Catholic bishops: Don’t let Boston attacks derail immigration reform

(RNS) Leading U.S. Catholic bishops on Monday (April 22) denounced efforts to use the Boston Marathon bombings to derail the push for immigration reform, saying it is wrong to brand all immigrants as dangerous and that a revamped system would in fact make Americans safer.

“Opponents of immigration … will seize on anything, and when you’ve got something as vivid and as recent as the tragedy in Boston it puts another arrow in their quiver,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters.

“To label a whole group of people – namely, the vast population of hard-working, reliable, virtuous immigrants – to label them, to demean them because of the vicious, tragic actions of two people is just ridiculous,” he said. “Illogical. Unfair. Unjust.”

Dolan was joined on the conference call by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, both top spokesmen for the bishops on migration, in pushing for passage of a landmark immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate last week.

In the wake of the April 15 attacks and the identification of two young men of Chechen origin as the suspects, some conservative politicians have argued that immigration reform should be put on the shelf.

Immigration reform advocates counter that having a better, more comprehensive system would have enabled authorities to maintain better records on immigrants like Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed after a shootout with police, and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who remains hospitalized.

That history of religious bias is also why the bishops are especially sensitive to efforts to brand all Muslims as suspect.

“They are going through now what we did in the 1840s and 1850s,” said Dolan, a student of church history. “Whenever a group is painted with a wide brush we begin to bristle.”

Family of California man linked to anti-Muslim film goes into hiding

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Family members of a California man linked to an anti-Islam film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world went into hiding on Monday, with sheriff’s deputies escorting them from their home to an undisclosed location, authorities said.

The family of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, was accompanied from their two-story stucco house in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos before dawn on Monday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

“They are gone,” Whitmore said, adding that deputies gave the family a ride to an undisclosed location to meet Nakoula, who left the home voluntarily on Saturday to be interviewed by federal authorities and has not returned.

Whitmore said he did not know where Nakoula and his family were headed but they were not expected to return to the home in Cerritos, which has been besieged by the media for nearly a week.

Bishops blast Coptic Christians behind anti-Muslim film

(RNS) Coptic Christian leaders in the United States distanced themselves from an anti-Muslim film that has sparked protests in more than 20 countries, and denounced the Copts who reportedly produced and promoted the film.

“We reject any allegation that the Coptic Orthodox community has contributed to the production of this film,” the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of America said in statement on Friday (Sept. 14). “Indeed, the producers of this film have taken these unwise and offensive actions independently and should be held responsible for their own actions.”

Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Morris Sadek – all Coptic Christians who live in the U.S. – have emerged as the producers and promoters of the anti-Muslim film. Called “Innocence of Muslims,” the crude film depicts Islam’s Prophet Muhammad as a bumbling sexual pervert.

There are about 300,000 Copts in the United States, most of whom live in California and the Northeast. Copts in Egypt, where the faith was born, regularly face discrimination and violence at the hands of the Muslim majority, according to the State Department.

Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii said he “strongly rejects dragging the respectable Copts of the Diaspora” into the controversy.

Islamic Poultry for Latino Tables (Yes, They Have Chilies, Too)

LOS ANGELES — Sebastian Flores walked out of Al Salam Pollería with a free bag of white-feathered chicken heads.

Mr. Flores, 26, an immigrant and a regular customer of Al Salam, a Muslim, family-owned halal poultry shop, was driving home when he developed a craving for the treat. He was planning on sprinkling the chicken heads with poultry seasoning and roasting them in the oven, the way they did back home in Puebla, Mexico.

Customers like Mr. Flores are the lifeblood of Al Salam Pollería, a thriving shop that opened 28 years ago “by accident,” according to its founders. Abdul Elhawary and his brother-in-law, Safwat Elrabat, who died 12 years ago, opened the shop in East Los Angeles because the zoning there allowed the sale and on-site slaughter of live poultry, in accordance with their religion’s dietary requirements.

