California Muslims Send 16,000+ Letters to Senators on Gaza

(ANAHEIM, CA 8/15/2014) — The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) today announced figures of the letter-writing campaign that calls on California State senators to advocate for an end to the killing in Gaza.

Staff and volunteers of the Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization began the circulation of the letters on Tuesday July 22 during the Islamic month of Ramadan when Muslims held special prayers and other activities at mosques nationwide. More than 16,700 letters across the state of California have been signed to date. 

The letters, which were hand-delivered to both Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein’s offices, read in part:

The U.S. government must not remain silent about Israel’s unjust and disproportionate use of force against Palestinians in Gaza. The ‘right of a nation to defend itself’ does not extend to unrestrained aerial bombardments of civilian populations and must be condemned immediately.”

“The response to our Gaza letter-writing campaign has been very enthusiastic,” said CAIR-CA Chair, Safaa Ibrahim. “California residents are deeply concerned about the toll Israel’s latest military campaign has taken on innocent civilians. They want to be sure elected officials hear their constituents’ voices.”

Civil rights groups to feds: Purge your anti-Muslim training materials

August 14, 2014

(RNS) Civil rights and religious groups say efforts to rid federal agencies of anti-Muslim bias have faltered and prejudice against Muslims persists, particularly in the training of anti-terrorism officers.

On Thursday (Aug. 14), 75 groups — including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Auburn Seminary and the NAACP — sent a letter to the White House urging an audit of federal law enforcement training material.

“The use of anti-Muslim trainers and materials is not only highly offensive, disparaging the faith of millions of Americans, but leads to biased policing that targets individuals and communities based on religion, not evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter reads.

A National Security Council representative said the letter will be reviewed and a response issued.

Anti-Muslim sentiment, flagged several years ago, prompted the White House to order an assessment of the intelligence community’s training materials and policies — but that never happened, the letter charges. Instead, the groups wrote, administration officials settled on expanded sensitivity training and other measures that don’t directly address the continued use of anti-Muslim materials.

The letter states that its allegations are based in part on a July 9 article in The Intercept, an online publication created by journalist Glenn Greenwald. According to its website, its immediate goal is “to provide a platform to report on the documents previously provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden,” the former National Security Agency systems analyst now a fugitive living in Russia.

Guided by History, a Jew Tries to Unite Two Faiths Divided by War in Gaza

August 9, 2014

NEWARK, Del. — Shortly after the latest cease-fire expired in Gaza on Friday, Jacob Bender gingerly climbed the steps of the mimbar, the pulpit at the Islamic Society of Delaware here. A Jew in a mosque, his hands palpably quivering but his reedy voice steady, he read some brief comments to close the afternoon’s worship service, called Juma’a.

Mr. Bender offered both hope and censure, twinned: Muslims and Jews could still be “partners for peace and justice,” he said. Israel and Hamas bore shared responsibility for the current carnage, he added, and more hatred would lead to more violence, while love would lead to reconciliation.

After he finished those words, he intoned the Judaic funeral prayer, El Malei Rachamim, adapting its English translation to remember the victims in Gaza. He closed the prayer by saying “amen,” and the several hundred men and women replied in kind. Then, unbidden, they joined in sustained applause.

It was an emblematic moment for an unusual man. For the past 10 months, Mr. Bender has served as executive director for the chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Philadelphia — the first non-Muslim to ever hold such a high-ranking position within CAIR, as the council is commonly known.

Much of Mr. Bender’s day-to-day work involves domestic issues — a Muslim pupil bullied in his school, a local mosque vandalized, a Muslim security guard forced to remove her hijab while being photographed for a gun permit. Yet the Middle East conflict is not merely the proverbial elephant in the room, but a stomping herd of them.

In the Jewish religious community, Mr. Bender’s fierce critique of Israel has found willing listeners only among the left-leaning fringe, primarily the small Reconstructionist and Renewal movements. The moderate mainstream, while less vituperative than the online antagonists in criticizing Mr. Bender, has treated him as a pariah.

