Government shutdown backlash: Anti-Muslim, tea party rhetoric must end

Oct 29, 2013, 5:05 am          

Government shutdown backlash: Anti-Muslim, tea party rhetoric must end


  • By Dawud Walid


There were a number of talking points that I found vulgar during the recent government shutdown. They ranged from essential government employees working for two weeks without getting paid on time to ad hominem attacks against President Obama.

One form of rhetorical warfare used against the president was a signature tea party tactic: Islamophobia.

Though President Obama is a Christian, he has consistently been subjected to the Muslim smear. What is most disturbing is that a faith followed by millions of Americans can be used as a pejorative, yet the political establishment lets it slide.

While criticizing the Affordable Care Act, tea party favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minnesota, also accused the president of funding Al-Qaeda. She then criticized building new mosques in America. Bachmann, of course, has a prolific resume of anti-Muslim fear-mongering. One of her more outrageous claims was that the Obama administration was infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood because Huma Abedin, an American Muslim married to former Congressman Anthony Weiner, served as an aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Bachmann’s rhetoric has even made her a darling of the Egyptian coup regime, which has used her talking points against our president.

Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin also wallowed in the anti-Muslim mud during the government shutdown.

Perhaps the most outrageous spectacle was at the “Million Vets March on the Memorials,” in which Cruz and Palin were also speakers. Larry Klayman of Freedom Watch, an ultra-conservative political advocacy group, said at the event that America is “ruled by a president who bows down to Allah” and that the president should “put the Koran down.”

I understand that GOP politicians and activists have legitimate grievances pertaining to President Obama’s economic policies. However, there is a sizeable contingent within the tea party that displays blatant racism towards the president – from carrying Confederate flags outside of the White House to anti-Muslim rhetoric parading as anti-black racism.

The moderate wing of the Republican Party must take back control of its message if it wishes to get the support of minority communities. It can ill afford to be silent before blatant Islamophobia and exhibited by prominent members of its own party. America is becoming a more diverse nation. If the GOP does not silence its internal voices of bigotry, it will be relegated to a party of the past.

National security journalist discusses NYPD surveillance of Muslims

National security journalist discusses NYPD surveillance of Muslims 
By Ali Harb
Thursday, 10.24.2013, 07:33pm
DEARBORN — Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Adam Goldman discussed, at the University of Michigan-Dearborn (UMD), on Tuesday, Oct. 22, the New York Police Department’s secret surveillance program of the Muslim community.
After Sept. 11, 2001, the intelligence division of the NYPD scrutinized the Muslim community in New York and surrounding cities, by spying on Islamic houses of worship, Muslim student organizations and places frequented by Muslims, according to Goldman, who wrote a series of stories on the program for the Associated Press.
Goldman said that when he was covering national security with his colleague, Matt Apuzzo, for the AP in 2010, they began hearing unfamiliar terms, like “mosque crawlers” and “demographics unit.” After further investigation, the reporters discovered that the NYPD was “mapping out the human terrain of the Muslim community” and gathering secret police files on the social and religious gatherings of Muslims.
“They sent police detectives to cafes and restaurants that Muslims frequent to figure out the owners and clients of those businesses,” Goldman said.
Goldman added that when the AP first published the story about spying on Muslims, the NYPD and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg denied the report and labeled it as “fiction.”
“We were on the defensive,” said Goldman. “Then people started leaking documents to us.”
He added that these documents proved the existence of the “demographics unit,” whose objective is to “identify and map ethnic residential concentrations within the tri-state area and identify and map ethnic hot spots.”
The reporter said the NYPD sent informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to the City’s 250 mosques, tape recorded imams’ sermons and flagged 53 mosques as “mosques of concern.”
“They wrote analytical reports on mosques, designating them as terrorism enterprise organizations,” explain Goldman. “But they never charged any mosque with anything related to terrorism.”
He added that the department was “obsessed” with Muslim student associations, designating seven of them as organizations “of concern.”
“The public did not really care when we first started publishing the stories, but when we showed the unit was spying on schools, like Yale and Columbia, people started paying attention,” he said.
Goldman said the NYPD wanted to know the sentiments and views of Muslims on current events.
“They would send informants to mosques and hookah lounges after drone strikes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and if people were just discussing what happened, they would be red-flagged,” he said.
According to Goldman, Muslims were being “red-flagged” for discussing politics, changing their names, or even speaking Urdu, the native language of thousands of immigrants from Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Although the airplane crash of baseball player Cory Lidle into a building in New York City in 2006 was ruled an accident, Goldman said, the NYPD sent informants to mosques to know what imams were saying about the crash.

