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Tue

19

Dec

2006

The Cost of Islamophobia
Tuesday, 19 December 2006 14:24
By William Fisher

Five years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, “Islamophobia” -- intensified by the war in Iraq and U.S. government actions at home – has left millions of American Muslims fearful of harassment, discrimination, and questionable prosecutions, and confused about their place in American society.

Recent polls indicate that almost half of Americans have a negative perception of Islam and that one in four of those surveyed have "extreme" anti-Muslim views. A survey by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) found that a quarter of Americans consistently believe stereotypes such as: "Muslims value life less than other people" and "The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred."

In 2005, CAIR received 1,972 civil rights complaints, compared to 1,522 in 2004. This constitutes a 29.6 percent increase in the total number of complaints of anti-Muslim harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment from 2004. It is the highest number of Muslim civil rights complaints ever reported to CAIR.



What is the impact on Muslims and other Americans of Arab descent? One, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IPS, “It sometimes feels suffocating being in the US now. We cannot turn on our TV in the evening to watch CNN or MSNBC or the other ‘news stations’ because of people like Glenn Beck and others who consistently spew hate, nonsense and misinformation about Islam and Arabs on primetime. And if we try to watch mindless drama on TV we are bombarded with shows about Middle East/Arab and Islamic terrorism -- shows like 24, Sleeper Cell, The Agency, etc. It is very difficult being an Arab/Muslim American these days.”

Following 9/11, the U.S. Department of Justice began rounding up Arabs and other Muslims and – mistakenly – anybody who looked “Middle Eastern,” including Sikhs from South Asia. In the months after the attacks, some 5,000 men were held in detention without charges, most without access to lawyers or family members. As confirmed in an investigation by the DOJ Inspector-General, many were held in solitary confinement and physically abused.

There were no prosecutions and no convictions of any of these people. Some, who were in the U.S. with expired visas or who had committed other immigration infractions, were deported.

Since then, the seemingly endless catalog of harassment and infringements on the civil rights of U.S. citizens has grown unabated. A few examples:

Ahmad Al Halabi graduated from high school in Dearborn, Michigan, the center of the nation’s Muslim community. He joined the Air Force and was assigned as a translator for al-Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was accused of spying and spent 10 months in solitary confinement before the spy charges were dropped.

Osama Abulhassan and Ali Houssaiky, both 20 and from Dearborn, were charged with supporting terrorism in Marietta, Ohio, in August after making bulk purchases of cheap, prepaid cell phones from discount stores. The charges were dropped a week later.

Four men were accused after the 9/11 attacks of being part of a "sleeper cell" that was planning terrorist attacks. Two of the men were convicted of conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists, but a federal judge overturned the verdicts at the Justice Department's request in 2004 because prosecutors withheld evidence at the trial that could have helped the defendants.

Farooq Al-Fatlawi, a bus passenger en route to Chicago, was put off with his bags in Toledo, Ohio, after he told the driver he was from Iraq.

A San Francisco Bay Area civil rights activist, Raed Jarrar, was barred from a plane for wearing a T-shirt that said, "We will not be silent" in Arabic and English.

Six imams seen praying in a Minneapolis airport terminal were later removed from their US Airways flight after a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant saying that the men were acting suspiciously. The imams were removed from the plane in handcuffs. They were questioned and released, but the airline says the crew acted properly in having the imams removed, and refused to issue them new tickets the following day. The imams are suing the airline.

Often cited as “Islamophobia Exhibit A,” Canadian Muslim Maher Arar, was abducted by U.S. officials at Kennedy airport in New York in 2002, and then transported to a prison in Syria where he was confined for more than 10 months in a cell that looked like a grave. He was beaten, tortured, and forced to make a false confession about having ties to Al Qaeda. A Canadian commission of inquiry ruled after a two-year investigation that all the charges were unfounded. But Arar was barred from suing the U.S. Government, which claimed that a trial would divulge “state secrets.”

The U.S. government agreed to pay $2 million and issue a written apology to a Muslim attorney in Oregon who was jailed after the FBI mistakenly linked him to the Madrid train bombings. Brandon Mayfield sued the FBI, alleging that his civil rights had been violated and that he was arrested in part because he is a Muslim convert.

Fox television’s hit drama '24' portrayed an American Muslim family as being at the heart of a terrorist 'sleeper cell.' A spokeswoman for CAIR said the show was 'taking everyday American Muslim families and making them suspects.”

When Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, announced that he was planning to take a ceremonial oath of office on a Qur’an, right-wing radio and Internet bloggers went into high paranoia mode. Oh my God, talk show host Dennis Prager fumed, Ellison can't be allowed to do that; it "undermines American civilization."

The American Family Association (AFA), a conservative religious group, posted an "Action Alert" on its Web site requesting that supporters urge lawmakers to pass "What book will America base its values on, the Bible or the Koran?" the AFA said.

The U.S. Treasury Department, in its efforts to cut off financing for radical Islamic organizations, has used a provision of the Patriot Act to designate charities that support Muslim causes as terrorist organizations. Once a charitable organization is designated as a supporter of terrorism, all of its materials and property may be seized and its assets frozen. Thus far, the effort has resulted in the government shutting down five charities. But there has only been one indictment, no trials, and no convictions. Only one official criminal charge has been brought against a Muslim organization for support of terrorism, and that case has not yet made it to trial. Three months ago, Federal agents raided the offices of one of the nation's largest Islamic charities, Life for Relief and Development. Agents seized computers and donor records. But no charges have been filed and the charity remains in business.

