Never too late to change government-sanctioned symbols of hate

APR 22, 2014, 5:10 PM

Dawud Walid: Never too late to change government-sanctioned symbols of hate

In a recent segment on MSNBC’s “The Daily Rundown,” Georgia State Senator Jason Carter, a Democrat and a the grandson President Jimmy Carter, stated that he is in favor of his state keeping its controversial Sons of the Confederate Veterans license plates. Those license plates, of course, contain the Rebel Flag.

I grew up in a semi-rural area in Virginia in which many people flew the Rebel Flag in front of their homes and had “The South Will Raise Again” bumper stickers on the back of their vehicles.

As much as I’m uncomfortable with that imagery to this day, I do believe that people have the right, as private citizens, to fly the Confederate Flag as part of the First Amendment.

What I do have a deeper problem with, however, is symbols of hate being sanctioned by the government and being stamped on license plates using taxpayer dollars. A Freedom of Speech argument goes out of the window when a government funded by taxpayers is passively endorsing hate.

Spin it anyway you want, the Confederacy’s so-called states’ rights issue was about one issue, which was owning enslaved black people as chattel. Given the ugly history of slavery, the bloody civil war and Jim Crow, it’s a slap in the face for Carter and others to support this state sanctioned symbol of bigotry.

Carter, by the way, is running for governor of Georgia and is most likely pandering to former Dixiecrats and their children.

Even locally, we have problematic symbols in honor of known racists, which need to be changed.

In Dearborn, there is a statute of Mayor Orville Hubbard outside of the City Hall and a street named Hubbard Drive.

In the 1960’s, Hubbard was just as racist as the segregationist Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, “Bull” Connor. Hubbard was a white supremacist who believed that integration would bring about a “mongrel race,” and he openly proclaimed that he hated “black bastards.”

Governments make mistakes. We have a history, however, of local, state and federal bodies remedying those. Be it the Sons of the Confederate Veterans license plates in Georgia or monuments of Hubbard in Dearborn, it’s never too late to symbolically right racist wrongs.

CAIR-MI encourages American Muslims to fight Islamophobia at annual banquet

CAIR-MI encourages American Muslims to fight Islamophobia at annual banquet
| Friday, 04.18.2014, 01:38 AM


LIVONIA — The Council on American Islamic Relations of Michigan (CAIR-MI) celebrated its 14th annual banquet, “Faith in Freedom,” on Sunday, April 13 at Burton Manor in Livonia.
CAIR has chapters across the United States and is the largest Muslim civil liberties organization in the country. About 800 people attended the event, which highlighted many of the challenges Muslim Americans still face.
British journalist Mehdi Hasan encouraged American Muslims to play a greater role in helping fight the widespread discrimination members in their community still face more than a decade after 9/11.
Hasan noted that American Muslims are better positioned to fight discrimination because of their economic and educational backgrounds.
“Western Muslims should use every opportunity — especially when there is negative media attack — to tell non-Muslim about the real Muslim, the Islam of peace,” Hasan said.
The work of CAIR-MI over the last year was noted as well.
The local chapter has been working on a federal lawsuit that is still pending against the FBI and U.S. Customs Border Patrol over the repeated detention and questioning of Muslims and their religious beliefs and practices by federal agents at the U.S.-Canada border.
Dawud Walid, the executive director of CAIR-MI who has led the group since July 2005, says that despite all the advocacy work that has been done around the country to fight “Islamophobia,” he has witnessed an increase in discrimination cases at his office.
“This could be because discrimination has increased or people just feel more empowered to report hate. It might be a combination of the two,” Walid said. He says despite the increase in cases, much progress has still been made in the area of Muslim civil rights.
Over the last year, Walid and other CAIR staff members have made frequent visits to college campuses in Michigan to educate students about Islam.
“We go and speak to large lecture halls and university classes about the issues that American Muslims face, and clarify misconceptions about them in the process,” he said.
Walid also discussed the issue of politicians spewing hate towards Muslims. “The GOP has a long track record of anti-Muslim rhetoric,” he said.
Last year, CAIR worked with school districts on accommodating the dietary needs of Muslim students. It has also been at the forefront of getting prisons to offer inmates halal meat, and it has reached out to universities pushing them to add prayer rooms for Muslim students.
Moving forward, Walid says the group plans on reaching out to law enforcement agencies and tackling the issue of Muslim women having to remove their headscarves in situations where they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

A ways yet to go since the signing of the Civil Rights Act

APR 16, 2014, 12:30 PM

Dawud Walid: A ways yet to go since the signing of the Civil Rights Act

The recent marking of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a reminder of how far we’ve come as a nation, yet shows that we have a ways to go for racial, gender and religious equality in America.

Decades of activism, which came to a crescendo at the March on Washington in 1963 paved the way for President Lyndon B. Johnson signing this landmark civil rights legislation into law. The Act made it illegal for municipal, state and federal government agencies, as well as corporations, to deny access to individuals for accommodations and services and provided penalties for those who discriminate in employment and housing based upon race, national origin, gender and religious affiliation. It was perhaps the most important legislation of the past 100 years.