CAIR-OK Welcomes School District’s Decision to Drop Islamophobic Film

(TULSA, OK, 8/13/2014) – The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK) today welcomed a decision by Jenks Public Schools’ administration to stop using an Islamophobic Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy film in their classrooms. In May 2014, after receiving a complaint from a concerned parent, CAIR-OK questioned the schools’ use of the film “Conspiracy: Oklahoma City Bombing” as a part of its Oklahoma History Curriculum. The film falsely suggests that the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was the work of “Middle-Eastern Islamist organizations.

A letter received from Jenks Public Schools Assistant Superintendent dated August 5, 2014, stated that, “upon further review of the video, a committee of district level administrators has determined that the video will be removed from the collection in the Freshman Academy Media Center.”

This decision came after the Jenks Public schools’ Materials Review Committee chose to keep the video as a part of their media library following a request for review in June 2014.

“We welcome this decision on behalf of the parents of Muslim students in Jenks school district and in the broader Oklahoma Muslim community,” said CAIR-OK Executive Director Adam Soltani. “Islamophobic classroom materials should be of concern to all parents, because they can lead to anti-Muslim bullying and a general atmosphere of Islamophobia within the school system.”

CAIR-NY Calls for Hate Crime Probe of Attack on Muslims Outside Mosque

July 21, 2014

NEW YORK, N.Y. — The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today called on law enforcement authorities and public officials to investigate an alleged attack on Muslim worshippers on their way to prayers at a Brooklyn mosque as a possible hate crime.

On Friday evening, witnesses say passengers in a Lexus drove by the Tayba Islamic Center shouting anti-Muslim slurs, including “This is for your Allah,” and threw eggs at several members dressed in traditional Muslim attire. A 70-year-old Muslim in traditional Pakistani attire and wearing an Islamic Kufi (scullcap) was reportedly hit in the chest by an egg.

“We urge law enforcement authorities and elected officials to investigate this apparent hate crime and bring the alleged perpetrators to justice,” said CAIR-NY Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique. “Public officials need to send the message that our community will not tolerate acts of hate or attacks on houses of worship.”

Jewish and Muslim communities to break fast for peace

July 15, 2014

NEW HAVEN. The violent actions on display between Israelis and Palestinians is a sight Rabbi Herbert Brockman doesn’t like viewing or listening to.

But instead of hearing about casualties, Brockman, spiritual leader of Congregation Mishkan Israel of Hamden, doesn’t want to stand by.

At sundown Tuesday, Brockman and other members of the Jewish community will head to The Islamic Association of Greater Hartford in Berlin for a date with Muslims, where they will break fast together. Tuesday is Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, a fast day for Jews, while Muslims are fasting during the month of Ramadan, Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Connecticut, praised the event. CAIR’s focus is to empower the Muslim community through activism.

“It was well received from both sides,” Dhaouadi of New London said. “It’s a very small gesture. I don’t think sitting on the sideline doing nothing is acceptable either.”

CAIR Condemns Vandalism of Mass. Synagogue with Pro-Palestinian Graffiti

July 15, 2014

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, today condemn vandalism of a Massachusetts synagogue with pro-Palestinian graffiti.

Police are investigating graffiti, which included “Free Palestine” and “God Bless Gaza,” spray-painted on the Montefiore Orthodox Synagogue in Lowell, Mass.

In a statement, CAIR said:

“Whatever views one holds on the current round of violence in the Middle East, attacks on houses of worship must be condemned and the perpetrators brought to justice.”

U.S. Spied on 5 American Muslims, a Report Says

July 10, 2014

WASHINGTON — A new report based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden has identified five American Muslims, including the leader of a civil rights group, as having been subjected to surveillance by the federal government.

The disclosure of what were described as specific domestic surveillance targets by The Intercept online magazine was a rare glimpse into some of the most closely held secrets of counterespionage and terrorism investigators. The article raised questions about the basis for the domestic spying, even as it was condemned by the government as irresponsible and damaging to national security.

The report was based on what The Intercept described as a spreadsheet of 7,485 email addresses said to have been monitored from 2002 to 2008, and one of its writers was Glenn Greenwald, a primary recipient of the trove of documents leaked by Mr. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.

The documents did not say what the suspicions or the evidence were against the men that prompted the apparent surveillance.

In interviews on Wednesday, several of the men denied wrongdoing, and Mr. Ghafoor said he believed his Muslim faith was a factor in his being monitored. “I try not to play the race card,” he said. “But there’s really no other explanation.”

