By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
07 September, 2013
* The New York Police Department has secretly labelled entire mosques as terrorist enterprises, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
* A covert national security programme gives the FBI and US immigration authorities power to indefinitely delay immigration benefits to Muslims and those from Muslim countries, according to an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union.
* North Carolina became the seventh state to adopt the so-called anti-Sharia legislation.
These three episodes of last month epitomize the dilemma faced by the seven-million strong Muslim American community which remains under siege 12 years after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
As the Muslim American community joined the nation on August 28 in celebrating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's historic speech "I have a dream," it was shocked to know that the New York Police Department (NYPD) had declared all mosques as 'terrorist enterprises." This alarming disclosure by the Associated Press belied the MLK's dream " that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Twelve years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, American Muslims remained besieged through reconfiguration of US laws, policies and priorities. Profiled, harassed, reviled, attacked, peeped at by the CIA and the FBI, interrogated and permanently controlled at airports, the whole community felt excluded of American society. It will not be too much to say that the post-911 America has become less friendly to Muslims to the extent that they have probably replaced other minorities - Hispanics, Native Americans and Afro-Americans - as targets of discrimination, hate and prejudice.
Twelve years after the terrorist attacks, there's no sign that the pressure on the Muslim community is lifting. It remains victim of guilt by association.
On August 28, the Muslim American community was surprised to know that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has secretly designated mosques as “terrorist organizations.” The Associated Press reported that the designation allowed the police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, even without any evidence of criminal activity. According to the AP report, "designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance."
Two weeks earlier, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a shocking report that a covert national security programme allows the FBI and US immigration authorities the power to indefinitely delay immigration benefits to Muslims and those from Muslim countries. The report, titled "Muslims Need Not Apply," revealed that the previously unknown programme, which began in 2008 under George W Bush to identify those with links to terrorism, has continued under President Obama to blacklist law-abiding applicants and profile Muslims as "national security concerns."
In another anti-Muslim move, North Carolina last month became the seventh state to approve the anti-Sharia legislation. North Carolina joins Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee in approving the anti-Sharia legislation apparently aimed at alienating the Muslim community.
Twelve years after 9/11, the backlash against American Muslims shows no signs of improvement and recent years witnessed a wave of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim hatred campaign sweeping the country in the shape of the so-called anti-Sharia bills introduced in about 20 states. The bills were patterned on a template produced by a leading Islamophobe David Yerushalmi who founded an organization in 2006 with the acronym SANE (the Society of Americans for National Existence) with the aim of banishing Islam from the US. He proposed a law that would make adherence to Islam a felony punishable by 20 years in prison.
There is fallout on Muslims of these anti-Sharia campaigns which began in November 2010 in Oklahoma when the voters by a 70-30 percent margin passed a ballot question that barred “state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.” The new law — which was widely considered as unfairly targeting the Muslim community and blaming it for the non-existent threat of Sharia law in the United states — was blocked by an injunction issued just a few weeks later by federal judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange. The judge argued that the Sharia ban was unconstitutional because it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment and unfairly singled out Muslims. Last month, the same Judge made the temporary injunction permanent by prohibiting Oklahoma officials from certifying the results of a 2010 state-wide election that approved a constitutional amendment to prohibit state courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases.
However, on April 19, 2013, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed new legislation to stop the use foreign laws when they violate the Oklahoma Constitution. The House Bill 1060 would also ban foreign laws if they violate the United States Constitution.
Interestingly, on May 3 the Florida Senate dropped the controversial anti-Islam bill that Muslim, Jewish and civil rights leaders criticized as "unconstitutional and unnecessary."
A month later, on June 3, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the anti-Islam bill passed by the state's legislature. In a statement announcing the veto, Governor Nixon said: ““Senate Substitute for Senate Bill No. 267 seeks to introduce a solution to a problem that does not exist and, in so doing, puts in jeopardy some of the very liberties that the bill purports to protect…."
