Activists call for political solidarity between Arab and African Americans

Activists call for political solidarity between Arab and African Americans
By Ali Harb | Friday, 09.12.2014, 03:43 AM


Organizers William Copeland and Dawud Walid at a Gaza solidarity protest in Detroit, July 13.

DETROIT — “Our struggle is theirs and their struggle is ours,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network (AAAN), to emphasize the need for solidarity between Arab and African Americans.

He spoke at a Detroit rally for Rasmea Odeh last week. African American activist Frank Chapman, who also came from Chicago to show support for Odeh, stood next to him.
This week, AAAN joined a delegation to Ferguson, MO to demand justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager who was shot by the police there last month.
Organizers from both communities have been promoting this kind of solidarity, but debates, prompted by the war in Gaza and the events in Ferguson, have recently flared on social, media questioning whether the oppression of Black Americans is comparable to the injustices that Palestinians face.
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), has been vocal in his advocacy for increased cooperation in activism between the Arab and African American communities. Walid said the situation in Black American neighborhoods is not completely analogous with the occupation in Palestine in terms of specifics.
“But a comparison can be made in terms of two groups of people that suffer marginalization at the hands of unjust government structures and policies put into effect to keep the people oppressed and unable to fulfill their aspirations,” he said.
Walid criticized the lack of local Arab American participation in political events for Black causes. He said Arab Americans should be active in demanding justice for everybody, not only their own community.
“You can’t complain about the Latino or Black community not showing solidarity with the Arab American community if they’re not seeing the same solidarity from Arabs; it’s unrealistic,” he added.
Walid also said political education and socialization could increase the empathy toward African American issues in the Arab American community.
“Metro Detroit suffers hyper segregation,” he said. “Communities are divided by invisible walls. A neighborhood that’s a mile away could look very different. There is a clear demarcation between Dearborn Heights and Inkster, between south Dearborn and Southwest Detroit. Arabs do not live among African Americans. There is limited social interaction.”
Walid said African American leaders have historically stood with Arabs, politically.
“In the late 1960’s and 70’s, there was a strong Black movement that identified with liberation movements in North Africa as well as the struggle in Palestine,” he said. “It lessened over time, but people like Dr. Angela Davis and Cornel West have always stood in solidarity with Palestinians.”
Abayomi Azikiwe, a Detroit community organizer and the editor of the Pan-African News Wire, said Arab and African Americans should work together for their mutual interests.
“Arabs and Africans share a similar history,” Azikiwe told The Arab American News. “They are both oppressed. They both suffered from colonialism and imperialism.”
The recent war in Gaza coincided with the Detroit water crisis, when some residents’ water was being shut off because of unpaid bills. Azikiwe said many local protests often addressed both issues simultaneously in a growing sign of solidarity between different ethnic communities.
“The right to housing, water resources and security are under threat for the people in Palestine as well as oppressed communities in the United States,” Azikiwe said.
He added that while solidarity exists between the two communities, “it is not nearly enough.”
Some people think their problems are paramount and do not see the need for solidarity,” Azikiwe said.
He added that political solidarity could open the door for dialogue to resolve racial tensions between Arab merchants and African American customers in Detroit.
“Anybody who is serious about doing business in the city of Detroit should treat customers with respect and care about the wellbeing of the community,” he said.
Will Copeland, a Detroit activist, said the African American and Arab American should cooperate for their own benefits.
“It’s not altruistic when we work together,” he said. “We are facing the same kind of oppression, the same tactics from the same entities. When we talk about police brutality, we see how Israel is using surveillance technology against Palestinians and marketing it to police forces around the world.”
Copeland spoke at a protest for Palestine in Detroit during the war in Gaza. Asked if he has witnessed Arab American solidarity for Black causes, he said he cannot say no.
“At the end of 2013, my answer would have been different,” he said. “But there has been a new energy emerging this summer. I have seen Arab American activists at protests for Detroit, people holding signs and speaking out about the issues. There aren’t as many people as I would like to see, but I cannot say there isn’t any solidarity.”
Copeland praised the solidarity effort of the Z Collective, an Arab and Muslim feminist network that advocates for social and gender equality.
As for the racial tensions in Detroit, Copeland asked Arab Americans to criticize members of their own community when they mistreat, disrespect or abuse Black customers.
“When we see people confront their own for being wrong, greater trust and solidarity can be built,” he said.
Local activist Zena Ozeir said there is a connection between the state of Black Americans and Palestinians’ suffering, but she added that the comparison is irrelevant to the needed solidarity between the two communities.
“It is not a competition of who is more oppressed,” she said. “Each struggle is unique. We are different groups facing oppression. It is more beneficial for us to work together.”
She added that the same forces are inflicting injustice on both communities, which should bring them together.
“The tear gas canisters used on protesters in Ferguson are the same as the ones used against protesters in Egypt and the West Bank,” she said. “Look at where the money to bomb Gaza is coming from.”
Ozeir slammed some Arab Americans’ lack of support for Black causes.
“We have a very problematic view on race in the area,” she said. “As Arab Americans, we were able to become comfortable in our position as business owners and local politicians. That left other folks who might not be in the same fortunate position behind.”
However, she added that political awareness and solidarity with other groups are on the rise in the Arab American community, especially among college students.
Ozeir said political solidarity between the Arab and African American communities could ease some of the social strains between the two groups in Detroit.
“There is a lot of animosity toward Arab business owners in Detroit,” she said. “I don’t completely blame the people who hold those feelings. We need to work together and bridge the gap, not only the merchant-customer relationship, but everywhere. Knowing that we care for each other’s causes could defuse the tension.”
Ozeir, who helped organize one of the biggest protests for Gaza in Detroit in July, said addressing multiple causes at rallies because it introduces the people in the crowd to issues they might not be familiar with.
“We cannot enclose ourselves in a single-issue world,” she said. “It is important to address the intersectionality of the struggle, not only with race but also class, gender and sexuality and all groups demanding justice.”

