2012: Another hard year for American Muslims

By Abdus Sattar Ghazalli;  A woman tells police she shoved a man to his death off a New York subway platform into the path of a train because she hates Muslims and thought he was one.

– A former Marine from Indiana admits that he broke into a mosque in Ohio and set fire to a prayer rug because he wanted revenge for the killings of American troops overseas. 

– New York Times says the 9/11 attacks have led to what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims. In this system, the principle of due process is twisted and selectively applied, if it is applied at all.

– In the spirit of interfaith, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a leading civil advocacy group holds its annual convention at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California amid fierce criticism of the church by Islamophobes.

These episodes reflect the dilemma of the seven-million strong American Muslim community which remains under siege more than 11 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York Trade Center and Pentagon.

On December 29, the American Muslim community was shocked at the horrendous murder of Sunando Sen, who was pushed by a women to his death on the tracks of a New York subway station because she thought he was Muslim. “I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I’ve been beating them up,” Erika Menendez, 31, told police. She was charged with second degree murder as hate crime. India-born Sunando Sen was raised as Hindu. The murder of Sen at a New York Subway Station of Queens comes only weeks after Pamela Geller placed hate-ads targeting the Arab and Muslim community in subway stations across New York.  One of the ads insinuated that Arab and Muslims are “savages” and another ad has an image of the World Trade Center exploding next to a quote from the Quran.

Sen’s murder is a clear example of how hate speech can lead to and incite violence against Arabs, Muslims, and those perceived to be Arab or Muslim.  American Arab and Muslim civil advocacy groups and hundreds of diverse coalition partners, have been warning public officials about the impact the ads can have against community members.   Pamela Geller is recognized as being at the core of a group promoting intolerance of Muslims and Arabs in America. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that monitors the hate movement in the United States, calls her “the anti-Islam movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”

Annie Robbins and Alex Kane of Mondoweiss reported: “After this news broke, Twitter was aflutter with people pointing to Pamela Geller as one culprit pushing anti-Muslim sentiment in the city.…. Geller’s role in promoting anti-Muslim sentiment of the sort that leads to Islamophobic hate crimes should not be in dispute. But what should also be highlighted is how New York City’s own police force has promoted anti-Muslim bigotry time and time again, from surveillance of Muslims that places the whole community under suspicion to training officers with an Islamophobic flick.”  “This crime appears to be the latest manifestation of New York City’s Islamophobia. This time, it cost a life” they concluded.

Shoving of Sunando Sen was the latest anti-Muslim hate crime. Here are three more recent hate incidents. (1) On November 18, a Queens man was stabbed repeatedly outside a mosque by a would-be killer who shouted anti-Muslim comments. The victim, identified by friends as Bashar Mohammod, 57, was attacked from behind while opening the Masjid Al-Saaliheen mosque for prayer around 4:45 a.m., according to police. The attacker, described as a Hispanic man in his 40s, stabbed Mohammod repeatedly while shouting anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim slurs. (2)  On November 24, two teens beat a 70-year-old Queens man after asking him if he was Hindu or Muslim. Cops described the suspects as dark-haired Hispanic males, both in their late teens or early 20s. (3) On December 12, a man walked into the Ibrahim Khalillullah Islamic Center in Fremont, California, during afternoon prayer and said he had a gun and threatened to kill everyone inside. The people inside asked him to leave and he left peacefully, but he remains on the run. Police said they don’t have a lot of information on the man aside from him being in his 30s and possibly driving a 1990s gray Toyota Camry.

Hate speech and rhetoric continue to add to the culture of hate and violence and lead to a dramatic surge of violent activity and harassment directed at places of worship. In a climate of increasing fear-based rhetoric, we have seen a rise in hate crimes not only against American Muslims and but also fellow Americans perceived to be Muslim. On August 5, 2012, a gunman killed six people at a Sikh temple south of Milwaukee and critically wounded three others, including a police officer. The gunman was later identified as Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old Army veteran with reported links to the white supremacist movement. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that the number of anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States tripled in 2011.The SPLC also reported dramatic expansion in the radical right groups.

Within 10 days of the Sikh Temple shooting there were at least eight attacks and harassment were directed at Mosques, Islamic Institutions and an Arab-Christian church.

Few days after Rep. Walsh told a room of people at a town hall meeting that “Islam is a threat,” an assailant launched a homemade bomb at The College Preparatory School of America — A private Islamic school in the 8th Congressional District of Illinois, represented by Rep. Walsh. The bomb exploded outside of the mosque, and did not cause any injuries. It was not a coincidence. The facts are clear — By proclaiming to the public that “Muslims are trying to kill Americans every week,” Walsh raised suspicion of the American Muslim community and incited fear. Hence, Rep. Walsh is responsible for the assailants’ actions.

