Obama’s outreach to Muslims should begin at home

http://www.freep.com/article/20090428/OPINION05/90428040

Obama’s outreach to Muslims should begin at home

 

By Dawud Walid • April 28, 2009

The Obama administration’s efforts to improve America’s image with the Muslim world cannot be successful without healthy engagement of the American Muslim community,which includes investigating and curtailing abuses against American Muslims that started under the Bush administration.

Since taking office, President Obama has made several positive steps.The President mentioned in his historic inaugural address the desire to seek a new way forward with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” His first televised interview in office was with Al-Arabiya, in which he reiterated this aspiration. He sent a heartfelt Nowruz greeting on video to the Iranian government and people, and he just recently made his first trip to a Muslim majority country, Turkey, which was the former seat of the Ottoman Empire.

 

With all of these efforts abroad, the Muslim world is also keenly aware of ongoing abuses against American Muslims. The knowledge of these abuses is influencing public opinion within the Muslim world that could place barriers in front of the new vision of engagement by our president. International media, including Al-Arabiya, is currently reporting ongoing abuses by the FBI against American Muslims and their organizations such as recent revelations of an agent provocateur in California who confessed to being sent on fishing expeditions in mosques to entrap unsuspecting worshipers including youth.

 

Stories of Muslims being pressured to spy on their houses of worship have not been limited to one incident, but have been reported throughout America, including Metro Detroit. News of such events then spread to the Muslim world via telephone and the internet.

Most Muslims support the new administration’s outreach to the Islamic world, including recent cordial meetings between our diplomats with counterparts from Syria and Iran, nations that Bush labeled as “Axis of Evil” regimes.However, the serious problems that face American.

 

Muslims at home should be addressed by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in unison with venturing abroad.American Muslims know the Muslim world like no other citizens of this land, and we want to play a constructive role in bettering relations between our country and the Muslim world.

Dawud Walid is Executive Director Council on American-Islamic Relations – Michigan (CAIR-MI)

Simply translation of off the record FBI statement

Today’s Detroit News carried an article titled, “FBI limits work with Muslim civil rights group amid dispute: Some vow to stop cooperating with agency amid dispute” in regard to the strained relations between the agency and CAIR, America’s largest advocacy and civil rights organization for American Muslims.

The FBI continues to provide nothing in writing to CAIR regarding its issues with the organization or any public comments on the record as to why it has scaled back some of its relations with one of America’s most influential Muslim groups. 

Let’s, however, translate one portion of the today’s article:

While FBI officials would not say publicly why it has ended most cooperation with CAIR, privately they say the FBI would be hard-pressed to explain why it would continue to engage as a partner an organization with two leaders who attended such a meeting.

*The translation of the statement above is that the FBI during the Bush administration scaled back cooperation for public relations purposes driven by politics, not tangible proof of criminal wrong doing.

The meeting in question, which took place in 1993 was supposedly for the purpose that CAIR was established to be a front group for Hamas – Hamas was never mentioned in this 1993 meeting by name according to the government.  Hamas by the way was designated as a terrorist organization in 1995, approximately two years aftere the meeting that took place.   

CAIR was established to be what it currently is, which is a very vocal advocacy organization which challenges Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry and a credible source regarding American Muslim issues.  The Islamic nature of the organization is contained within “American-Islamic.”

Let me end with my quoted from this article:

Our work has been overwhelmingly based upon issues directly affecting Muslims, from giving diversity trainings, empowering Muslims through civic engagement trainings and in taking discrimination cases,” said Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR-Michigan. “Probably not even 1 percent of CAIR’s work in the past 15 years has been related to the grievances of Palestinians. This does not reflect the work of an alleged front group for people in the Gaza Strip.”

FBI targets religious groups?

http://www.finalcall.com/artman/publish/article_5965.shtml

FBI targets religious groups?
By Charlene Muhammad
Western Region Correspondent

Rights advocates condemn infiltration of Muslim houses of worship

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) - Demands for answers from the FBI regarding reports that it sent a paid informant into Muslim mosques have reached beyond a national coalition of Muslim organizations and civil liberties groups and into the U.S. Congress.

