Congress narrowly rejects proposal for military to conduct a ‘strategic assessment’ of Islam

Tucked into a massive military spending bill was a provision that would have required the Department of Defense to study “the use of violent or unorthodox Islamic religious doctrine to support extremist or terrorist or terrorist messaging.”  A narrow majority of the U.S. House of Representatives — including all but one of the members from Minnesota — stripped that proposal out of the bill on Friday.

The idea of government scrutinizing people’s faith, rather than their actions, “goes against everything we strive to be,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minneapolis DFLer and the first Muslim elected to Congress.

The amendment to the $696 billion National Defense Authorization Act asked military and outside experts to identify “Islamic religious doctrines, concepts, or schools of thought used by various extremist groups” and then come up with ways to counter them.

Ellison questioned why a study of religious extremism would focus on just a single faith.

In Virginia House of Delegates, a push for inclusive prayers

February 28, 2014

 

RICHMOND — Every day they’re in session, as they have for hundreds of years, the members of Virginia’s House of Delegates stand together and pray.

At least most of them do.

Nearly every legislature in the country begins sessions with a prayer, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as does Congress. It’s a tradition that dates back to the British Parliament. The Supreme Court ruled 30 years ago that legislative prayers were constitutional, as they were “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country” as well as “a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people.” But a Jew and an atheist in Greece, N.Y., have challenged the prayers that began their town council meetings as violating the court’s requirement that prayers not favor one religion. The justices are reviewing an appeals court ruling that agreed with the women that eight years of almost exclusively Christian prayers violated constitutional protections.

“I’d like to be able to take part in the prayer,” said Del. Marcus B. Simon, a freshman Democrat from Fairfax County and one of the few Jewish lawmakers in the House who has made a point of standing in the back of the chamber when prayers are read. “I wish it was one I felt like I could take part.”

In part to reflect the seismic demographic shifts in recent decades that have helped JewishMuslimBuddhistHindu and Sikh communities take root in the commonwealth, prayers in the House are supposed to be “ecumenical” — not tied to a specific faith. Too often for some, they’re not.

“We start with a prayer to feel energized and rejuvenated,” said Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who is Jewish. “Why not be inclusive?”

This isn’t the only instance in which the legislature’s allegiance to Christian traditions — many of which are still championed by conservative lawmakers — have clashed with the changing sensibilities of the state’s population centers.

On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vowed to veto a bill that would allow students to pray and make religious remarks in public schools. The measure was hailed by some in the legislature, including Sen. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun), who said that lawmakers should “give to our students the same religious freedom and same religious rights that we have granted ourselves.”

Prayers in the House have become contentious before. In 2010, delegates were urged toboycott a prayer from an imam because two of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly worshiped at his Falls Church mosque — and because a former imam at the mosque is suspected by U.S. authorities of having aided al-Qaeda in terrorist activities. About a dozen delegates were not in the chamber for that day’s prayer.

That same year, then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) reversed a policy banning state police chaplains from referring to Jesus in public prayers.

Although the concerned delegates in Virginia appreciated Nardo’s response, prayers invoking specific Christian beliefs continue in the legislature. But signs of change are apparent.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/in-virginia-house-of-delegates-a-push-for-inclusive-prayers/2014/02/20/25c1eb6a-9971-11e3-b88d-f36c07223d88_story.html?wprss=rss_story-courts_law-NW3&_monetaClick=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

Rep. Keith Ellison: Being a Muslim in Congress Has Gotten Better

February 10, 2014

 

Ellison called Muslims in America the “scapegoat du jour.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., was the first Muslim elected to Congress and it’s not always been an easy ride. Monday, on book tour duty for his new tome, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” he spoke at the Center for American Progress about being a member of a religion that’s often treated as the “scapegoat du jour.”

For instance, even before he won election, Ellison became the ire of the far-right when he said, on a late night Somali-language program in his district, that he would be sworn in on the Quran.

“It set off a firestorm,” Ellison recalled.

Ellison won his race and found out early on that he had allies in his own party on Capitol Hill. On swearing-in day, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked Ellison to give the prayer before the freshmen class.

