By Liaquat Ali Khan
"Sue the bastards" is a catchy phrase invented in 1970 by Victor Yannacone, a U.S. lawyer and environmentalist, a trailblazer in cutting-edge litigation. The phrase, despite its critics, captures a sentiment for law-based empowerment against the hefty and mighty. Without fright, alarm, or vacillation, American Muslims are quietly 'suing the bastards" and asserting their civil liberties in courts - a quintessential American thing to do. A review of cases decided in 2015 reveal how American Muslims are claiming, sometimes pro se and sometimes with the help of pro bono and fee-paid lawyers, their rights against discrimination, hostility, and harassment.
A symptomatic discrimination case, reported in Khan v. Hilton Worldwide, occurs at the Waldorf Astoria New York, a plush hotel located half a mile away from showy Trump Tower. In 2005, Ehsan Khan (no relation to the author) starts working as a "Café Attendant" at the Starbucks inside the Waldorf Astoria, owned by Hilton. For over five years, Khan works at the hotel to satisfaction of the management. In 2010, Khan hears a troubling interchange. A coworker says to the supervisor, "Why don't you like me? Is it because I'm Muslim?" The supervisor exclaims back, "Yes, it's because you are Muslim!" A disgusted Khan reports the incident to Hilton Human Resources. A few months later, Hilton retaliates and terminates Khan citing two bogus reasons. One, Khan has not paid for a coffee drink; two, Khan has remained on-site for an hour after signing out. Khan brings an employment retaliation lawsuit.
Just in 2015, hundreds of Muslim cases are working through state and federal courts. Here is a small sampling. A hijab-wearing American Muslim sues Abercrombie and Fitch Stores for discriminating hiring practices and wins the case in the United States Supreme Court. A "dark-skinned" Iraqi Muslim sues Michigan Bell because the Bell manager has created a hostile work environment by calling the plaintiff a Taliban and "joking" that the plaintiff is learning to fly airplanes on an office graffiti depicting the Twin Towers. An American Muslim family from New Jersey sues JetBlue Airways when the family is removed from a flight after boarding the plane because their daughter, then 18 months old, is found to be on a no-fly list. Later, TSA issues a statement saying it has not flagged (the child) as being on the no fly list.
American Muslims are aware of American history replete with traumatization of many communities. Native Americans, Africans, Hispanics, Mormons, Catholics, Greeks, Italians, Irish, and others, one after the other, have been disparaged as communities. "Help Wanted - Blank need not apply" has been the meta-slogan periodically filled with bigotry against ethnic and religious communities. Following the example of earlier battered communities, American Muslims are firm; they are not about to renounce their faith, rights, or way of life for fear of surveillance, entrapment, discrimination, hatred, violence, or social micro-aggressions they might encounter in the years to come. They stand rooted like palm trees in squalls of vicious winds.
American history liberates American Muslims to fight persecution through the apparatus of law. Us versus them, a devious theory, prevalent in predatory circles, undermines the wholesome development of laws and the constitution. American Muslims of all races, hues, national origins, and denominations feel in their hearts and minds that they are no different, neither superior nor inferior, from other nationals of the United States. Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, or others --none of them-- separately or jointly, own the United States any more than American Muslims. Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists, Seventh day Adventists, Catholics, Mormons, Jews, or the followers of any other religion or atheism -none of them-- separately or jointly, have more or less constitutional rights and privileges as do American Muslims.
Asserting constitutional rights in public spaces, female American Muslims walk freely, though cautiously, wearing modest clothes and hijab, just as other female Americans walk freely, though cautiously, wearing garments of their choice and faith obligations. Male American Muslims shave faces or don beards -stubble, full, ducktail, goatee, or extended goatee--as do other male Americans. Muslim children, boys and girls, go to schools, public and private, proud of their families and communities, much like other American children proud of their families and communities. Just as religious Americans recite holy Gospels, Torah, Book of Mormons, and other divine books, religious American Muslims recite the Qur'an, holy and noble.
American Muslims, including lawyers, physicians, engineers, cabdrivers, and businessmen and business women, realize that constitutional rights are not ornamental pieces for décor in privileged mansions. These rights make life possible and the potentials of life reachable. Physical security, right to spirituality, equal opportunity, freedom from government harassment including surveillance, these and other rights are the provisions of satisfying life. These rights mean a lot to all individuals and communities, powerful and powerless. These rights mean even more to battered communities, battered by hostility, stereotyping, insults, and intentional affliction of emotional distress.
Accessing courts is an act of courage. It is showing the mirror to the government, including its law enforcement agencies. When enforcement agencies and non-governmental bullies such as Muslim-bashing Donald Trump and Qur'an-burning Terry Jones or hate-spewing Fox News assault the peace and dignity of American Muslims, the constitutional rights of all American citizens are weakened. The courts may not always safeguard the rights of American Muslims. The history's indictment of U.S. courts demonstrates that even judges are not immune from prejudice and group-think. Yet, seeking remedies through courts and "suing the bastards" is therapeutic.