Lawsuit targets top Bush officials who led witch hunt against Muslims after 9/11

The Associated Press reports: It has been nearly 14 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, but a lawsuit on behalf of Muslims rounded up in the aftermath has barely moved forward as lawyers try to show how frightening it was for hundreds of men with no ties to terrorism to be treated like terrorists, locked up and abused for months at a time.

The lawsuit finally got a green light from a federal appeals court last week, with two judges willing to let the courts grapple with what happened in the days after the worst terrorist attack in American history, when the largest criminal probe in U.S. history tested the boundaries of civil liberties.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuit against three former top U.S. officials, including then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Holding the defendants “in solitary confinement 23 hours a day with regular strip searches because their perceived faith or race placed them in the group targeted for recruitment by al-Qaida violated the detainees’ Constitutional rights,” the majority wrote. “The suffering endured by those who were imprisoned merely because they were caught up in the hysteria of the days immediately following 9/11 is not without a remedy.” [Continue reading…]

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Myanmar to bar Rohingya from fleeing, but won’t address their plight

The New York Times reports: The government of Myanmar says it is determined to stop the departures of migrants fleeing religious persecution in places like this bitterly divided port city, but it will not budge in its refusal to address the conditions driving the exodus across the sea.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group, fled the country in recent months, setting off a regional crisis when boatloads of migrants were abandoned at sea or abused and held for ransom by traffickers.

But the government insists that most of the migrants do not belong in Myanmar, referring to them as Bengalis, and says it has no plans to alter policies that strip them of basic rights and confine more than 140,000 to a crowded, squalid government camp here.

“There is no change in the government’s policy toward the Bengalis,” U Zaw Htay, a deputy director general of the Myanmar president’s office, said in an interview this week.

Under international pressure, as crowded vessels baked and bobbed in the ocean for days with no country willing to take them in, regional leaders met in Bangkok last month, and the immediate crisis was relieved when the migrants were granted temporary refuge.

But any hope that Myanmar might have been persuaded to soften its position was quickly dispelled.

When a government delegation returned from the talks, the state news media hailed the officials as managing “to refute accusations that the boat people were from Myanmar.”

And those people, despite the reports of horror stories at sea, are no less desperate to leave. [Continue reading…]

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Muslim Congressmen call on Obama administration to investigate armed rally at Phoenix mosque

Huffington Post reports: Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) sent a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Thursday requesting a Justice Department investigation on whether armed protests outside a mosque in Phoenix violated the worshippers’ First Amendment-guaranteed freedom to practice religion.

“The decision to bring assault weapons to the mosque demonstrates intent to create a hostile environment to intimidate worshipers, a clear attempt to infringe on the First Amendment rights of the worshipers [sic],” the letter reads.

Last Friday, a biker gang of about 250 armed protesters, carrying assault rifles, pistols, American flags and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad assembled outside of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix. The mosque had previously been attended by the two gunmen from Phoenix who opened gunfire on an anti-Islam event featuring a controversial “Draw Muhammad” contest in Garland, Texas, in May.

The rally outside the mosque was organized by Iraq war veteran Jon Ritzheimer, who said it was in retaliation for the attack in Garland, as well as “to expose the true colors of Islam.”

“True Islam is terrorism,” Ritzheimer told CNN last week.

Ellison and Carson, the only two Muslims in Congress, allege that the armed protests could also be a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, a bill passed in 1994. The law, they note, outlaws “‘attempts to injure, intimidate or interfere with any person lawfully exercising or seeking to exercise the First Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship.'” [Continue reading…]

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Burma’s stateless Muslims: The World’s most persecuted minority

Der Spiegel reports: Nuralam often sits awake for hours at night when a lukewarm wind blows through the hut, carrying with it the smell of the sea. He peers over at his sister lying next to him on the mat. He sees his brother at his feet and his mother, both of whom are sleeping. If he were to run to the sea as he once did and surrender himself to it facing in the direction of Malaysia, as he once did, then he would have to leave them all alone here, in a refugee camp in western Burma.