Muslim Americans are not the only ones impacted from the hate and bigotry. Shortly after vandals defaced the Mother of the Savior Church in Dearborn, MI, the Rev. Rani Abdulmasih wrote to Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) stating, “As a Christian Arab and Middle Eastern congregation, we have sensed the profiling in more ways than one. […] It is unfortunate that racial profiling, bigotry and racism continues to exist and flourish in our beloved country, as we live under a Constitution that supports freedom, justice and equality for all.”

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with its manufactured controversy over the Park51 Muslim community center in New York City also known as the Ground Zero Mosque, at least 88 American mosques and Islamic centers have been targeted by hate, including 13 acts of violence and 31 acts of vandalism since 2010.

Exponential rise in the U.S. anti-Muslim hate groups

Alarmingly, anti-Muslim and anti-Islam rhetoric has fomented discrimination, hate and intolerance against the Muslims and prompted the rise of anti-Muslim groups. According to Southern Poverty Law Center (SLP) the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled in 2011, jumping from 10 groups in 2010 to 30 last year. In a special investigative report released in March 2012, the SLP said:

“Anti-Muslim hate groups are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, most of them appearing in the aftermath of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Earlier anti-Muslim groups tended to be religious in orientation and disputed Islam’s status as a respectable religion. All anti-Muslim hate groups exhibit extreme hostility toward Muslims….Anti-Muslim hate groups allege that Muslims are trying to subvert the rule of law by imposing on Americans their own Islamic legal system, Shariah law. Anti-Muslim hate groups also broadly defame Islam, which they tend to treat as a monolithic and evil religion. These groups generally hold that Islam has no values in common with other cultures, is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.”

Senate Hearing on Hate Crimes: On September 19, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a groundbreaking hearing entitled “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism.” It was chaired by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL). The hearing was called after a surge in hate crime targeting minority communities. A coalition of some 150 organizations, led by the Sikh Coalition, requested the hearing after the horrific murders of Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Addressing growing concerns that hate groups are on the rise and that attacks could happen anywhere, Durbin highlighted that this is the first hearing in recent years focused on the threat of violent domestic extremists. “We cannot ignore the threat of homegrown non-Islamic terrorist,” he said adding: “I hope this hearing will help us to redouble our efforts to combat the threat of domestic terrorism and to take whatever steps are necessary to protect vulnerable communities.” For the hearing, ADC, CAIR, MPAC and more than 80 organizations submitted a statement for the record outlining goal-oriented solutions, such as asking Congress to be more responsible with rhetoric that marginalizes communities.

Mosque attacks common nationwide: The anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric has created a hostile climate for the Muslims that resulted in discrimination, hate crimes and attacks on their religious places.  On December 19, a former Marine from Indiana admitted that he broke into a mosque in Ohio and set fire to a prayer rug because he wanted revenge for the killings of American troops overseas. Randy Linn pleaded guilty to hate crime charges, saying he’d become enraged after seeing images of wounded soldiers in the news. On December 10, a Cypress (Texas) area mosque has filed police and hate crime reports after members of the Islamic Outreach Center-Cypress found a dead pig on the mosque deck. Members found the slaughtered pig during their evening prayer time, and they believe its appearance was no accident. On August 6, a mosque in Jolpin, Missouri, was burned to the ground in the second fire to hit the mosque in little more than a month. A fire reported on July 4 has been determined to be arson.

Campaign against building of new mosques: In the post-9/11 America, it has become difficult to build new mosques/Islamic institutions or expand the existing places of worship which became frequent target of hate attacks.

In October last, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched a civil rights investigation into the rejection of the planned Abu Huraira Islamic Center in St. Anthony, Minnesota. St. Anthony was the fourth mosque opposition incident in Minnesota in the past year.  In February, the Michigan Islamic Academy (M.I.A.) filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Pittsfield Township, saying it violated federal law by denying a zoning change that would allow construction of a 360-student school. On March 21, A Southern California mosque filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the small suburban city of Lomita engaged in religious discrimination when it rejected an application to rebuild and expand the worship facility.

Concerned that prejudice rather than genuine zoning issues might be at work, the U.S. Department of Justice has opened 28 cases nationwide involving local denials of mosque construction applications since 2000. Of the 28 cases, 11 have resulted in full investigations and four remain open, according to The Hour online.

Separate Judicial System for Muslims: “Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, genuine concerns about national security as well as politicking and fear have led to a shift in the balance between civil liberties and law enforcement. That much is indisputable, and widely discussed,” Andrew Rosenthal of New York Times says adding: Yet it’s rarely acknowledged that the attacks have also led to what’s essentially a separate justice system for Muslims in which the principle of due process is twisted and selectively applied, if it is applied at all.