Advocates warn the activity is another sign of troubling government intrusion into the lives and violations of the rights of Americans.

“These allegations are deeply troubling to me. The fact of the matter is that we live in a post-9/11 world. I wholeheartedly endorse outreach programs by the FBI and other agencies that foster better relationships with the Muslim community. To be successful, these relationships should be guided by mutual respect and understanding,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, in an e-mail response to questions from The Final Call.

Rep. Ellison said the Justice Department should investigate the allegations and get on with the important work of building relationships based upon mutual trust and respect.

“There are several cities where the Muslim community works closely with law enforcement officials, including the FBI, to ensure that our rights as citizens are upheld, and our religious practices are respected and protected from rogue individuals pursuing an agenda,” Rep. Ellison said.

During a March 25 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of the FBI, lawmakers questioned Director John Mueller about the mosque infiltrations, and sought answers about then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s plans to revise guidelines to allow the FBI to implement intrusive investigative methods with no probable cause or compelling evidence.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) told Mr. Mueller he was disappointed to learn that some Muslim groups were threatening outreach suspension. He specifically asked Dir. Mueller to disclose whether FBI agents under the Attorney General Guidelines entered mosques, and if so how many.

“I, uh, there are a number of questions in there. I, I, uh, would hesitate to, uh, uh, provide information on ongoing investigations. Quite obviously I will say that we do not focus on institutions. We focus on individuals. And I will say generally that if there is evidence or information as to an individual or individuals undertaking illegal activities in religious institutions, with appropriate high level approval, we would undertake investigative activities, regardless of the religion,” Dir. Mueller said, during the hearing. He stuck to his answer when asked if that included entering a Muslim mosque under a different identity.

In a recent statement commemorating the FBI’s 100th anniversary, Dir. Mueller said, “It is not enough to stop the terrorist—we must stop him while maintaining his civil liberties, and civil rights.” Critics told The Final Call sending agent provocateurs into Muslim houses of worship not only violated civil liberties, but also violated the sanctity of these sanctuaries. The last thing needed is for people who attend mosques to feel insecure and like they are being watched; the FBI has infringed on their religious freedoms, critics said.

Lawyers Guild blasts violation of Constitution

Jim Lafferty, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles, labeled the FBI’s use of agent provocateurs a disgraceful violation of the Constitutional right to freely practice one’s religion, religious and racial profiling at its worst, and a perpetuation of the myth that Muslims are less patriotic and more likely to commit acts of violence than others.

“It is exactly what the FBI did in the ‘60s and ‘70s under its discredited and outlawed COINTELPRO policy. It seeks to disrupt, discredit and criminalize the Muslim community. And as is now clear from the testimony of the agent provocateur used by the FBI in Southern California to infiltrate mosques, it is designed to provide the FBI with an excuse to prosecute those who are guilty of no crime, based upon the perjured testimony of the agent provocateur … who in this case was, himself, a convicted criminal with a long criminal record! And it serves to further spread the false idea among the American population as a whole, that Muslims are not to be trusted,” Atty. Lafferty told The Final Call.

He recommended that the Southern California Muslim community stop cooperating with the FBI, since their years of doing so has resulted in nothing other than more violations of their rights by the FBI. Instead, he said, the mosques that were spied on should sue the government and protest the rights violations.

“If the general public does not speak up against that repression, one day we can wake up to find the repression is complete and that none of us are safe to pray in our churches, or assemble in our union halls, or express our opposition to government policy when we disagree with what our government is doing. So we must come to the defense of our Muslim sisters and brothers now, for their sake and for our own sake, as well,” Atty. Lafferty warned.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said when news broke about the mosque infiltrations, he quickly reflected on the plight of seven Black Muslim males that were set up for entrapment by the FBI in Liberty City, Fla.