Of course they would miss him. But wouldn’t this provide his siblings with more room in the hut? And couldn’t Nuralam — a 23-year-old diminutive young man with a quiet voice and an ankle-length cloth wrapped around his waist — finally become a real person? “A person with work,” he says. “And with rights.”

As a member of the Rohingya Muslim religious minority, he is not recognized by his country as a citizen. In recent years, radical Buddhists have been agitating people against his religion. Even though he was born in Burma, the authorities refer to him as a “Bengal.”

What keeps a man like Nuralam in a country in which he is stateless and won’t even give him a passport? With a lack of anything better to do, it is a thought that has preoccupied Nuralam countless times in the camp.

During his walks, he has repeatedly seen naked children standing and playing in the sewage. So far this year, more than 25,000 Rohingya have fled in boats across the Gulf of Bengal. The images of their desperate odyssey off the coast of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia have been transmitted around the world. “I wanted to be one of them,” Nuralam says.

On the night of April 14, when everyone was asleep, Nuralam stood up on his mat. He walked quietly out the door and ran down to the beach. He had made an appointment with a smuggler who was waiting for him there. Nuralam didn’t know what odyssey he was about to embark on. He just wanted to put the insanity in Burma behind him for good. [Continue reading…]

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Flight attendant claimed can of Coke could be used as a weapon by Muslim woman

Al Arabiya reports: A Muslim traveler aboard a United Airlines flight was denied an unopened can of diet coke and was told “it’s so you don’t use it as a weapon,” just after handing an unopened can to another passenger.

Tahera Ahmad, 31, director of interfaith engagement and associate chaplain at Northwestern University was travelling Friday from Chicago to Washington when the incident occurred aboard the flight, according to her Facebook post.

Ahmad, who wears an Islamic headscarf or hijab was heading to Washington for a conference on promoting dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian youth.

Ahmad had requested an unopened can of diet coke as a hygienic precaution to which the flight attendant reported responded to by saying “we are unauthorized to give unopened cans to people because they may use it as a weapon on the plane.” [Continue reading…]

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Burma’s ugly Buddhists

The Daily Beast reports: Anti-Muslim protestors supported by Buddhist monks gathered in Burma’s main city of Rangoon this week to denounce the United Nations for “bullying” their country into accepting desperate migrants who have been stranded at sea in abandoned boats.

People waving multi-colored Buddhist flags led a column of several hundred marchers as they chanted slogans against the Rohingya minority who, with their distinct language and darker skin, are considered outsiders and denied citizenship in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

It was the latest in a series of Buddhist hate rallies in the country, a phenomenon that has become common here but has yet to penetrate the psyches of many westerners who associate saffron-robed monks with peace and compassion.

“Yes, we have compassion for all people in our Buddhism, but we have to protect ourselves against our enemies,” said Thuta Nanda, a monk, as people gathered with placards and t-shirts bearing slogans urging the international community to “Stop blaming Myanmar” for the boat crisis.

“In Buddhism, we want to help others,” added protester Htet Htet Soe Oo, “but Muslims are different, their religion teaches that they should kill us.”

If any group of people could benefit from the compassion that many associate with the teachings of the Buddha, it is Burma’s Rohingya Muslims. The group of roughly one million is almost completely friendless, widely despised inside predominantly Buddhist Burma and unwanted by neighboring countries. [Continue reading…]

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Dalai Lama urges Aung San Suu Kyi to act on Rohingya

Al Jazeera reports: The Dalai Lama has urged fellow Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to help Myanmar’s persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority amid a worsening migration crisis.

“It’s very sad. In the Burmese (Myanmar) case I hope Aung San Suu Kyi, as a Nobel laureate, can do something,” he told The Australian newspaper in an interview published Thursday ahead of a visit to Australia next week.