What is the fall out of the anti-Sharia campaigns? Such campaigns increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens. They encourage and accelerate both the acceptability of negative views of Muslims and the expression of those negative views by the public and government agencies like the police.
Exponential rise of Islamophobia
Recent years have witnesses an exponential rise in Islamophobia which should be understood as a potent political tool that is used to exploit fear to gain political mileage. The anti-Muslim sentiment in America is being generated by a cottage industry of Muslim bashers and Islamophobic groups. Some individuals, institutions and groups are at the centre of pushing Islamophobia in America.
The quarter-million Muslims live in the San Francisco Bay Area face ongoing, entrenched Islamophobia more than a decade after 9/11, according to a new study released in May last. “The Bay Area Muslim Study: Establishing Community and Identity” found 40 percent of Muslims in the region have experienced personal discrimination and 23 percent have been victims of a hate crime. The discrimination against Muslims was particularly pronounced in school-aged children, the study found.
Islamophobia through anti-Islam bus ads: In March, main buses were once again riding the streets of San Francisco with advertisements critical of Islam. The ads were purchased by Pamela Geller and the American Freedom Defence Initiative, who also put ads critical of Islam on Muni buses in 2012. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution condemning the content of Islamophobic advertisements. The resolution is the first of its kind in the nation, sending a clear message that San Francisco's elected leaders stand against hate and Islamophobia.
Islamophobia through children toys: In another sign of rising Islamophobia in the country, the American Muslim community was surprised at the fabrication of a birthday card that depicts a veiled girl doll as a suicide bomber who'll “Blow Your Brains Out.” Featuring a photo of a Muslim doll with a Hijab, the talking bubbles placed on top of the doll's photo read, “The Talking Doll, Pull string for message, if you dare,” and “She'll Love You To Death! She'll Blow Your Brains Out!”
NYPD declares mosques as terrorist organizations
Amid the concerted Islamophobic campaigns the America Muslim community was stunned to know that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has secretly designated mosques as “terrorist organizations.” The Associated Press reported on August 28 that the designation allowed the police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, even without any evidence of criminal activity. According to the AP report, designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.
The AP report further said: “Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen "terrorism enterprise investigations" into mosques...... The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like. Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise."
It may be pointed out that in August 2011, the AP exposed the NYPD spy program, which is allegedly being conducted with the assistance of individuals linked to the CIA. 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.”
Understandably, on June 18, 2013, civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit charging that the NYPD's Muslim Surveillance Program has imposed an unjustified badge of suspicion and stigma on hundreds of thousands of innocent New Yorkers. It was filed on behalf of religious and community leaders, mosques, and a charitable organization that were all swept up in the NYPD's dragnet surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers.
Muslims Need Not Apply
"Muslims Need Not Apply" is the title of a report of the American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) which revealed that a covert national security program allows the FBI and US immigration authorities the power to indefinitely delay immigration benefits to Muslims and those from Muslim countries. According to Jennie Pasquarella, the ACLU report writer, the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, or CARRP, secret program, relies on "deeply flawed" mechanisms such as "over-broad watch-list systems" and religious, national origin and associational profiling. "It not only catches far too many harmless applicants in its net, but it has overwhelmingly affected applicants who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim."
The ACLU report, released on August 21, has given examples of specific cases. Application of Tarek Hamdi, an Egyptian, was rejected simply because he made his annual tithing (or a religious donation, known as Zakat in Islam) to an Islamic relief aid organization, Benevolence International Foundation. The government later shuttered the charity on allegations that it supported terrorism, and prosecutors charged its leader with defrauding donors like Tarek. Nonetheless, USCIS flagged Tarek, and what should have been a six-month citizenship process took 11 years, ending only when a judge ruled in his favour (after numerous attempts by USCIS to deny his application).
Under CARRP, USCIS also delays applications based on harmless contacts. Mahdi Asgari, an Iranian, was flagged after facing questions from the FBI about his relationship with an acquaintance from graduate school -- an acquaintance with whom Mahdi has scarce contact, beyond occasional holiday greeting emails. "It shatters your belief to some extent in what America stands for," says Mahdi, a mathematics professor who was forced to wait three years before USCIS allowed him to become a citizen.
