2011 – Another hard year for Muslims in America

“Where there are Muslims, there are problems.” This alarmingly sweeping comment by the New York Post best reflects the dilemma of the seven-million strong American Muslim community which remains under siege in the post-9/11 era.

The New York Post comment came amid heated discussion and opposition to the proposed Sheepshead Bay (NY) Mosque. In a hard hitting article titled “New Yorkistan? Don’t rule it out!” Shavana Abruzzo wrote:

“There’s no denying the elephant in the room. Neither is there any rejoicing over the mosques proposed for Sheepshead Bay, Staten Island and Ground Zero because where there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems.”

In the post-9/11 America, it has become difficult to build new mosques or expand the existing places of worship which became frequent target of hate attacks. Ironically, the Board of Standards and Appeals on Nov 22, 2011 unanimously rejected opponents’ biased claims and gave approval of the mosque.

Like the Sheepshead Bay Mosque controversy, the Muslims are currently facing another stormy debate as known anti-Muslim bigots are calling advertisers to drop ads on The Learning Channel‘s (TLC’s) new reality eight-part series “All-American Muslim” which depict five Lebanese American families in Dearborn, Michigan.

Within days of the show’s premiere, the fear-mongering Islamphobia network complained the show is actually propaganda that promotes a “submission to Islam through the hijab” and “tries to make a religion which believes in world domination and the inferiority of women, seem normal”.

According to the Islamophobes this constitutes to “deception and obfuscation,” an “attempt to manipulate Americans”, “propaganda” and “cultural jihad.”

The calls for an advertiser boycott are coming from Internet hate sites like “Bare Naked Islam,” which recently featured a number of threats of violence targeting U.S. and European mosques, and right-wing groups such as the Florida Family Association and American Decency.

Not surprisingly, infamous Islamophobes Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer who influenced the Norway terrorist attacks and right-wing xenophobia, are part of this malicious campaign. Pamela Geller, founder of the shrill Atlas Shrugs blog and co-founder with blogger Robert Spencer of Stop Islamization of America, are claiming that the show “is an attempt to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad”.

Buckling to the pressure of anti-Muslim bigots, two advertisers –” Lowe’s and Kayak –” have pulled out their ads.

Another result of the negative campaign against “All-American Muslim” was a significant rise in the number of discrimination complaints against Arabs and Muslims during the month of December 2011. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), which reported this increase, issued an advisory addressed to the members of the Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Sikh American communities to take precautionary measures during year-end Holiday season.

Anti-Muslim rhetoric by Republican presidential hopefuls

In the post-9/11 America, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate has become commonplace and increasingly acceptable in political and civic discourse. Anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric or Islamophobia no longer questioned, even by our elected representatives.

During 2011there was phenomenal rise in anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric particularly by the Republican Party politicians. As the 2012 election nears, some Republican presidential hopefuls and congressional candidates have clearly opted to try to win votes by denigrating Islam and disparaging Muslims.

To borrow Wilfredo Amr Ruiz of Huffington Post, taking the lead in the anti-Muslim frenzy is Herman Cain, who has consistently held a hostile discourse on Islam, belittling almost anything or anyone resonating Muslim. Cain has also affirmed that he wouldn’t appoint Muslims to his cabinet and even suggested to impose a loyalty test on any Muslim before allowing him to serve in his administration. His anti-Muslim rhetoric returned recently when he expressed that more than half of American Muslims are extremists based on a “trusted adviser” who informed him so.

Another presidential candidate and for speaker, Newt Gingrich’s stance on issues related to Islam and American Muslims has been scornful. Falling victim to the Muslim hysteria on the debate on the Ground Zero Mosque, Gingrich compared the Islamic Community Center project to building a Nazi monument outside the Holocaust Museum. He also said: “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization.”

Rick Santorum, another presidential hopeful, has joined Gingrich’s Islam-bashing team, expressing misleading comments on the question of Sharia (Islamic Jurisprudence) taking over the U.S. court system. On the most recent debate Santorum was even more assertive on his opinion on Muslims. When asked if he would support ethnic and religious profiling he replied: “The folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes… obviously Muslims would be someone you’d look at, absolutely.”