Despite thousands of Rohingya fleeing on harrowing boat journeys to Southeast Asia to escape poverty and discriminatory treatment by the country’s Buddhist majority, opposition leader Suu Kyi, who is celebrated as a human rights and democracy champion, has not yet commented on their plight.

The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader said she must speak up, adding that he had already appealed to her to do more on their behalf twice, in person, since 2012, when deadly sectarian violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state saw violent attacks by Buddhist extremist groups against the Rohingya. [Continue reading…]

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The profits of Islamophobia

Dean Obeidallah writes: People keep asking me why does Pam Geller spew so much anti-Muslim crap? Is it part of her work as a pro-Israel activist? Did she once get food poisoning at a Middle Eastern restaurant? Is it simply because she really, really hates Muslims?

Probably all the above, but one other thing is certain: Geller gets paid pretty well to demonize Muslims. I’m talking to the tune of $200,000 a year. True, that might be walking around money for Donald Trump (who actually bashed Geller this week for her draw the Prophet Mohamed cartoon contest), but that puts her in the top 5 percent of all Americans in terms of annual income. Now, $200,000 doesn’t make a person rich these days (although the $9 million in combined divorce settlement and life-insurance payments she reportedly got certainly qualifies her). But for what she does, it’s handsome pay. [Continue reading…]

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Free speech vs. hate speech

An editorial in the New York Times says: There is no question that images ridiculing religion, however offensive they may be to believers, qualify as protected free speech in the United States and most Western democracies. There is also no question that however offensive the images, they do not justify murder, and that it is incumbent on leaders of all religious faiths to make this clear to their followers.

But it is equally clear that the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest in Garland, Tex., was not really about free speech. It was an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom.

That distinction is critical because the conflicts that have erupted over depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, most notably the massacre of staff members at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January by two Muslim brothers, have generated a furious and often confused debate about free speech versus hate speech. The current dispute at the American chapter of the PEN literary organization over its selection of Charlie Hebdo for a freedom of expression courage award is a case in point — hundreds of PEN’s members have opposed the selection for “valorizing selectively offensive material.”

Charlie Hebdo is a publication whose stock in trade has always been graphic satires of politicians and religions, whether Catholic, Jewish or Muslim. By contrast, Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam campaigner behind the Texas event, has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims.

Whether fighting against a planned mosque near ground zero, posting to her venomous blog Atlas Shrugs or organizing the event in Garland, Ms. Geller revels in assailing Islam in terms reminiscent of virulent racism or anti-Semitism. She achieved her provocative goal in Garland — the event was attacked by two Muslims who were shot to death by a traffic officer before they could kill anyone.

Those two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the Islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event. These can serve only to exacerbate tensions and to give extremists more fuel.

Some of those who draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad may earnestly believe that they are striking a blow for freedom of expression, though it is hard to see how that goal is advanced by inflicting deliberate anguish on millions of devout Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism. As for the Garland event, to pretend that it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.

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German police arrest four alleged right-wing extremists suspected of planning mosque attacks

Wall Street Journal: Police arrested four alleged right-wing extremists early Wednesday suspected of planning attacks on mosques and asylum seekers in Germany, the country’s top prosecutor said.

The Federal Prosecutor’s office said the four suspects procured explosives to carry out terrorist attacks in small groups on targets including mosques, accommodation for asylum seekers, and well-known Salafis—people who follow an ultra-fundamentalist branch of Islam.

According to the prosecutor’s office, 56-year old Andreas H., 39-year old Markus W., 22-year old Denise Vanessa G. and 47-year old Olaf O. are suspected of forming a right-wing terrorist group with other suspects called “Oldschool Society,” or OSS, no later than November last year.

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The Garland shooting is a win for ISIS and Islamophobes, and a loss for everyone else

Paul Brandeis Raushenbush writes: There are two parties that are assuredly satisfied after the attack at the “Draw Muhammad Contest” in Garland, Texas on Sunday.

One is probably Pamala Geller, the organizer of the event and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Geller has dedicated her life to vilifying Muslims. Under the protection of free speech, her organization sponsors the “Draw Muhammad” contest and routinely demonizes Muslims with billboards across the country.