Six of the “Liberty City Seven” were brought to trial twice for allegedly planning to bomb Chicago’s Sears Tower and FBI offices. They faced 70 years in prison, but both cases ended in mistrials. The seventh member was acquitted altogether.

“The recent events in Southern California are McCarthy Era-type tactics that the FBI has used at various times in its history, so it was very disappointing to hear about it and the situation. But at the same time, it wasn’t a total surprise because the FBI has a history of such behaviors going back to COINTELPRO under its late Director J. Edgar Hoover,” Mr. Walid said.

He has no tangible proof of agent provocateurs being sent into mosques in his area, but has often received complaints from Muslims who say they’ve been approached by the FBI to spy on mosques. Many were immigrants with green cards, seeking citizenship and their status was allegedly used as leverage to get them to cooperate, or face jail time or deportation, he said.

“I would suspect that such activities are going on throughout the United States of America, not just Los Angeles. We don’t think that such tactics were from one field office independent of direct headquarters in Washington, D.C. … It was most likely not confined to Los Angeles, but it’s possibly going on in Chicago, Detroit, New York, and other metropolitan areas with other large concentrations of Muslims,” Mr. Walid said.

“Another thing is it’s ironic that when we look at what took place in Oklahoma, it was two White men that were disgruntled with America who did the bombings in Oklahoma, a very tragic event,” observed Omar Montgomery, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado at Denver in Ethnic Studies and African American Studies. He is also a member of the Association of Black Psychologists.

“For some reason a lot of these White terrorist organizations seem to get a pass, but organizations that are predominantly either African American or Arabic seem to be over-scrutinized, yet these other predominantly White organizations who have historically terrorized, caused physical harm, and even on their websites they talk about the assassination of Barack Obama go under the radar. Arabic or Black organizations are paraded around on the news, dehumanized and the community is turned against the organization,” said Prof. Montgomery.

“There has to be some equity in law enforcement.If you’re going to target Black organizations, also target these White organizations that blatantly say who they want to kill, who they want to target and who they hate. I don’t recall seeing any mosque that I know of located in the United States talking about they hate Jews and they want to exterminate the Jews. Yet when Barack Obama was running for office there were several White organizations that almost put a ransom out for Barack Obama’s head.How come those organizations are not targeted and if they are it should be just as public as they do for Black and Arab organizations,” he added.(MORE)

Youths Top US Mosques Challenges

http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/Satellite?c=Article_C&cid=1239888203219&pagename=Zone-English-News/NWELayout

Youths Top US Mosques Challenges

By  Muhammed Qasim, IOL Correspondent

WASHINGTON — Engaging with a generation of young American Muslims and pursuing a new language of relevance is topping a long list of tough challenges mosques and Islamic centers across America confront.

“Islamic centers must include youth on their boards and in their decision-making process,” imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of MAS Freedom Foundation, told IslamOnline.net.

“This is the great challenge that faces our Islamic centers and Muslim activists.”

Community leaders believe the language and discourse used in mosques and Islamic centers in dealing with the young generation needs to change.

“We must provide a sense of relevance and purpose to those who are no longer involved in our Islamic centers,” asserts Bray.

“We must provide a sense of relevance and purpose to those who are no longer involved in our Islamic centers,” asserts Bray.

He cited alarming data from recent surveys that showed only 23-28 percent of those who identify themselves as Muslims attend mosques.

“Islamic centers only reach roughly one quarter of our Muslim population. Therein lays the challenge to broaden our outreach.”

Sheikh Shaker Elsayed, of Dar Al-Hijra mosque and the Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia, also believes in the importance of reaching out to the youth.

“To educate youth is one of the most important role of Islamic centers, and we have to focus on it very much.”

The United States is home to nearly seven million Muslims.

There is not accurate count of the number of mosques in the country but it is estimated at nearly 2,000 nationwide.

Challenges

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Michigan Chapter, says reaching out to youths should be in both classical Islamic knowledge and its practical application in America.(MORE).