Another presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann said: “not all cultures are equal, not all values are equal, letting it be known that she thought that people of the Muslim faith had an inferior culture to that of the United States and the West.”

Peter King’s Muslim phobia

Republican Rep. Peter King, head of the congressional Homeland Security Committee held four anti-Muslim hearings during 2011 on what he calls the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community. He held hearings in March, June, July and December.

Rep. King –” an avowed supporter of the Irish Republican Army, the Irish terrorist organization during the 80–²s and 90–²s –” held his first controversial hearing on June 10, 2011 on what he called the "radicalization" of the American Muslim community. The hearing came weeks after the shooting in Arizona that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) injured and six dead. He refused calls to broaden the hearing to examine any non-Muslim groups or right-wing militias. A few members of Congress, including the former Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., called for King to expand his focus.

On June 15, he continued Muslim witch hunt with another controversial hearing. The focus of the second hearing was on the “threat of Muslim-American radicalization in U.S. prisons,” and though King painted the threat as serious, but there was little evidence to support that claim.

On July 27, 2011, King held his third congressional hearing that focused on the Somali community. This hearing came five days after the Oslo Massacre by the right-wing terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, who was perhaps radicalized by a group of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam American bloggers and zealots such as Bat Ye’or, Daniel Pipes, Hugh Fitzgerald, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer Walid Shoebat.

Rep. Peter King continued his anti-Muslim witch hunt on Dec 7, 2011 with his controversial congressional hearing on the Threat to Military Communities inside the United States from what he claims homegrown terrorism.

These hearings surely fomented widespread suspicion and mistrust of the American Muslim community and stoked anti-Muslim sentiment. During 2011, we saw an increase in anti-Muslim hatred in public discourse, as well as hate crimes and violence targeting American Muslims, and those perceived to be Muslim, including vandalism and arson of mosques, physical attacks, bullying of children in schools, and attempted murder.

Taking note of Rep. Peter King’s anti-Muslim hearings, Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced H. Resolution 283, in the United States Congress which said: “Investigations into radicalization in the United States should focus on the criminal behavior of individuals and avoid creating the impression of unconstitutional profiling based on constitutionally protected beliefs and activities.” The resolution also said that the “Federal Government should take steps to counter the growth in anti-Muslim sentiments, targeted rhetorical attacks, and violence against the Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian American communities.”

Muslim community remains under siege

In August2011, the Muslim American community was shocked at the revelation that the New York City Police Department have carried out covert surveillance on Muslims with the help of the CIA. An Associated Press (AP) report published by the Washington Post exposed the NYPD spy program, which was allegedly being conducted with the assistance of individuals linked to the CIA. Following a month-long investigation, the AP reported that the NYPD is using covert surveillance techniques “that would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government” and “does so with unprecedented help from the CIA in a partnership that has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.”

In another report in September, the Associated Press made another shocking revelation that the New York Police Department collected intelligence on more than 250 mosques and Muslim student groups in and around New York, often using undercover officers and informants to canvass the Islamic population of America’s largest city, according to officials and confidential, internal documents obtained by the AP. After identifying more than 250 area mosques, police officials determined the “ethnic orientation, leadership and group affiliations,” according to the 2006 police documents.

The AP reports about infiltration surveillance of The Muslim community were corroborated by an investigative report of Mother Jones in August 2011 which revealed that after years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the FBI now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies –” many of them tasked with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. “In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.” The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. Mother Jones pointed out: “The FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.”

Neo-COINTELPRO operation against the Muslim community

The American Muslim community now virtually faces a new COINTELPRO operation similar to the 1960soperation against the African Americans. Infiltration in the community was one of the tactics the FBI used in the so-called COINTELPRO counter-intelligence programs designed to neutralize political dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s.

COINTELPRO is the acronym for a series of FBI counterintelligence program directed against the civil rights movements, especially against the community leadership of African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans. In the 1980s similar program was used against Central American solidarity groups.

According to attorney Brian Glick, the author of War at Home, four methods were employed by the FBI at the height of the COINTELPRO operation during 1960s and the same methods are being employed now which include: (1) Infiltration in the community. (2) Psychological warfare from outside. (3) Harassment through the legal system. (4) Extra legal force and violence. We see all the four methods being applied against the Muslim community.