The two gunmen/pawns played exactly into her divisive Islam vs. the West narrative and she responded the day after the shooting by saying: “This incident shows how much needed our event really was. The freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now before is — will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery, and savagery?”

The other group that must be pleased today is ISIS, whose followers, according to ABC News, have been sending messages about the event in Texas, referencing Charlie Hebdo, and saying it was time for “brothers” in the US to do their part. Well, their call apparently worked and a tweet went out after the event: [Continue reading…]

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Muslims defend Pam Geller’s right to hate

Dean Obeidallah writes: Anti-Muslim advocate Pam Geller has the absolute right to draw any cartoon she wants of the Prophet Muhammad. That was not just the response from Muslim-American leaders I spoke to after news broke Sunday night of a shooting outside a Garland, Texas, event that Geller had organized—offering $10,000 for people to draw images of Muhammad—but before that event as well.

As of the writing of this article, we know that after the conclusion of Geller’s event, two gunmen drove into the parking lot of the venue and fired shots that wounded one security officer. The two suspects were then reportedly killed by the police officers outside the venue. The identity and motivation of the gunmen is still not known as of press time. [One gunman now identified as Elton Simpson.]

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that some Muslims (and even people of other faiths) aren’t offended and/or disgusted by the idea of Geller offering $10,000 for people to draw despicable cartoons of Muhammad. This is akin to offering a prize for people to draw the most anti-Semitic or racist images imaginable, with the true goal being to stoke the flames of hate versus Jews or Blacks. But the reality is American Muslims deeply value freedom of expression.

Plus, to be blunt, we are used to Geller, a person who has been denounced by both the Anti-Defamation league and the Southern Poverty Law Center for her anti-Muslim hate. She’s been demonizing us Muslims for years and we fully get that her goal is to provoke and demonize in the hope of inspiring a response that attracts the media attention that she so desperately craves. Indeed, Geller is so over-the-top in her rabid hatred of Muslims that she has become a punchline in our community. [Continue reading…]

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In Chapel Hill, suspect’s rage went beyond a parking dispute

Following the February 10 murder of Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, her sister Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Yusor’s husband, Deah Shaddy Barakat, the New York Times reports: A motive for the shooting may never be known. But interviews with more than a dozen of the victims’ friends and family members, lawyers, police officers and others make two central points: Before the shootings, the students took concerted steps to appease a menacing neighbor, and none were parked that day in a way that would have set off an incident involving their cars.

If those accounts do not prove what kind of malice was in Mr. Hicks’s heart, the details that emerge indicate that whatever happened almost certainly was not a simple dispute over parking. [Continue reading…]

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Norway’s Muslims form protective human ring around synagogue

Reuters reports: More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest’s organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.

“There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway’s Jewish community is one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million. [Continue reading…]

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Hate in the aftermath of Chapel Hill murders

Imraan Siddiqi writes: In 2012, the American Muslim community experienced one of the biggest upticks of violence and harassment that the community has ever seen. Eleven years removed from 9/11, there was a seemingly unexplainable rash of attacks against mosques, including arson, vandalism and even shots being fired at different Islamic centers throughout the U.S. Much of this upswing in activity can be attributed to a continued flow of money and rhetoric into what’s termed “The Islamophobia Industry” – as outlined in Center For American Progress’ Fear, Inc., as well as CAIR’s 2013 report: Legislating Fear.

Fast forward to February 2015. The news of a horrific execution-style murder of three young students in Chapel Hill, NC hit the Muslim community like a punch in the chest. The deaths of dental-student Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu Salha and Razan Abu Salha saw three bright lights from our community have their lives cut short, in a crime that seemingly had a bias component to it. This came on the heals of the equally horrific murder of Mustafa Mattan, a well-respected Muslim community member who was shot dead while answering his door in Fort McMurray, Canada. But while the community grieved over these losses, an unprecedented string of hate crimes has swarmed not only Muslims, but other minorities who suffer from the epidemic of anti-Muslim sentiment. Here is a listing of confirmed anti-Muslim incidents that have taken place in recent days: [Continue reading…]

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The GOP’s Islamophobia problem

Peter Beinart writes: Did Craig Hicks murder Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha yesterday in Chapel Hill because they were Muslim? We don’t yet know for sure.

