obligation of charitable giving. Overly broad laws intended to thwart terrorist financing are currently enforced with little transparency and virtually no due process. The problems arising from this lack of transparency not only continue to chill American Muslim giving, but adversely impact all kinds of charities, humanitarian aid groups, grant makers, and donors.
We believe the administration should review the Charity and Security Network’s “Principles to Guide New National Security Policies and Laws for Charities” and initiate a meaningful and sustained engagement effort with the U.S. charitable community focused on finding solutions that draw on the expertise of charitable organizations.
Third, we believe that pitting national security against our civil liberties remains a false choice.
Justice Department guidelines implemented in the last days of the Bush administration allowing race and ethnicity to be factors in opening an investigation remain in place. This reality stands in contrast to Attorney General Holder’s statement, issued just after the President’s Cairo speech, that “a return to robust civil rights enforcement” will be a top priority of his Justice Department.
Attorney General Holder’s recent announcement that he might ask Congress to cut back on Miranda rights for certain criminal suspects is troubling. The approval of the possible assassination of an American citizen rocked our confidence in the commitment to rule of law.
Other civil liberties concerns include FBI agent provocateurs being sent into American mosques, the rush to deploy full-body scanners in airports nationwide, and misuse by the Department of Justice of the “unindicted co-conspirator” label. Many American Muslims believe these past government actions negatively impacted the ability to exercise their constitutional rights.
We believe the President should nominate members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and push Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act. The Department of Justice should update its 2005 report on the FBI’s use of confidential informants.
Fourth, we see the administration standing by its commitment to remove our forces from Iraq. However, we are concerned by events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in the Israel-Palestine conflict.
We should address the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan based on a reduction in our nation’s intervention and on increased support for indigenous solutions based on the will of the people and the decisions of democratically elected governments.
This includes not abandoning the Afghan people like we did following their defeat of the Soviet Union. They have suffered decades of war. We should ensure that their children have the benefits of education and economic opportunity that will secure them from extremism. The same principle applies to the people of Iraq and Pakistan.
While we remain concerned about the security of average Iraqis, the administration has generally kept to its timetable of removing our forces from that nation. We were appreciative last week when Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan acknowledged that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
The Israel-Palestine issue was once again thrust onto the international stage this week as Israel demonstrated its blatant disregard for international law. We concur with Secretary Clinton that the situation in Gaza is “unsustainable.” We concur with the president when he called the Palestinian people’s situation “intolerable.” We believe the administration could be much stronger in its response toward Israel’s illegal settlements and creation of what amounts to a vast open-air prison in Gaza. Our nation must now work to end the inhumane and illegal siege on Gaza.
At a minimum, the administration and Congress should condition military aid to Israel on its progress toward achieving the president’s stated goals of ending the siege of the Gaza Strip, ending all settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and engaging in a credible negotiating process that results in a just and lasting peace.
American Muslims have not been sitting idle since the Cairo speech. We recognize that a more perfect union requires that we roll up our sleeves and do the hard work of undoing the stain placed on our faith by hateful extremists. Throughout the last year CAIR and other American Muslim groups have communicated their ideas, support and concerns to the administration.
Shortly after the Cairo speech, and partly inspired by it, CAIR launched its “Share the Quran” program. The program is designed to distribute free copies of the Quran to local, state and national leaders. We believe an opportunity to read our faith’s holy book can undo much of the misinformation that feeds fear and distrust in our society.
Last year, CAIR turned out volunteers to support “United We Serve,” the administration’s summer-long initiative focusing on service projects that address issues such as clean energy, education and literacy, health care access and awareness, economic recovery, disaster preparedness, and support for veterans and military families.
Also last year, CAIR took part in an international interfaith conference in Geneva, Switzerland, sponsored by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and under the patronage of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz. More than 150 religious leaders, academics and prominent personalities from around the world took part in the conference. These efforts to improve interfaith relations have long been a component of CAIR’s work.
Last week, CAIR called on members of the American Muslim community to step forward to help strengthen our nation’s “diplomacy and development capabilities” as called for in the new National Security Strategy.
Our youth should not be dealt with through a national security lens. They are a national treasure. With this in mind, CAIR continues its efforts to train young Americans to be effective advocates for their faith and viewpoints.
There is no denying that extremists covet the opportunity to recruit young Americans to their mindset. There is also no denying that—excepting a tiny minority—they have not found fertile ground in our young people.
Across the nation we see efforts by FBI officials to engage our community on anti-extremism efforts. No doubt such efforts are worthwhile. However, having the investigative component of the Department of Justice as a leading government-engagement entity sends the wrong message.
Muslim institutions and individuals have shown a willingness to report people of concern to law enforcement, including one case in which the person the community reported to law enforcement as a possible extremist turned out to be a confidential informant.
We stand by and continue to advocate for our belief, expressed in our “Open Letter to President Obama and the Muslim World” last year, that “Governments in the Muslim world must encourage full political participation in systems of government that abide by the separation of powers and are held in check by independent judiciaries. Leaders and individuals in Muslim nations must also respect the results of free and fair elections.”