“Imams were saying, ‘Thank God it’s not terrorism,'” he added. “But the sermons still went into secret police files.”
He said the department pressured Muslims, who get in trouble with the law, to become informants. 
“If you get in trouble, they would squeeze you to work for them,” he said.
The reporter gave an example of an 18-year-old Muslim, who was caught in possession of marijuana and later pushed into becoming an informant.
“He went around taking pictures of Muslims at restaurants on his phone; it was meaningless,” said Goldman. 
Goldman said the NYPD surveillance did not generate a single terrorism lead and totally missed real terrorism suspects, like Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan-American from Aurora, Colorado, who came close to blowing up a New York City subway in 2009.
Zazi had gone to Pakistan to participate in the insurgency against American troops in Afghanistan, but al-Qaeda operatives convinced him, along with two others, to carry out a suicide attack in New York City.
“The NYPD missed these guys on every level,” Goldman said.
Last month, Goldman and Appuzo published “The Enemy Within,” a book that exposes NYPD surveillance and narrates the investigation that led to Zazi’s arrest.
Goldman and Appuzo share the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting, a George Polk Award, the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award and the Edgar A. Poe Award from the White House Correspondents’ Association, for their reporting on national security.
Goldman said the NYPD “demographics unit” is similar to other divisions in the department that targeted ethnic minorities and civil rights leaders in the past.
“In the 60’s they had the ‘ghetto informant program’ that targeted African Americans to see if they had any association to the Black Panthers,” he explained.
Goldman said the NYPD surveillance program started in cooperation with the CIA, which hired a senior covert officer in the City’s police department. However, after the story was exposed, the cooperation was brought to an end, at least publicly. 
The AP stories, however, did not put an end to the program. 
Goldman said that Ray Kelly, the commissioner of the NYPD, “bragged” that nothing has changed. The “demographics unit” has become the Zone Assessment Unit.
The reporter, who recently landed a job with the Washington Post, added that the NYPD receives $1.6 billion in federal funding for anti-terrorism programs each year, of which $60 million goes to the “demographics unit.” 
Goldman said the program was challenged by three lawsuits, including one by the ACLU, but plaintiffs against the NYPD had to show harm by the program, which is hard to prove in a court of law.
He suspected that similar programs could be taking place in other parts of the country, but the decline of investigative journalism has had a “tremendous impact” on keeping secret government activities in the dark.
Goldman’s presentation at UMD was organized by the Arab Student Union, the Political Science Association, the Center for Arab American Studies and the Student Organization Advisory Council.
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Michigan (CAIR-MI), said the NYPD’s behavior is “very disturbing.”
“It is especially disturbing that the NYPD operated in other states. What we’re concerned about is that local police departments could get federal funding to ethnically map Arab and Muslim communities in southeast Michigan,” said Walid. “Journalists could play a role and send a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the local departments and see what could be found. But we know the authorities do not give this information for free, and sometimes we have to sue for it.”
“I was once the president of the Muslim Student Association here at the University,” said community activist Rashid Beydoun. “It is ironic to see that, instead of combating crime, a police department is going after student organizations, whose goals are to promote tolerance and build bridges between communities.” 
Beydoun expressed his gratitude to the organizers of the event, which he described as “intriguing.” He specifically thanked Dr. Sally Howell, a UMD Middle Eastern studies professor, who helped organize the event.
“Her dedication to the cause should be applauded,” he said.   


Attack against pilgrims calls for renewed intrafaith cooperation

Attack against pilgrims calls for renewed intrafaith cooperation
By Dawud Walid 
Thursday, 10.24.2013, 09:12pm
News that Michigan Muslims were attacked at Hajj recently, due to sectarianism, increases the need for American Muslim leaders and activists to cultivate a spirit of constructive engagement among the followers of Islam, especially in America.
I personally know some of the Shia Muslims who were reportedly beaten, choked, threatened with rape, and called “kafirs” (disbelievers) in Mina.  I have no reason to doubt that this incident happened, as I have witnessed sectarian harassment up close, while visiting Saudi Arabia and other places.  Moreover, in the past decade, we have seen certain regions ravaged by sectarian violence, including numerous bombings at houses of worship during Friday prayer sermons.  
It is a mistake to act as if sectarianism does not exist among Muslims; as if ignoring the problem will make it go away.  Moreover, it is irresponsible to say that the mere mention of it is somehow promoting it.  It must be approached, head on, with spirituality as the guide, as well as wisdom.
In February 2006, after the bombing of Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) saw an opportunity to bring the Metro Detroit Muslim community together by, not only asking its religious leaders to denounce sectarianism, but by also creating a platform that could bring them together.  This area of cooperation was needed, in order to robustly challenge Islamophobia, which is a common enemy to all Muslims and to the integrity of America as a whole.  I was part of the effort, which organized imams for bi-weekly meetings over a span of months and produced scholastically correct replies to common attacks used by anti-Muslim bigots against the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) and the Prophet’s wives.  These answers can be found online, under “Imams Defend Prophet (S).”

These meetings birthed the practice of Detroit area imams attending and speaking at events, hosted at Islamic centers of different schools of thought, as well as the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan Imams Committee monthly meetings, which are now under the banner of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC).  
In 2007, Michigan imams showed leadership, by signing the Muslim Code of Honor, which affirms that Muslims should respect differences of opinion within Islamic theology and jurisprudence and not to pronounce “takfir” over other Muslims, calling them nonbelievers.  In September of this year, a number of national Islamic organizations, including the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and CAIR, signed onto a similar code that rejects sectarianism among Muslims.
We ought to demand that Islamic scholars overseas and governments abroad vigorously denounce violent sectarianism and grant all people of faith equal protection under the law.  
However, our primary concern should be on working towards better cooperation among Muslims of all schools of thought in America.  We face challenges that range from Islamophobia to the crisis of drug and alcohol use among our youth, which Muslims have a vested interest in addressing with our intellectual and financial resources.  We simply cannot allow voices of intolerance to concretize the community discourse to the point that we divide ourselves to the detriment of our collective interests in America.
As pilgrims return home, it is my hope that our community renews its commitment to a key principle of Hajj, which is the unity of the collective interests and welfare of all people under their Creator.  We will never eradicate sectarianism, but we can work, in our own way, to marginalize those who seek to promote intolerance and hatred and who falsely fly the banner of Islam.