“I didn’t know her from a can of paint, but I knew all that I needed to know about her from that moment on,” Ellison said.

Several more of Ellison’s Democratic colleagues bonded with him over their own swearing-in tomes.

“Later in the day of the swearing in, a little lady, about 5-foot-2, curly blonde hair – Debbie Wasserman Schultz – you all know her,’” Ellison said. “[She said], ‘Welcome to Congress and by the way, I want you to know when I swore in, I swore in with a copy of the Tanakh, which is Jewish scripture.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., also approached Ellison to tell the Minnesota Democrat he had used a Bible written in the Gullah dialect.

Another memorable moment came when Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., called a Muslim “radicalization” hearing in March 2011 before the House Homeland Security Committee. Ellison tried to dissuade King from holding the hearing, but when that didn’t work Ellison decided to testify instead. He made a piece of his testimony about Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a 23-year-old American Muslim, who perished on 9/11 trying to save his fellow citizens.

“I started talking about this boy and his heroism and my throat started to get thick, my tongue started to thicken up, I could feel warm tears start rolling down my face,” Ellison said. (Basically, he pulled a House Speaker John Boehner, who has a penchant for crying.)

US News: http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2014/02/10/rep-keith-ellison-being-a-muslim-in-congress-has-gotten-better

U.S. to Expand Rules Limiting Use of Profiling by Federal Agents

January 16, 2014

 

The Justice Department will significantly expand its definition of racial profiling to prohibit federal agents from considering religion, national origin, gender and sexual orientation in their investigations, a government official said Wednesday.

The move addresses a decade of criticism from civil rights groups that say federal authorities have in particular singled out Muslims in counterterrorism investigations and Latinos for immigration investigations.

The Bush administration banned profiling in 2003, but with two caveats: It did not apply to national security cases, and it covered only race, not religion, ancestry or other factors.
Since taking office, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been under pressure from Democrats in Congress to eliminate those provisions. “These exceptions are a license to profile American Muslims and Hispanic-Americans,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said in 2012.

It is not clear whether Mr. Holder also intends to make the rules apply to national security investigations, which would further respond to complaints from Muslim groups.

“Adding religion and national origin is huge,” said Linda Sarsour, advocacy director for the National Network for Arab American Communities. “But if they don’t close the national security loophole, then it’s really irrelevant.” Ms. Sarsour said she also hoped that Mr. Holder would declare that surveillance, not just traffic stops and arrests, was prohibited based on religion.

While the rules directly control only federal law enforcement activities, their indirect effect is much broader, said Fahd Ahmed, the legal director of the Queens-based South Asian immigrant advocacy group Desis Rising Up and Moving. For instance, he said, immigration bills in Congress have copied the Justice Department profiling language. And civil rights groups can use the rules to pressure state and local agencies to change their policies. “Federal guidelines definitely have an impact,” Mr. Ahmed said. “Local organizers can say, ‘These policies are not in line with what’s coming from the federal level.’ ”
NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/16/us/politics/us-to-expand-rules-limiting-use-of-profiling-by-federal-agents.html?_r=0

Unity Walk celebrates all faiths in remembrance of 9/11

A microphone reverberated with the deep and sonorous Muslim call to prayer shortly before 2 p.m. Sunday. “Allaaaaaah — uh — Akbar!” An entire congregation bowed its head in prayer — a Jewish synagogue filled with Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hare Krishnas, Mormons, Pentecostals, Greek Orthodox, Baha’i and others.

On Sunday, days before the nation commemorates the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and as a bitterly divided Congress and country debate whether to authorize missile strikes against another Middle Eastern country, hundreds of Washingtonians gathered for the ninth annual 9/11 Unity Walk, seeking to find what people of different faiths share in common rather than what divides them.

Throughout the afternoon, Christians learned to chant with Hare Krishnas, carefully holding laminated mantras on their laps. Sikhs gave turban-tying demonstrations. Others practiced yoga and tai chi or danced in peace circles. The faithful or the plain curious could help the poor by bagging potatoes at St. Sophia’s Greek Orthodox church or making trail mix at the Embassy of the Vatican, open to walkers for the first time in honor of Pope Francis and his dedication to the poor.