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issues about 1,800 orders annually for domestic surveillance. To obtain a court order to wiretap an American, the government must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe the target is engaged in a crime on behalf of a foreign power; non-Americans need only be suspected of being foreign agents.

None of the five have been charged with a crime in connection with the apparent monitoring.

The government refused to confirm whether or why any of the five had been monitored. Several dozen rights organizations sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday expressing concerns about the potential for “discriminatory and abusive surveillance,” but also acknowledged that “we do not know all of the facts,” and asked for “the information necessary to meaningfully assess” the report.

Meet the Muslim-American Leaders the FBI and NSA Have Been Spying On

By Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain

July 9, 2014

The National Security Agency and FBI have covertly monitored the emails of prominent Muslim-Americans—including a political candidate and several civil rights activists, academics, and lawyers—under secretive procedures intended to target terrorists and foreign spies.

According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

• Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush;

• Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases;

• Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University;

• Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights;

• Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country.

The individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Under that law, the Justice Department must convince a judge with the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there is probable cause to believe that American targets are not only agents of an international terrorist organization or other foreign power, but also “are or may be” engaged in or abetting espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. The authorizations must be renewed by the court, usually every 90 days for U.S. citizens.

The FBI—which is listed as the “responsible agency” for surveillance on the five men—has a controversial record when it comes to the ethnic profiling of Muslim-Americans. According to FBI training materials uncovered byWired in 2011, the bureau taught agents to treat “mainstream” Muslims as supporters of terrorism, to view charitable donations by Muslims as “a funding mechanism for combat,” and to view Islam itself as a “Death Star” that must be destroyed if terrorism is to be contained.

Other former and current federal officials say such beliefs are not representative of the FBI or Justice Department. But blatant prejudice against Muslim-Americans is also documented in the Snowden archive.

In one 2005 document, intelligence community personnel are instructed how to properly format internal memos to justify FISA surveillance. In the place where the target’s real name would go, the memo offers a fake name as a placeholder: “Mohammed Raghead.”

[CLICK TOREAD MORE]

‘Tyrant,’ FX’s Middle East drama, draws complaints of Arab and Muslim stereotypes

June 25, 2014

It’s no secret that FX’s new drama “Tyrant” — about the son of a Middle Eastern dictator who leaves his comfortable California life to return to his troubled home country — has had problems since its inception. Ang Lee was supposed to direct the pilot, but dropped out. People criticized the hiring of a white lead actor to play the main Middle Eastern character. The Hollywood Reporter has a long story about the struggle of making the show, which involved lot of behind-the-scenes issues for its creators.

Most notably, however, as the first episode aired Tuesday night, the series is getting many complaints for one particular issue: Arab and Muslim stereotypes.

“In the pilot of FX’s ‘Tyrant,’ Arab Muslim culture is devoid of any redeeming qualities and is represented by terrorists, murderous children, rapists, corrupt billionaires and powerless female victims,” said CAIR’s national communications director, Ibrahim Hooper. “In ‘Tryant,’ even the ‘good’ Arab Muslims are bad.”

Previously, CAIR had requested a meeting with FX to address potential “Islamophobic stereotyping.” Hooper did say that a producer told him that future episodes will be more nuanced. THR reported that showrunner Howard Gordon (behind “Homeland” and “24,” also heavy on Middle Eastern themes) has talked with the Muslim Public Affairs Council and Muslims on Screen and Television in regards to the show. He also hired a Palestinian to serve as a consultant on the series, which films in Israel.

In the Los Angeles Times, critic Mary McNamara said, “In attempting to mix West with Middle East, the show too often seems content with stereotyping both.” Time’s James Poniewozik pointed out in comparison to other shows, “If ‘Tyrant’ is meant to expand on the portrayals of the Middle Easterners peripheral to stories like ’24,’ it fails badly.”

NPR’s Eric Deggans sums up: “Most every Arab character outside of Bassam is seriously flawed,” he wrote, noting Jamal and another brutal general. “This is a show about the Middle East as seen through Americanized eyes, with little of the nuances in Arab or Muslim culture on display. The unfortunate effect is a constant, not-so-subtle message: If these people would just act like Americans, everything would be so much better.”