Without this law, we can only guess if America would have Black, Latino and Muslims holding local and state public offices in the South, or women serving as corporate executives. America, however, still has a long way to go.

According to Pew Research, black incarceration rates in comparison to whites were actually higher in 2010 than in 1960, during the Jim Crow era.

The majority of the incarcerations are due to non-violent drug offenses. This increase relates to more subtle institutionalized racism among law enforcement and prosecutors. Given that whites use and sell drugs at roughly the same percentage of their demographics, the incarceration rates should reflect this. That is, if the justice system was in fact just.

To this day, women earn 77 cents to the dollar of men earn in workplaces when both genders educational levels are on par. Women, who make up about half of the population, only comprise approximately 16% of board members of major corporations. In the U.S. Congress, women are not as well represented as women in parliaments of developing countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Senegal.

In recent years, including one high-profile case in New York City, there have been organized efforts to block the establishment or relocation of houses of worship and private schools for Muslims.

Michigan Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema is one of several politicians who continues to speak about American Muslims as second class citizens. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Oakland County GOP hosted a speaker who incites fears that Muslims are secretly attempting to supplant our laws, a tactic that was invoked against Japanese Americans during World War II.

As people of goodwill, we must remain vigilant in protecting civil rights and restoring some which have subtly eroded since 9/11.

But bigotry can’t be legislated away. The recent fatal shooting of three people by a white supremacist outside two Kansas City area Jewish community centers is but a painful reminder. What we can do is push for more inclusion and equality in our country by looking at the roots of inequality in America and work to further marginalize the voices of intolerance in our society.


“Honor Diaries,” a new film associated with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a critic of Islam, has sparked a series of protests since premiering on March 8 — International Women’s Day — at the United Nations in New York. The documentary chronicles violence against women in Muslim-majority communities, and last week’s decision by Brandeis University to withdraw Hirsi Ali’s honorary doctorate coincided with heated debates on campuses across the United States about the merits of discussing the cultural roots of gender-based violence at the risk of furthering what activists say is the film’s anti-Islamic agenda.

The film alternates between opinions from self-proclaimed experts and ominous statistics and vignettes about gender-based violence. Those include interviews with a 10-year-old child bride in Yemen, murder trials for honor killings involving Muslim immigrants’ daughters in the U.S., images of women’s faces disfigured by acid attacks and a testimony about a forced marriage in the United Kingdom that ended with the bride’s committing suicide. Nine women’s rights advocates share their stories of abuse and give advice during round table discussions on honor violence.

The women in the film are unsure whether to blame culture, religion or other women for the atrocities. “Is this Islam?” one participant asks. “If not, what are we doing to change it? And if there is anything within our faith that allows that men feel empowered to do that,” she adds, “how are we fighting that?”

But other activists say that the film’s funder, the Clarion Project — which has been responsible for documentaries such as “The Third Jihad” and “Radical Islam’s Vision for America” — and executive producer Hirsi Ali’s hostility toward Islam leave little doubt that the documentary has an anti-Islamic agenda.

The producers of the film are “seeking to hijack a legitimate issue to promote its anti-Muslim agenda,” Ibrahim Hooper, communication director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), told Al Jazeera. “I’ve compared it to the KKK producing a documentary about the American Jewish community and then nobody being able to question the agenda of its producers.”

Linda Sarsour, civic engagement coordinator for the National Network for Arab American Communities and a self-described progressive women’s rights activist who said she is pro-choice, told Al Jazeera that even though some of the film’s featured activists may be “well-intentioned,” the documentary equates violence against women with Islam. “We don’t need Islamophobes to talk to us and tell the stories of oppressed and abused Muslim women,” she said. “It’s just disingenuous.”

The University of Michigan and the University of Illinois have canceled or postponed planned screenings of the film. Beth Marmarelli, communications director at the University of Michigan, told Al Jazeera in a statement it postponed the screening “because many of the [event’s] panelists were not able to attend the event.”

“We are working on a new date to show the film on campus,” Marmarelli said.

But Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, said his organization is in talks with the university, hoping to dissuade it from screening a movie that he said discusses issues that deserve the public’s attention but “intentionally misframes [honor violence] as a Muslim issue.”

The producers of “Honor Diaries” were unavailable for comment, and Hirsi Ali declined to be interviewed.

But CAIR’s objections to the film were challenged by Raheel Raza, who is featured in the film and is one of the first Muslim women to lead prayers at mosques in Canada.

“It’s still far better that we as Muslim women have spoken on [honor violence] than some Islam hater who wanted to pick up the issue and talk about it,” she said. “This a human rights issue that’s been brushed under the carpet for so long.”

Qanta Ahmed, a physician and conservative columnist featured in the documentary, told Al Jazeera the backlash needs to be “put into perspective,” saying “the attempt to arrest the screenings in the U.S. is very minor.”