There is harassment through the legal system, with trial of Muslim charities in the name of fighting terrorism. The use of extra legal force is draining resources of the community on prolonged trials in which most of the evidence is “secret” and the defendants are unable to properly defend themselves. Trial of Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) is just one example.

A federal appeals court on December 7 upheld the convictions of the five leaders of the Holy Land Foundation on charges of funneling money and supplies to Hamas, designated a "terrorist" group following a 1995 executive order by President Bill Clinton. After a series of legal twists, secret evidence and questionable witness of Israeli intelligence agents, the Holy Land Foundation, once a leading American Muslim charitable organization and five of its former officials were convicted on November 24 2008 on criminal charges related to humanitarian aid given to Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.

On May 27, 2009, U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis sentenced the Holy Land Foundation and five of its leaders following their convictions by the federal jury. Co-founder, President and CEO Shukri Abu Baker received 65 years in prison. Co-founder, Chairman and former Executive Director Ghassan Elashi also got 65 years. Mohammed el-Mezain, former Chairman, Head of California Operation 15 years. Top fundraiser Mufid Abdulqader 20 years, and Abdulrahman Odeh, Director of HLF East (New Jersey) 15 years. The defendants are likely file an appeal and the case would eventually reach the Supreme Court.

All this is bringing the desired results – intimidation of the Muslim community, defaming their faith (which is linked to acts of terrorism) and straining its financial resources because million of dollars are paid by the community in legal defense expenses.

Erosion of civil liberties of all Americans in the name of security

Prof. Gary Orfield of the UCLA Civil Rights Project wrote in May 2003: “The loss of civil rights often begins with the reduction of rights in a time of crisis, for a minority that has become the scapegoat for a problem facing the nation. The situation can become particularly explosive in a time of national tragedy or war. But when civil rights for one group of Americans are threatened and the disappearance of those rights is accepted, it becomes a potential threat to many others.”

Prof. Orfield wrote this while commenting on the plight of Arabs and Muslims who were the immediate target of Patriot Act provisions and other legislations in the aftermath of 9/11. However his prediction proved correct about the erosion of civil rights of all citizens. In the last ten years we have seen a steady erosion of the fundamental rights and civil liberties, all in the name of national security.

In the last ten years we have seen a steady erosion of the fundamental rights and civil liberties, all in the name of national security. The gradual erosion of our civil liberties came in the shape of Warrantless Wiretapping, abuse of the USA PATRIOT Act, the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System, the Real ID Act, the Military Commissions Act, No Fly and Selectee Lists and Abuse of Material Witness Statute.

Peacemaking and whistle-blowing has been virtually criminalized. FBI agents encouraged to search your trash, public databases just to sniff around for crime. Obama administration wants to read your email and search your laptops. The FBI is now investigating domestic peace activists and under the cover of studying “violent radicalization,” the already-fluid definition of “terrorism” is being broadened to encompass political activity and protest by dissident groups.

The core challenge during the Obama era to civil liberties is to rollback the repressive policies of the Bush regime, while fighting any further erosion of constitutional rights. Many Americans resisted the attacks on civil liberties during the Bush administration. Over 400 local governments and several states passed resolutions supporting the Bill of Rights and objecting to parts of the PATRIOT Act and other post-9/11 laws, executive orders, and policy changes. Some cities passed ordinances directing police to facilitate, not impede, peaceful demonstrations.

Ironically, the Obama administration has affirmed, continued and expanded almost all of the draconian domestic civil liberties intrusions pioneered under the Bush administration. There are serious assaults on the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, the right to privacy, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience.

In the latest assault on civil liberties, the Congress recently passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill contains a dangerous provision that could be read to authorize the military to detain anyone in our country, including U.S. citizens, without charge or trial. The President’s advisors are recommending him not veto this legislation despite earlier promises to do so.

Attacks on civil liberties are not minor infringements on the rights of a few extremists. Today they affect a vast cross-section of Americans. It will not be too much to say that the chilling effect of denials of our democratic freedoms curtails political debate within the U.S.

To borrow Paul Craig Roberts, an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan Administration, today Americans are unsafe, not because of terrorists and domestic extremists, but because they have lost their civil liberties and have no protection from unaccountable government power. One would think that how this came about would be worthy of public debate and congressional hearings.