Animals must be killed according to Islamic law for their meat to be halal, a practice followed at the store only when a customer requests halal meat.

“Around 1989, when we found out that 90 percent of the customers are Latino and we only had 10 percent that are non-Latino, we changed the name in the business cards to Al Salam Pollería,” Mr. Elhawary said. Originally, it had been Al Salam Farms; “salaam” means peace in Arabic and “pollería” is poultry shop in Spanish.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Latinos and Muslims had many things in common.

Adrian Pantoja, a professor of politics and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., said the family showcased the ways some of the city’s ethnic entrepreneurs had learned to adapt.

Mr. Flores, the customer with his bag of chicken heads, said he was a regular patron, and not just because of the quality of the food.

“Here they treat you well and they speak Spanish,” Mr. Flores said. “It’s good that they are willing to learn from another culture.”

LAPD gets new guidelines for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’

The L.A. Police Commission has approved rules for handling ‘Suspicious Activity Reports’ that offer some safeguards against racial profiling and reporting of activity protected by the 1st Amendment.

 

In Los Angeles, as elsewhere in this country, fear of enemies in our midst — be they Communists, trade unionists or foreign terrorists — too often has led to violations of the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Given that history, civil libertarians and members of the Muslim community were right to press the Los Angeles Police Department to ensure that a program designed to detect possible terrorist activity doesn’t cast suspicion on individuals whose only “offense” is to exercise their right to free speech or belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.

 

The result is an amended set of guidelines approved by the city Police Commission for the handling of “Suspicious Activity Reports.” Though the new guidelines don’t go as far as the American Civil Liberties Union would like, they make it less likely that police will record the identities of persons whose conduct is neither criminal nor reasonably suggestive of possible terrorist connections. That’s an important step forward.

 

So-called SARs are controversial because they are not limited to criminal activity; they can also be filed if a person behaves in a manner that, while legal, may be suspicious — such as abandoning luggage in a railway station or taking photographs of a power plant.

 

The new policy reaffirms that racial profiling has no place in documenting suspicious activity, provides for regular audits of the SARs program and proposes a community advisory board to help ensure against abuse. The policy advises officers against reporting activity generally protected by the 1st Amendment “unless additional facts and circumstances can be clearly articulated that support an officer’s or agency’s determination that the behavior observed is reasonably indicative of criminal activity associated with terrorism or other criminal activity.”

Creator of new Muslim ‘Green Lantern’ super hero, brings some of his past to the comic page

DETROIT — When DC Comics decided to blow up its fabled universe and create a brave, diverse future, Geoff Johns drew from the past for a new character: his own background as an Arab-American.

The company’s chief creative officer and writer of the relaunched “Green Lantern” series dreamed up Simon Baz, DC’s most prominent Arab-American superhero and the first to wear a Green Lantern ring. The character and creator share Lebanese ancestry and hail from the Detroit area, which boasts one of the largest and oldest Arab communities in the United States.

“I thought a lot about it — I thought back to what was familiar to me,” Johns, 39, told The Associated Press by phone last week from Los Angeles, where he now lives. “This is such a personal story.”

Baz is not the first Arab or Muslim character to grace — or menace, as has historically been the case — the comic world. Marvel Comics has Dust, a young Afghan woman whose mutant ability to manipulate sand and dust has been part of the popular X-Men books. DC Comics in late 2010 introduced Nightrunner, a young Muslim hero of Algerian descent reared in Paris. He is part of the global network of crime fighters set up by Batman alter-ego Bruce Wayne.

Muslim American summer camp blends faith and fun

Camp Izza in Pasadena and Irvine aims to help Muslim children take pride in their culture and faith. The summer includes prayers and Koran recitation as well as water balloons and scavenger hunts.

 

Camp Izza, believed to be the only Muslim summer camp in the U.S. that is accredited by the American Camp Assn. Located on school campuses in Irvine and Pasadena, Camp Izza is run by husband and wife Omar and Munira Ezzeldine as a means of instilling izza — the Arabic word for “pride” — in Muslim youths.