A Syrian American who would only give his name as Wasim out of fear for his family still in that country, said he would never have imagined as a boy that he would be so comfortable in a synagogue, praying for peace, for an end to war, for President Obama not to drop bombs on his country, with others of so many different faiths.

It was that spirit, he said, that drew him to the Unity Walk. So often, religion is about converting other souls to the “One True Faith,” about destroying others who don’t believe the same things you do.

 

Religious leaders welcome FBI hate crimes reporting

Fbi IslamFor Raed Jarrar, the FBI’s decision Wednesday (June 5) to begin tracking hate crimes against Arabs is a battle won in a larger war.

“This is just one part of fixing the system, because unfortunately many hate crimes against Arab Americans have not been noticed,” said Jarrar, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

In addition to its decision on tracking anti-Arab hate crimes, the FBI has agreed to track crimes against a number of religious groups it has never before tracked. The new categories include reporting crimes committed against Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Christians.

“I think having these additional categories is wonderful,” said Samir Kalra, director and fellow at the Hindu American Foundation. Though there were intense efforts to include Hindus, Sikhs and Arabs in the statistics, these other groups weren’t advocated for as heavily.

The original recommendation signed by more than 100 members of Congress called for the FBI to add Sikh, Hindu and Arab hate crimes to the data collected under the agency’s crime reporting program. The program now tracks religious hate crimes against Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and atheists/agnostics.

Debating the Legal Basis for the War on Terror

A top Pentagon official said Thursday that the evolving war against Al Qaeda was likely to continue “at least 10 to 20 years” and urged Congress not to modify the statute that provides its legal basis.

 

“As of right now, it suits us very well,” Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said, referring to the “authorization to use military force,” often referred to as the A.U.M.F., enacted by Congress in 2001.

 

The statute authorized war against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and those who harbored them — that is, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

 

Lawmakers are considering enacting a new authorization, because the original Qaeda network has been largely decimated, while the current threat is increasingly seen as arising from terrorist groups in places like Yemen that share Al Qaeda’s ideology but have no connection to the 2001 attacks.

 

In 2011, Congress enacted a statute declaring that the 2001 authorization allowed the indefinite detention of members and supporters of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, even if not linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. But a judge has blocked the statute, questioning whether mere supporters and associated forces are covered by it. The Obama administration has appealed the ruling.

Boston Bombing Gives Pause to Immigration Reform

Two Republican lawmakers urged greater scrutiny of U.S. Muslims and the shelving of immigration reform during the Boston Marathon bombing investigation.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Sunday the FBI should intensify its efforts to ferret out radical Muslim terrorists who may be living in the United States while Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said he favored holding off on immigration legislation until more is learned about the two natives of Chechnya who were accused of planting the deadly bombings.

King and Coats were among the members of Congress who called Sunday for a close look at the potential reasons the Tsarnaev brothers were apparently not under law-enforcement scrutiny despite a lengthy visit Tamerlan Tsarnaev made to Russia and Dagestan in 2011.

CAIR Michigan director: Discussion of drones ‘long overdue’


U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s demand that the government vow not to use drones on American soil without an “imminent threat” reflects the view of some Arab-Americans in Metro Detroit, the leader of an Islamic advocacy group said Wednesday.

“We’ve been long overdue for having a national conversation about the abuse of drones in extrajudicial killings,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan. “It was just a matter of time before the conversation would turn to: Are we not going to use the drones here … the same as we do in Pakistan and Afghanistan?”

Walid spent hours Wednesday watching the Republican senator’s filibuster on the Senate floor, which delayed a vote to confirm John Brennan as CIA director as his continuous talking pushed into its 12th hour.

President Barack Obama’s choice of Brennan, 57, to head the Central Intelligence Agency has become entangled in growing tensions between Congress and the administration over its use of unmanned, armed drones to attack suspected members and allies of al-Qaeda. Brennan oversees the drone program as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.