Audio: Sticking to al-Qur’an and the Collective Interests

Today’s khutbah covered the following items:

First: Importance of sticking to the collective interests of the community based upon al-Qur’an and understanding the deviance of al-Khawarij and their modern counterparts (ISIS & Boko Haram).

Second: Tribute to Sister Tayyibah Taylor (RH), founder of Azizah Magazine and the importance of centering Muslim women’s voices and ensuring they have equal access to Islamic education as Muslim men.

Click here to listen.

A Muslim inmate’s beard isn’t a security risk. It’s his constitutional right

A Muslim inmate’s beard isn’t a security risk. It’s his constitutional right

The idea that any contraband could be hidden in a short beard is laughable. But trampling a man’s religious freedom isn’t funny


In my communications with Muslim prisoners, many of whom have converted to Islam while in detention, I came to understand their struggles: incarceration is a dehumanizing experience. Prisoners who sit behind steel doors in cinder-block cells for months or even years can lose hope of a future – especially convicted felons, who know that their prospects of economic dignity upon release are almost non-existent. What keeps many of these men peaceful while incarcerated (and helps shield them from sinking into depression) is their faith.

But soon, the US supreme court will hear arguments as to whether a Muslim inmate has the right to wear a 13mm (0.5in) beard in an Arkansas prison. The inmate, Gregory H Holt, argues that he has a bona fide religious belief that is being impeded by the state by not allowing his long beard, while the government’s rebuttal is that such a beard poses a security threat to his person and other prisoners.

For Muslim prisoners unable to perform congregational prayers every day and who lack access to halal meat, something as seemingly mundane as a beard can be one of the few ways they are allowed to practice their faith.

As a Muslim who served in the US Navy, I understand how it feels to be separated from persons of my faith, as I was at sea during six-month deployments. Wearing a kufi cap during off-duty hours on the ship was my way of affirming my faith in an environment which I felt alone as a Muslim.

Over 40 states allow for beards shorter than the length of a dime to be worn by the incarcerated, though some allow for longer ones. Arkansas’s regulations, however, only allow “neatly trimmed” moustaches and beards up to a quarter of an inch for inmates who have dermatology issues like razor bumps.

Arkansas avers that it must ban the beards of prisoners such as Holt to maintain the integrity of its correctional facilitates, not to infringe on inmates’ freedom of religion. They bizarrely claim that contraband – such as marijuana or powdered drugs like cocaine and heroin – could be hidden in longer beards, as if buds of cannabis or baggies of dope would be undetectable in someone’s facial hair. (Of course, prisoners have other, less visible places to hide contraband – including in their own body cavities and inside their shoes.)

The idea that any contraband could be shielded from view nestled in a 13mm-long beard is laughable at best – and, as Holt argues, an intentional violation of his religious freedom at worst.

Prisoners of all faiths should be allowed to wear beards: it is not the job of American correctional facilities to mandate how people can wear their facial hair when everyday grooming is in keeping with their religious traditions. Making inmates conform to a clean-cut, less supposedly aggressive-looking appearance under the guise of maintaining security and order is hardly a compelling reason to violate their constitutional rights.

Given that the supreme court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that some corporations can refuse to provide contraceptive coverage to their workers on religious grounds, it will be interesting to see if justices grant the same deference to actual individuals’ religious rights as they did corporations. Arkansas’s discombobulated argument against Muslim inmates’ beards should make that easy.

Put the police on trial, not the corpses of their victims

AUG 20, 2014, 11:50 AM
Put the police on trial, not the corpses of their victims

The ongoing events in Ferguson, Missouri in response to the homicide of Michael Brown by a police officer are a national shame, getting attention on the world stage. Peaceful protesters have had their 1st Amendment rights trampled in a heavy-handed manner in the name of “keeping the peace.”