“We want the kids to be proud of who they are as Muslims,” said Omar Ezzeldine, 36, who was born in Los Angeles to Egyptian parents.  The children at Camp Izza face a challenge their parents did not: establishing their identities in a culture where anti-Islamic rhetoric can be found in political campaigns, cable news punditry and Hollywood films.

“It’s important for [my son] to be somewhere where a positive attitude toward his faith is reinforced,” said Samar Ghannoum, 46, who sent her 8-year-old Kareem to the camp this summer. “He is the future, in a lot of ways. He is American and Muslim.”

And it’s likely that the Camp Izza model will be duplicated because the U.S. Muslim population is growing at a relatively fast pace.

An Independent Monitor for the Police Is Proposed

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency have inspectors general who function as independent monitors. So do the police departments of major cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as the nation’s capital. Even most New York City agencies, like the Education Department and the Housing Authority, have similar monitors.

But not the New York Police Department.

About two dozen members of the City Council planned to introduce a bill on Wednesday that would create an office of the inspector general to monitor the police and “conduct independent reviews of the department’s policies, practices, programs and operations.”

The council members said that there has never been a more opportune time to increase oversight over so powerful an agency, especially in light of the department’s stop-and-frisk policy, surveillance of Muslim groups, questions over allegedly manipulated arrest data and other recent controversies involving the police.

“This kind of independent oversight can act as an early-warning system for a very large agency,” said Richard M. Aborn, president of the Citizens Crime Commission, which has worked closely with council members on the legislation.

Brown Appoints California’s First Muslim Superior Court Judge

Halim Dhanidina, who spent 14 years as a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, was appointed to a California Superior Court judgeship May 18 by Governor Jerry Brown.

Dhanidina, a founding member of the Association of South Asian Prosecutors, will be the first Muslim American on a California bench, said Brown, announcing the appointments of 17 judges. Dhanidina will take up his new role June 20, although he has not yet been assigned to a court.

“I hope that my appointment serves as an example to others in the Muslim American community, particularly the youth, that our faith and identity need not be an obstacle to our full participation in California’s civic institutions,” Dhanidina told India-West. “Similarly, I hope to perform my new responsibilities in a way that demonstrates to society at large that Muslim Americans can serve the community in the pursuit of justice with dignity and honor,” he said.

The Chicago-born, Evanston, Ill.,-raised Dhanidina, whose Gujarati parents Lutaf and Mali emigrated from Tanzania to the U.S., in 1960, said that his 14 years as a deputy district attorney and being in court nearly every day have made him intimately familiar with how a courtroom works, including the rules that govern a trial.

The Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council said it had advocated for Dhanidina’s appointment for more than a year. “Dhanidina’s appointment is an important step in ensuring that California’s leaders accurately reflect the communities present in our great state,” said Aziza Hasan, MPAC’s Southern California Government Relations director, in a press statement.

Dhanidina earned his law degree at UCLA, where he served as the co-chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Law Students Association. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Pomona College, where he founded the first Muslim Students’ Association, and currently sits on the Board of Governors of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association Los Angeles.

LAPD to alter policy on data possibly related to terrorism

Reports on suspicious activity determined to be harmless will be deleted. They had been stored in a database for a year, sparking fears that the information could wind up with the federal government.

In the face of privacy concerns, the Los Angeles Police Department has agreed to change the way it collects information on suspicious activity possibly related to terrorism.

The department, after coming under fire from civil liberties and community groups, will no longer hold on to so-called suspicious activity reports that the LAPD’s counter-terrorism unit determines are about harmless incidents.

Until now, the department stored the innocuous reports in a database for a year. That gave rise to worries among critics of the reporting program that personal information about people who had done nothing wrong could be entered inappropriately into the federal government’s vast network of counter-terrorism databases and watch lists.