Hassan Razmara, another Iranian and practicing Muslim, is still waiting. It has been nearly six years. The reason: Hassan attended a West Covina mosque that was under FBI surveillance. The imam was later charged with several crimes, including filing false tax returns. Hassan did nothing wrong. But an FBI agent questioned him about the mosque, and asked Hassan to become an informant -- in exchange for expedited citizenship. Hassan declined. USCIS has yet to decide on his application.
Samir, a Tunisian national, practicing Muslim, and thirteen-year lawful resident of the United States, has been waiting for three years for a determination on his naturalization application. He has never been charged with or convicted of a crime. Samir is routinely subject to secondary inspection when he returns to the United States and he was once denied boarding on a U.S. flight. He is thus likely on the Terrorist Watch List.
Pasquarella, who conducted interviews with dozens of migrants, and examined CARRP policy documents obtained through litigation and Freedom of Information requests, said the investigation "only scratches the surface" because it focuses on naturalization cases. The program also covers those who apply for visas, green cards and asylum.
Civil rights and the National Security Agency (NSA)
In the post-9/11 America, all citizens have witnessed a gradual erosion of their civil rights. However, the National Security Agency (NSA) whistle blower, Edward Snowden's startling revelations of secret government surveillance has alarmed the nation that the NSA has access to your emails and Facebook accounts. It has secretly acquired the phone records of millions of Americans. Through a secret court, it has been able to bend nine US internet companies to its demands for access to their users' data. While I was writing this article it was reported on Thursday, Sept 5, that the NSA has bypassed or altogether has cracked much of the encryption used by businesses and everyday Web users.
Perhaps, Georg Orwell's worst nightmare has come true in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations. Writing under the title, “So Are We Living in 1984?” Ian Crouch of New Yorker argued that Edward Snowden, sounded, in the Guardian interview in which he came forward, like he'd been guided by Orwell's pen. The book aims to serve as a warning for what can happen when government overextends its powers; the term “Orwellian” has become associated with the idea of a totalitarian society. The haunting, but much-loved, book celebrated its 60th anniversary on June 6 amid the backdrop of real-life controversy that made the novel seem more prophetic than fictional.
Not surprisingly, sales of 1984 have been soaring in the wake of startling revelations of secret government surveillance. Are we living in “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, the New Yorker asked and added: The technological possibilities of surveillance and data collection and storage surely surpass what Orwell imagined.
Thanks to NSA surveillance, Americans are now more worried about civil liberties than terrorism. A Pew survey in July last finds that "a majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts." And "an even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism." Moreover, "63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications." That demonstrates a decisive rejection of the US government's three primary defenses of its secret programs: there is adequate oversight; we're not listening to the content of communication; and the spying is only used to Keep You Safe. [The Guardian - July 29, 2013]
But the most striking finding is this one: "Overall, 47% say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person's civil liberties, while 35% say they are more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country. This is the first time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004. " [The Guardian - July 29, 2013]
On July 16, in San Francisco, 19 organizations including Unitarian church groups, gun ownership advocates, and a broad coalition of civil and political advocacy organizations filed suit against the National Security Agency (NSA) for violating their First Amendment right of association by illegally collecting their call records.
In another realm of surveillance — the government's broad use of location tracking devices — the Justice Department was in federal court on August 15 defending its refusal to release memos containing information about its policies governing the use of GPS and other potentially invasive technologies. The American Civil Liberties Union had brought the lawsuit to demand that the department make the memos public. The memos were prepared after a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, United States v. Jones, which held that placement of a hidden tracking device on a suspect's car constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. That case left lots of questions unanswered, including whether GPS tracking always requires a warrant based on probable cause, and how the Fourth Amendment applies to tracking someone 24/7 with Cellphone location technology.
Dissent is the highest form of patriotism?