While many American Muslims serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, they have less luck trying to get jobs in the civilian agencies involved in national security. When the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when on a recruiting binge to find and hire new analysts and translators, many Arab-Americans and other American Muslims came forward and applied. But they have met with little success because they are frequently denied security clearances on grounds that they have friends and family back in the Middle East.

This kind of post-9/11 hysteria is not limited to the U.S. In Britain, which has suffered from terrorist attacks, Member of Parliament and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw suggested that his female Muslim constituents remove their face-covering veils so that he could better interact with them. And attempts by the British government to engage with the Muslim community since last year's bomb attacks in London have reportedly backfired and are not hampering the spread of extremism. A report by the think-tank Demos said, “Instead of isolating extremist elements, government initiatives had tended to ‘drive a wedge’ between the Muslim population and the wider community.”

In the Netherlands, once thought to be the most open and tolerant society in Europe, the center-right government promised it would introduce legislation to ban the wearing of burqas and other facial coverings in most public places, including courts, schools, trains and even streets.

France, rocked last summer by riots in poor Paris suburbs largely inhabited by North African and Middle Eastern immigrants, has already banned the wearing of headscarves by students in public schools. And Nicolas Sarkozy, a government minister expected to be a leading candidate for the country’s presidency, has taken a hard line on both immigration and France’s large Muslim population. He says he refuses Islam “IN France” but claims to endorse “an Islam OF France.”

In the U.S., the government acknowledges the complaints of American Arabs and Muslims. Daniel Sutherland, head of the civil rights division of the Department of Homeland Security, says fighting terrorism while respecting civil rights involves "difficult challenges."

But Sutherland says the government needs the help of these groups to fight terrorism at home: "Homeland security isn't gonna be won by people sitting in a building inside the Beltway, " he says.

But most members of that community believe that the government is – perhaps inadvertently -- fanning the flames of bigotry by using phrases like “Islamo-Fascist” from the vocabulary it has crafted for the “Global War on Terror” and by actions such as high-profile press conferences announcing prosecutions that often collapse.

Samer Shehata, professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University, probably speaks for the feeling in the most of the U.S. Muslim community, “Quite simply,” he told IPS, Islamophobia “produces an environment that is fundamentally at odds with what the U.S. is supposed to be about; our values for treating everyone fairly and not discriminating on the basis of skin color, race, religion, gender, etc.”

Prof. Shehata adds, “This is damaging certainly for all Americans and it is also damaging for the reputation of the U.S. overseas. One of the questions I hear the most whenever I am in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East is: how is it like now in the U.S. for Arabs? Have you been the victim of discrimination, bigotry, abuse?”


THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BILL FISHER

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Comments (6)add comment

ihsan alkhatib said:

0
...
Thank you for your attention to this matter. It has been going downhill since 911. We still remain hopefull this is only a phase.
 
December 19, 2006
Votes: +0

Aussie said:

0
Back to The Garden
I really cannot believe what the path the US administration is leading your great country down. It is destined for a calamity of unprecedented proportions unless someone gets a grip on this situation. At the end of the day it will only be the general population that can save you and my thinking is by the time everybody wakes up to what criminality has occured it will be too late. I am sure these words will be prophetic - I grieve for you and your (once great) country
 
December 20, 2006
Votes: +0

Richard Kastelein said:

Richard Kastelein
Maher Arar
Maher Arar is still banned from entering the US.

U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins said last week that Arar remained on an American "no-fly" list -- which prevents Arar from travelling in the United States or even flying over U.S. airspace -- but neither Wilkins nor the U.S. State Department would outline the reasons for the ban.
 
December 20, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

Bpm said:

0
Tit for Tat
The Bush regime is setting negative standards above and beyond any previous administration (except perhaps for the Lincoln years) and, is there any doubt, that the diminution of private liberty and civil rights will only increase by building upon the base built in these few years?

One fact I find astounding, though, is that there are a number of nations in the world who are able to match the culture of intolerance, religious bigotry, and, yes, devalue human life - and the unfortunate truth is that the bulk of those are Islamic nations.

So it seems that this "clash of civilizations" is really just an argument amongst bullies.

It is time the masses run the bullies out of town, not just in the US, but in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and let us not forget, Israel.

Here's to those who realize that the problem is not us...it is them.
 
December 20, 2006
Votes: +0

Arsalan goldberg said:

0
...
America is a racist country and has always been a racist country.
America is based on racism and racism is why America was created.

The land that America was created on had a population, these people were exterminated so white people could populate that nation. Blacks were imported as slaves and prevented from entering the country as free people by whites only laws.
Non-whites have always been second class citizens in America, since 9-11 they have just been using the word Muslim instead of the word nigger for non-whites they wish to oppress.


The Hijab/Niqab bans are Just manifestations of their belief in White Superiority. They believe Non-whites have to adopt white clothing, because non-whites dressing in a way other than that dictated by whites shows that non-whites do not believe they are inferior to whites and do not believe they have to copy the whites to have success.
 
December 20, 2006 | url
Votes: +0

jan hoekstra said:

0
You people are full of it
The United states is the most open country there is, next to canada! We don't have all black schools, or all white schools as I have seen in Europe! And just who do you you people think the white people are in America? They all come from Europe! Do you see my last name? It is Dutch! the past slavery came from your good ol European biggots that are still keeping all black schools, all white schools and treating minority citizens like second class citizens! I moved to the Netherlands, leaving my beautiful country the USA to get in touch with my Dutch roots and now I am going back to America because I am ashamed of the discrimination against Muslims and and non Dutch citizens. None of you idiots know what the heck you are talking about, so until you experience it first hand, then don't open your mouths!
 
December 21, 2006
Votes: +0

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