He gives the following examples of the Muslims-only legal system that politicians and the press shy away from calling it that: Special detention centers for Muslims (Guantanamo Bay and the network of secret C.I.A. lockups, now said to be closed, where prisoners were almost routinely tortured); special detention and trial procedures for Muslim prisoners (military tribunals); special allowances for agents dealing with Muslim suspects (extraordinary rendition, i.e. officially sanctioned kidnapping of foreigners).”

Rosenthal went on to say that the New York Police Department, we now know, conducted indiscriminate surveillance of Muslim workplaces, sites of worship and social gatherings. “The sense of impunity in dealing with Muslims is so strong that New York officials won’t even tolerate any real discussion about the program, and certainly no oversight. You could argue, I suppose, that these examples don’t amount to a separate system for Muslims, per se, but for people who commit acts of terrorism and just happen to be Muslims. But the N.Y.P.D. case seems to counter that argument.”

Since August 2011, the Associated Press has been reporting how the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes and monitored Muslim neighborhoods with plainclothes officers. The NYPD even conducted surveillance of Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups in New Jersey.

Tellingly in more than six years of spying on Muslim neighborhoods, eavesdropping on conversations and cataloguing mosques, the New York Police Department’s secret Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation. The Demographics Unit is at the heart of a police spying program, built with help from the CIA, which assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed.

Fusion centers spying on Muslims: Tellingly, in a 104-page report released in October last, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said that Homeland Security has spent up to $1.4 billion funding fusion centers — in effect, regional intelligence sharing centers–  that have produced “useless” reports while at the same time collecting information on the innocent activities of American Muslims that may have violated a federal privacy law. The fusion centers, created under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Barack Obama, consist of  special  teams of  federal , state and local officials collecting and analyzing  intelligence on suspicious activities throughout the country.  They have been hailed by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as “one of the centerpieces” of the nation’s counterterrorism efforts.

In addition to the value of much of the fusion centers’ work, the Senate panel found evidence of what it called  “troubling” reports by some  centers that may have violated the civil liberties and privacy of U.S. citizens.  The evidence cited in the report could fuel a continuing controversy over claims that the FBI and some local police departments, notably New York City’s, have spied on American Muslims without a justifiable law enforcement reason for doing so. Among the examples in the report:

  • One fusion center drafted a report on a list of reading suggestions prepared by a Muslim community group, titled “Ten Book Recommendations for Every Muslim.” The report noted that four of the authors were listed in a terrorism database, but a Homeland Security reviewer in Washington chastised the fusion center,  saying, “We cannot report on books and other writings” simply because the authors are  in a terrorism database. “The writings themselves are protected by the First Amendment unless you can establish that something in the writing indicates planning or advocates violent or other criminal activity.”
  • A fusion center in California prepared a report about a speaker at a Muslim center in Santa Cruz who was giving a daylong motivational talk—and a lecture on “positive parenting.” No link to terrorism was alleged.
  • Another fusion center drafted a  report on a U.S. citizen speaking at a local mosque that speculated that —  since the speaker had been listed in a terrorism data base — he may have been  attempting “to conduct fundraising and recruiting” for a foreign terrorist group.

FBI’s friendly visits to mosques were for spying: American Muslim community was shocked to know that for several years, the FBI’s San Francisco office conducted a “Mosque Outreach” program through which it collected and illegally stored intelligence about American Muslims’ First Amendment-protected beliefs and religious practices. This was revealed by the government documents released on March 27, 2012 by the American Civil Liberties Union from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Northern California, Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. The San Francisco FBI’s own documents show that it recorded Muslim religious leaders’ and congregants’ identities, personal information and religious views and practices. The documents also show that the FBI labeled this information as “positive intelligence” and disseminated it to other government agencies, placing the people and organizations involved at risk of greater law enforcement scrutiny as potential national security threats.

The “Mosque Outreach” documents, from between 2004 and 2008, detail information and activities including:  FBI visits to the Seaside Mosque five times in 2005, documenting the subject of a particular sermon and congregants’ discussions regarding a property purchase for a new mosque. Despite an apparent lack of information related to crime or terrorism, the FBI’s records of these discussions show they were classified as “secret,” marked “positive intelligence” and disseminated outside the FBI.  FBI meetings with members of the South Bay Islamic Association four times from 2004 to 2007, documenting discussions about the Hajj pilgrimage and “Islam in general.”

Besides the FBI “Mosque Outreach” program many Muslims are approached by the FBI to become informants. According to the Council on American Islamic Relations, it is getting regular calls from people across the country who are being approached by the federal government to act as informants.

Islamophobia in 2012 election: 2012 was an election year and for many hysteria-peddling politicians fear-mongering remains the best tool to exploit the fear among masses fomented by the anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric by media and extreme right politicians as well as some religious leaders.

Not surprisingly, the Republican Party has adopted Islamophobia by including a plank in its platform that opposed the imagined threat of Sharia. It will not be too much to say that just as the threat of undocumented immigration is used to justify discrimination against Hispanics, the specter of Shariah is used to justify discrimination against Muslims.