But we know this: In America today, the level of public anti-Muslim bigotry is shockingly high. Politicians and pundits, usually on the right, say things about Muslims that they would be immediately fired for saying about Christians or Jews. And they’ll keep doing so until prominent conservatives express the same outrage when Muslims are defamed that they summon when the victims are Christians or Jews. In the 1950s, National Review founder William F. Buckley ran anti-Semites out of the conservative movement. It’s time for his successors to do the same with Islamophobes.

In 2016, for the second straight presidential election, the Republican primary field will include at least one candidate with nakedly anti-Muslim views. I’m not talking about candidates who denounce “radical Islam.” I’m not talking about Newt Gingrich, who in 2011 absurdly claimed that “Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States.” I’m not even talking about Bobby Jindal, who kept repeating the lie that Europe contains “no-go” zones where non-Muslims are not allowed, even after it was repudiated by Fox News. [Continue reading…]

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Sam Harris and the ‘New Atheists’ aren’t new — they aren’t even atheists

Last year, Reza Aslan, wrote: Not long ago, I gave an interview in which I said that my biggest problem with so-called New Atheists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins is that they give atheism a bad name. Almost immediately, I was bombarded on social media by atheist fans of the two men who were incensed that I would pontificate about a community to which I did not belong.

That, in and of itself, wasn’t surprising. As a scholar of religions, I’m used to receiving comments like this from the communities I study. What surprised me is how many of these comments appeared to take for granted that in criticizing New Atheism I was criticizing atheism itself, as though the two are one and the same. That seems an increasingly common mistake these days, with the media and the bestseller lists dominated by New Atheist voices denouncing religion as “innately backward, obscurantist, irrational and dangerous,” and condemning those who disagree as “religious apologists.”

To be sure, there is plenty to criticize in any religion and no ideology – religious or otherwise – should be immune from criticism. But when Richard Dawkins describes religion as “one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus,” or when Sam Harris proudly declares, “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of either rape or religion, I would not hesitate to get rid of religion,” it should be perfectly obvious to all that these men do not speak for the majority of atheists. On the contrary, polls show that only a small fraction of atheists in the U.S. share such extreme opposition to religious faith.

In fact, not only is the New Atheism not representative of atheism. It isn’t even mere atheism (and it certainly is not “new”). What Harris, Dawkins and their ilk are preaching is a polemic that has been around since the 18th century – one properly termed, anti-theism. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-terrorism summit reinforces ‘fear and hate’ towards Muslims, critics warn

The Guardian reports: As Barack Obama prepares to host a summit on preventing homegrown terrorism, he faces a backlash from those he says he wants to empower: American Muslim community leaders, who warn that the summit risks stigmatizing and even endangering them.

Hanging over the “countering violent extremism” (CVE) summit, to be held Tuesday through Thursday at the White House and State Department, is Wednesday’s brutal murder of three Muslim students in North Carolina.

In the wake of the killings, Muslim leaders, some of whom met with Obama recently, say that whatever the summit’s intentions, it will reinforce a message that American Muslims are to be hated and feared, a spark in what they consider to be a powder-keg of Islamophobia in the media and online.

The killing of Deah Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, “really underscores how dangerous it is for the US government, including the White House, to focus its countering violent extremism initiatives primarily on American Muslims”, said Farhana Khera, the executive director of civil rights law firm Muslim Advocates.

“We’ve long said to the administration, to those in government, that directing the bulk of CVE resources to US Muslims undermines the safety of all of us and endangers US Muslims, because it sends the message our community is to be viewed with fear, suspicion and even hate.” [Continue reading…]

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