Ahmed called the detractors’ views “incredibly myopic,” adding that those activists are harming women by deliberately silencing a debate on honor violence in communities where she said the practice is most prevalent. For example, the practice of female genital mutilation “is not advocated in Islam in any way,” she says in the film. “It doesn’t appear in the Quran but has very much been adopted by some Muslim societies.”

Female genital mutilation is not specific to Muslims, although it is prevalent in many Muslim-majority nations in Africa as well as Yemen and Iraq, according to a study by the United Nations Children’s Fund. In Niger, 55 percent of Christian women had undergone the procedure, while 2 percent of Muslim women there have experienced some form of cutting. An estimated 125 million women worldwide have been cut, and 30 million girls are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation in the next decade, according to the study, which surveyed women in 29 countries over the past three years.

Gender politics

A similar controversy surrounded Brandeis University’s decision last Tuesday to reverse itself on conferring an honorary degree on Hirsi Ali, after a campaign by Muslim students who said giving the degree to Hirsi Ali was hurtful to their community. “This is a real slap in the face to Muslim students,” said Sarah Fahmy, a Brandeis senior and member of the Muslim Student Association who started a petition objecting to the honorary degree for Hirsi Ali, prior to the withdrawal.

“The selection of Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree is a blatant and callous disregard by the administration of not only the Muslim students but of any student who has experienced pure hate speech,” she wrote. “While we are not belittling the severity of the issues that she raises, she uses hate speech against Islam as a means to do this.” Fahmy quoted some of Hirsi Ali’s remarks in an interview with the magazine Reason, in which she called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

Sarsour commended Brandeis for withdrawing the honorary doctorate. “The problem we have with Ayaan Hirsi Ali,” she said, “is not that we invalidate her own experience, but she equates violence against women to Islam.” Sarsour added that “her story does not represent Islam or all Muslim women” and that Hirsi Ali “has few allies among Muslim women around the world.”

Esmaa Alariachi, president of Dutch Muslim women’s organization Al Nisa, told Al Jazeera that Hirsi Ali’s political legacy among Muslim women in the Netherlands, where she was a member of parliament from 2003 to 2006, was virtually nonexistent.

Somali-born Hirsi Ali requested asylum in the Netherlands after fleeing an arranged marriage with her cousin and undergoing genital mutilation. She quickly rose to prominence as a politician, campaigning on issues of gender-based violence, especially female cutting.

Unlike in Somalia, Alariachi said, female genital mutilation “has never been an issue among the country’s Moroccan and Turkish communities.”

The former host of shows “The Girls of Halal” and “Bimbos and Burkas,” — polemical platforms of debate exploring some of the country’s issues with multiculturalism and immigration — she said Hirsi Ali never responded to her invitations to appear as a guest. “She didn’t want to talk with Muslim women. She would rather talk about Muslim women,” Alariachi said.

“She carefully chose whom to engage,” she said. “The white Dutchman reveled in everything she had to say. She had a very hard life, and she, unfortunately, blamed Islam for it.”

Addressing Genital Mutilation with Justice, Not Deception

Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), meaning all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, is a horrendous practice, which must be combated not only through criminalization but also through education regarding its traumatic effects.  This physically painful mutilation, falsely done in the name of preserving sexual modesty and chastity, is one of the most overt forms of misogyny in the world today.  As I believe that it should be robustly fought against, I also see that opportunists in America are misusing this oppression as a means of promoting and enabling Islamophobia for political purposes and monetary benefit.

The recent nationwide campaign to promote a documentary supposedly made to empower Muslim women titled “Honor Diaries” which was produced by the notorious anti-Muslim organization Clarion Project formerly known as the Clarion Fund attempts to highlight FGM/C as a Muslim issue.  Whereas some Muslim girls are victims of FMG/C, the problem with this narrative is that this form of mutilation is primarily done in certain countries in Africa, not the majority of the Muslim world, plus its victims’ families are practitioners of indigenous faiths, Christianity and Islam.  Hence, the narrative projected by Clarion Project and its enablers is fallacious in the sense that this problem is not specifically Muslim, nor are the vast majority of Muslim women stretching from North America to Indonesia subjected to this cultural torture.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the state of Washington to ban and give legal consequences for those performing FGM/C.  I’m in agreement with such legislation on the surface.  The problem becomes when supporters of such legislation, as with the so-called anti-sharia laws or restriction of foreign laws legislation, intentionally use such an issue, which is not widespread in America, as a means of subtly promoting Islamophobia under the guise of preventing a problem before it takes root.

I’m an advocate for protecting the rights of women as well as providing increased funds to states for improving access for providing counseling to immigrant communities that are from countries in which FGM/C is widely practiced.  This can be done, however, without unjustly portraying American Muslims in the process to further marginalize the community in the socio-political arena.  True justice by nature cannot be achieved through unethical tactics.

As Imam Ali (May Allah Ennoble His Face) said, “The victor by means of mischief is a loser.”  As we as a nation strive to become a “more perfect union” with “liberty and justice for all,” it’s our responsibility to make sure that we help those in need without injustice being committed in the name of protecting and empowering women who have been victimized.