Not surprisingly, more than 85 percent of American Muslim voters picked President Obama in Nov 6 election.   According to an exit poll released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s leading Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, just 4.4 percent of respondents cast their ballots for the Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney. Just over two percent (2.2) of respondents said they voted for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson while the same percentage (2.2) voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. On the party affiliation, the poll found 41.5 percent considered themselves Democrats. A similar number, 40.6 percent, consider themselves politically independent. Only 7.4 percent said they are Republican.


Muslim Response: American Muslim community led by civil advocacy groups such as American Muslim Voice, Council on American-Islamic Relations and Muslim Public Affairs Council have responded to the post-9/11 challenges with intensive outreach by building bridges with all ethnic and faith groups, holding interfaith peace picnics and interfaith iftar (fast breaking) during the month of Ramadan. At the same time the community is more proactive politically.

American Muslim civil advocacy groups had launched voter registration campaigns to encourage Muslims to participation in the country’s political process. According to a CAIR survey, 95.5 of the registered Muslim voters went to the polls on November 6. This year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) hosted a record number of American Muslim delegates representing some 20 states. It is estimated that around 100 Muslim delegates attended the convention. At the 2008 Democratic convention 43 Muslim and Arab-American delegates were present while in 2004 only 25. Not surprisingly, only a handful of Muslim delegates attended this year’s Republican National Convention (RNC), during which the RNC adopted a platform plank targeting the religious practices of Muslims.

On December 15 the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a leading civil advocacy group held its 12th annual convention at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, CA.  Once the venue of the convention was announced, Islamophobia came out in full force to attack All Saints Church for hosting the MPAC convention. Reverend Susan Russell of All Saints Church called the event “an interfaith Advent” and termed those who wrote in opposition ignorant and labeled the convention a “teachable moment”. The Los Angeles Times’ Editorial Board praised the decision in an editorial titled: “All Saints Rolls Out the Welcome Mat”. The editorial went on to state that religions do not have to be in complete agreement to hold interfaith events, otherwise there would be no interfaith events. The attacks took many forms including articles on Islamophobic web sites such as Front Page Mag, Jihad Watch and Walid Shoebat’s page.

It was a matter of pride for the American Muslims that there were more Muslims from America than any other country on this year’s “Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims,” compiled by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, a respected think tank in Jordan.  including two in the top 50. Two American Muslims were included in top 50 positions. They are: Sheik Hamza Yusuf Hanson, a California-born convert who founded Zaytuna College, an Islamic college in Berkeley, Calif., and is a leading Islamic authority in America, and Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Islamic studies professor at George Washington University known for his work in Islamic philosophy. America’s roughly 7 million Muslims are a tiny fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, but they took 41 spots on the 500 list. Countries with the next highest number of names were Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom, with 25 Muslims each, followed by Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with 24.

Other Americans to make the list include: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all-time NBA scoring leader, and boxing legend Muhammad Ali; Umar Faruq Abdullah, a convert who founded the Nawawi Foundation, an educational nonprofit organization in Chicago;  Azizah Al-Hibri, chairwoman of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, appointed in 2011 by President Barack Obama to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom; Sheikh Muhammad Bin Yahya Al Husayni Al-Ninowy, Imam at the Masjid al-Madina in Atlanta.

Tail End – Dissent is not un-patriotic: It will be appropriate to point out that during the last decade the civil rights infringement is not limited to the Muslims but all Americans see their constitutional rights eroded. One vivid example of the civil rights violation is the FBI monitoring of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) non-violent movement as a potential terrorist threat.

According to the FBI documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund through a Freedom of Information Act reveal that the FBI monitored Occupy Wall Street from its earliest days and treated the nonviolent movement as a potential terrorist threat. Heavily redacted documents show FBI, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies function “as de facto intelligence arm(s) of Wall Street and corporate America.”

Counterterrorism agents were used to track Occupy activities, despite the internal acknowledgment that the movement opposed violent tactics. The monitoring expanded across the country as Occupy grew into a national movement, with FBI agents sharing information with businesses, local police agencies and universities.

One FBI memo warned that Occupy could prove to be an “outlet” through which activists could exploit “general government dissatisfaction.” Although the documents provide no clear evidence of government infiltration, they do suggest the FBI used information from local law enforcement agencies gathered by someone observing Occupy activists on the ground.

The right to dissent is a basic American value. Historian Howard Zinn says dissent is the highest form of patriotism. “In fact, if patriotism means being true to the principles for which your country is supposed to stand, then certainly the right to dissent is one of those principles. And if we’re exercising that right to dissent, it’s a patriotic act.”

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) and Executive Editor of the American Muslim Perspective (www.amperspective.com). Email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com

Recommended For You

About the Author: Tribune