Anarchists who live in other states have converged on the area to incite plundering of small neighborhood businesses. Journalists have had tear gas shot directly at them and even had firearms brandished by law enforcement. Now, the National Guard has been deployed into the neighborhood, invoking imagery of government crackdowns in places like Egypt.

As the Brown family and religious leaders continue to call for peaceful protests, and the vast majority of Ferguson residents have been peaceful, the scenes of clashes between the police and protesters are sideshow discussions.

The main issue at hand is whether Officer Darren Wilson, who shot the unarmed Brown multiple times, is going to be charged with a criminal offense and what immediate steps are going to be taken by the federal government to hold police officers more accountable for their behavior?

There’s a terrible habit among police departments and media of putting black corpses on trial before charging their killers who are police officers, security guards and George Zimmerman wannabe-vigilante types. In the case of Brown, the police made public a video purporting to show Brown stealing some cheap cigars prior to his homicide. This video was followed by an admission that Officer Wilson had no knowledge of the alleged theft when he stopped Brown. The conversation then shifted to whether or not Brown had a criminal record, which he did not, and other inconsequential matters, such as the presence of marijuana in Brown’s body. The real issue became derailed, which is that eye witnesses saw Officer Wilson unloading bullets into an unarmed teenager, and an autopsy report which showed that Brown was shot in the top of his skull, reflecting that his head was lowered when he was fatally shot.

Placing Brown on trial in the court of public opinion while Officer Wilson sits home is exactly what happened with the killings of other unarmed young black people such as Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Mackenzie Cochran, who was killed by a security guard in Northland Mall in Southfield in late January. The Oakland County Prosecutor, by the way, has not issued any charges against the security guard that killed Cochran.

There should be federal legislation mandating that all law enforcement officers not only have dashcams on their vehicles but also have body cameras and microphones on their persons. As armed officers of the law are paid by tax dollars, they have a greater obligation to be transparent about their conduct. Body cameras could also serve the dual purpose of exonerating officers from false claims and shedding more light on controversial shooting incidents.

In the interim, we will continue to watch the disturbing events in Ferguson and follow the postings of citizen journalists through smartphone video. One thing is for sure: business as usual cannot continue regarding how law enforcement and prosecutor offices operate, especially in urban areas.

Unrest in Ferguson is about more than one police killing

AUG 13, 2014, 2:00 PM

Unrest in Ferguson is about more than one police killing

The unrest in Ferguson, Missouri relating to the fatal shooting by police of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, is about much more than just the homicide of one person.

Last Saturday, an unnamed white officer fatally shot Brown, a college bound teen. Eyewitness accounts state that Brown’s hands were up in the air when he was filled with police bullets. As Brown’s body lied in the middle of the street, uncovered, for four hours in the hot sun, neighbors looked on in shock which then turned to community outrage. Initial protests of the homicide of Brown were peaceful, then some persons took to rummaging businesses owned by people who do not reside in the neighborhood, causing significant property damage to those establishments.

Like Brown’s parents and the NAACP, I echo the point that destruction of personal property in response to the police shooting is absolutely wrong and that any form of vigilantism in regards to this situation is unacceptable. I do, however, know very well what motivates the angry and what has triggered some to lash out.

The death of Brown is seen by many Black Americans within the scope of structural oppression in which state violence against unarmed black men is the historical norm. In 2012, 313 unarmed black males were killed by law enforcement officers, security guards and self-appointed George Zimmerman-type vigilantes. That comes out to an extrajudicial killing of a black male in America every 28 hours.

When a group of people are faced with such violence from government entities — not including the police brutality that is non-lethal — it’s only natural that some people are going to react with rage in response to the violence of police officers who are in fact human rights’ violators.

Violence perpetrated by entities with power is very different from private citizens perpetrating violence on each other. Bringing up the issue of “black on black crime” would be a derailment of the issue at hand. Intraracial murder of private citizens is the norm for all groups; black people are far from unique in terms of primarily killing their own. “Black on black” crime operates the way “crime” operates in general, as as the primary murderers of whites in America are fellow whites. The real discussion at hand should be on how we can curtail the historical deployment of extrajudicial killings of black and brown men in America, not shifting the conversation to how black people kill other blacks too or how we should stop looters.

The public needs to also hold the Department of Justice (DOJ) accountable in this particular matter and others in general to ensure that these cases are correctly prosecuted on the federal level. The FBI has stated that they are investigating Brown’s homicide. I’m not holding my breath, however. Last year, the DOJ stated that it was going to investigate whether Zimmerman violated the civil rights of Trayvon Martin. After the media hoopla and community activists stop applying pressure, we haven’t heard a peep from the DOJ since regarding Zimmerman.

As I always say, no set of laws or policies can ever legislate away bias, prejudice or hate. Black men, since the days of slavery through Reconstruction to Jim Crow and today, have always been seen by those who enforce the law as intrinsically dangerous. At the end of the day, incidents such as Brown’s homicide are part of a larger narrative that we have yet to deal with. It’s a shameful legacy that dates back to the very founding of this republic.