It is a common adage that "dissent is the highest form of patriotism," however in the post-9/11 America, dissent has become unpatriotic.
A string of similar “terror” prosecutions around the country take aim at the First Amendment protection of free speech and political expression. The authorities have already branded select participants in Occupy Wall Street and anti-NATO protests as “terrorists.” Last year, heavily-armed “domestic terrorism” commandos raided Occupy Wall Street protesters' homes in Washington and Oregon, using battering rams and stun grenades. The commandos were authorized to seize all “anti-government or anarchist literature or material.” As with freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, also guaranteed under the First Amendment, has not been officially repealed. The reality, however, is that political assembly is already a semi-criminal activity in America. Political protests are routinely met with vastly disproportionate police mobilizations, confinement to oxymoronic “free speech zones,” “kettling” (in which protesters are surrounded and forcibly moved in one direction or prevented from leaving an area), beatings, tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades or rubber bullets. The standard government response to a political protest is a massive show of force, complete with police snipers on rooftops. [Tom Carter - Information Clearing House, May 14, 2013]
There is also an escalation of the government's effort to neutralize critical online opinion. Here are few examples:
Justin Carter, a Texas teenager was arrested on February 14 and jailed as a “terrorist” for a Facebook post. On the basis of a Facebook post, he was charged with making a “terroristic threat” to “impair public/government service. Police arrested him at work. Subsequent police searches and investigations yielded no weapons, no plans to acquire weapons, no motive, no target, no intended victims, no conspiracy, no membership in a terrorist group , and no plans to carry out an attack on a particular day or at a particular place. Justin Carter is being prosecuted on the basis of the Facebook post alone.
The judge vindictively set the bond for Justin Carter's release at $500,000, implying that the teenager was a serious threat to the community. The high bond was also calculated to encourage Justin and his family to accept the prosecutor's offer of a guilty plea in return for eight years in prison.
In July he was released after an anonymous donor posted his bond. The anonymous donor donated the full half million to cover the fee. However, Justin Carter's legal troubles are by no means over. His trial is scheduled for next year, and he still faces up to ten years in prison if convicted.
In another similar example, in May, Massachusetts teenager Cameron D'Ambrosio was arrested and charged with “terrorism” for posting rap lyrics to his Facebook account. He was subsequently released when a grand jury refused to indict him, but not before he spent several weeks in jail. Earlier this year, Michigan high school student Alex David Rosario was arrested and charged with “domestic terrorism” for allegedly making threats on Twitter about his co-workers at a Subway restaurant. Two teenage girls in Louisiana were arrested in January and charged with 10 counts of “terrorism” for emails they sent to other students and faculty at their high school.
Where Liberty Lies: Civil Society and Individual Rights after 9/11
Professor David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center says that after 9/11 all three branches of government compromised in their commitments to liberty, equality, dignity, fair process and the rule of law. In a paper titled "Where Liberty Lies: Civil Society and Individual Rights after 9/11," Prof Cole said in November 2012 that "during the last decade the legislature (Congress) has, if anything, proved a source of law violations and abuse, and has provided little or no enforceable check on executive overreaching." In this regard he cites the following legislations:
"It passed the USA Patriot Act shortly after the attacks, and while it did not give the President all that he asked for, the Act expanded his authority to conduct surveillance, gather intelligence, detain and deport foreign nationals on grounds of political association and belief, and freeze assets based on secret evidence, while relaxing judicial oversight and other constraints on these powers." When the Supreme Court declared the President's military commissions illegal, Congress made them legal by authorizing them in the Military Commissions Act of 2006. When the Court held that the habeas corpus statute extended to persons held without charge at Guantánamo, Congress repealed that portion of the statute in the Detainee Treatment Act....It granted retroactive immunity to telecommunications-service providers who, at the executive's request, engaged in illegal warrantless electronic surveillance."
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 the 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 twelve years we have seen a steady erosion of the fundamental rights and civil liberties, all in the name of national security .
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the chief editor of the Journal of America ( www.journalofamerica.net ) and author of Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America.