Muslims describe FBI offers to act as informants

http://www.detnews.com/article/20090420/METRO/904200336/Muslims+describe+FBI+offers+to+act+as+informants

Monday, April 20, 2009

Muslims describe FBI offers to act as informants

Several claim they have been asked to act as informants; agency denies targeting mosques

Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News

The FBI has come under fire from Muslim leaders in Metro Detroit who say the agency is threatening or coercing local residents into informing on people in their communities and mosques.

The prospective informants, their lawyers and community leaders said the federal agents identify themselves and tell them their immigration status could be blocked or revoked if they turn down FBI requests to report on activities of people who attend mosques.

“Cooperation will not be gained through the twisting of arms,” said Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “We have worked extensively with the FBI and others in the past, and certainly we would provide any information of a national security concern. But the issue now is this: Will they treat us as partners, or suspects, or both? We want to know.”

Several Muslims agreed to talk to The Detroit News about their experiences, amid recent revelations about FBI activities. Those who say they were contacted to become informants express alarm at what they call intrusion in places of worship and private lives without reasonable cause. They say the federal initiative is bruising feelings and making Muslims fearful of cooperating with federal officials.

FBI officials say recruiting informants in the Muslim community is part of their work but add that agency rules strictly forbid unwarranted scrutiny, especially in houses of worship.

“We don’t target mosques,” said John Miller, an assistant FBI director. “We don’t send people out on fishing expeditions. We investigate people … and with probable cause to do so under the attorney general’s guidelines.”

Nevertheless, 44 Muslim groups nationally have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the tactics after it was revealed in February that an informant in California had been attempting to entrap Muslims into terrorist activities.

Last week, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting an investigation of the complaints in Michigan.

“The people they approach are usually the most vulnerable,” said immigration and civil rights lawyer Nabih Ayad of Canton. “They usually have immigration issues, trying to get a green card, trying to get citizenship.” Ayad said dozens of his clients have asked for his advice after being approached.

Meanwhile, some local Muslims are willing to describe how federal agents approached them.

• As he waited on tables in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dearborn, a recent immigrant with a pending citizenship application told his story. “First, they asked me about my status in the country, why I am here, and what work I do,” said the man, who asked for anonymity because he doesn’t want to jeopardize his citizenship efforts.

“They said, ‘We want you to work with us, and we’ll help you with your (immigration) status.’

” … But I feel I cannot be spying on my mosque or my neighbors. That is not right. That is not American,” he said. “But a threat to my country, to the United States? My goodness, me and my family would run to them to alert them.

“… Now, my citizenship seems like it is permanently on hold, on hold, forever,” he said. “I constantly worry, and I feel I have no life since they approached me.”

• An immigrant student said an FBI agent exchanged cordial e-mails before asking her to inform on members of the Muslim Student Association on her campus.

She called the first contacts “friendly and interesting,” but said the agent mentioned the status of “international students” and asked her to inform on her fellow students.

“I never responded to that request,” she said. “I was offended and kind of mad, and I never got back to him.”

• Two days after he was charged with a minor public nuisance violation, another recent immigrant with a pending application for citizenship said an FBI agent contacted him to suggest that if he became an informant the charge would “go away.” The man said he would rather pay the fine and have a misdemeanor on his record than “spy” on his community.

Local Muslim and Arab leaders say aggressive tactics used by federal agents place at risk the carefully cultivated cooperation between their communities and law enforcement, which many on both sides consider essential to preserving national security.

Miller, of the FBI, said he could not comment on the specific circumstances of the Muslims who talked to The Detroit News because he did not know their names or the details of the investigations.

“I can tell you that we don’t approach people like that unless there is a good reason, so I can assume there was,” he said.

But Miller said he, too, is concerned about the relationship between American Muslims and law enforcement.

Officials of offices of the Department of Homeland Security did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Muslim leaders say they have no problem with anyone entering mosques and conducting investigations.

“But we cannot tolerate attempts to have our own community members spy on community members or agent provocateurs sent into mosques to entice people,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Michigan.