Michigan Case Adds U.S. Dimension to Debate on Genital Mutilation

NYT Op ED:

The arrest of 3 doctors in Michigan for performing female genital mutilation prompted Tasneem Raja, 34, a journalist, to write about being cut in New Jersey. She said she had received “an outpouring of emails from people saying thank you.”

“This Michigan case made me think I want to speak out,” said Nazia Mirza, 34, who was cut at age 6 in her hometown, Houston. “To me it’s very much like a rape survivor. If you don’t say anything, then how are you going to expose it and bring awareness?”

But Ms. Raja said the case was exposing a spectrum of feelings. Even among Bohra women who oppose cutting, she said, views range from “women who say this has greatly impacted their sex life and their ability to enjoy sex, to people like me who walked away with lifelong emotional trauma, to people who say, ‘I don’t see what the big deal is.’”

Aziz Ansari: Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family

Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense.
Xenophobic rhetoric was central to Mr. Trump’s campaign long before the attack in Orlando. This is a guy who kicked off his presidential run by calling Mexicans “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” to this country. Numerous times, he has said that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering in the streets on Sept. 11, 2001. This has been continually disproved, but hestands by it. I don’t know what every Muslim American was doing that day, but I can tell you what my family was doing. I was studying at N.Y.U., and I lived near the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit, I was on the phone with my mother, who called to tell me to leave my dorm building.

Bloomberg: “Muslim Groups Seek To Revive New York Police Surveillance Suit”

Sophia Pearson for Bloomberg: “Muslim groups seeking to revive a lawsuit over a New York City Police Department surveillance program of mosques and businesses faced tough questions from appeals judges about terrorism and skepticism from an attorney for the city about the program’s very existence.

Several Muslims sued New York in June 2012 in Newark, New Jersey, federal court claiming police singled them out for their religious beliefs. The plaintiffs included a U.S. soldier and a teacher at a Muslim school for girls. Both said their career prospects would be hindered as a result of the spying.”

Civil rights groups appeal ruling allowing NYPD to spy on Muslims

March 21, 2014

 

(RNS) Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights on Friday (March 21) appealed a federal judge’s ruling that affirmed the right of the New York City Police Department to spy on Muslims based on their faith and ethnicity.

Last month, Newark U.S. District Judge William Martini rejected charges of illegal spying, stating that any harm suffered by the plaintiffs was not because of the spying program but because of news reports that revealed the secret program in 2011.

The appeal was filed with the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

“The message of the decision is that it’s OK to spy on Muslim Americans,” said lead plaintiff Syed Farhaj Hassan who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2001 and served in Iraq in 2003. “It’s a slap in the face to American Muslims who have served this country, served their community, and served their families by being peaceful citizens here.”

The two legal organizations argue the NYPD violated the constitutional rights of their clients based on their religion, and caused them harm. They allege fear of being spied on discouraged Muslims from attending mosque or speaking in public, and scared them from making charitable contributions to Muslim charities.

The lawsuit does not seek money for the plaintiffs, but asks the court to stop NYPD spying in New Jersey. The suit also asks the court to order the NYPD to expunge all records of the plaintiffs collected through the spying program.

Lawyers said internal NYPD documents included a list of 28 “ancestries of interest” and other policies showing that officers based their spying on the ethnic and religious background of their targets.

Since 2002, the NYPD has spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two Muslim elementary schools, and two Muslim Student Associations on college campuses in New Jersey, lawyers said. Forms of monitoring include video surveillance, photographing and community mapping.

The lawsuit is the first of three challenging the NYPD program.

 

RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/03/21/civil-rights-groups-appeal-ruling-allowing-nypd-spy-muslims/

Marvel Comics introduces 16-year-old Muslim girl as new superhero

November 6, 2013

 

Comic-book connoisseurs will recognise the name Ms Marvel as the superhero alter ego of a blonde, blue-eyed and busty former US Air Force Major named Carol Danvers. But following her removal from the role by Marvel Comics last year, a more progressive successor has been found: Kamala Khan is the 16-year-old Muslim daughter of Pakistani immigrants from Jersey City, New Jersey.

The character of Khan will star in a new Ms Marvel series starting in February, making her one of few female Muslim comic-book characters, let alone series protagonists. Her introduction indicates Marvel has an eye on contemporary cultural relevance, even as the company maintains its A-list roster of white, male superheroes such as Spider-Man, Iron Man and Captain America.

The teenager’s creators say she will be forced to deal not only with her developing superpowers and the day-to-day struggles of adolescence, but also with the strict demands placed on her by her family. Marvel editor Sana Amanat told The New York Times, “Her brother is extremely conservative. Her mom is paranoid that she’s going to touch a boy and get pregnant. Her father wants her to concentrate on her studies and become a doctor.”

Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso emphasised that Khan’s religion is just one facet of her character, and that she has much in common with Marvel’s existing protagonists, not least Spider-Man. “Kamala is not unlike Peter Parker,” Mr Alonso told the Associated Press. “She’s a 16-year-old girl from the suburbs who is trying to figure out who she is and trying to forge an identity when she suddenly bestows great power and learns the great responsibility that comes with it.”

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/marvel-comics-introduces-16yearold-muslim-girl-as-new-superhero-8924509.html

 

Good News: NJ Banks Remove Posters Banning Hijab

(SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ, 10/4/2013) — Following intervention by the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), Century Savings Bank officials say they have removed posters announcing a policy banning “hats, hoods, headgear, and sunglasses” for security purposes.

The posters had an image of a woman wearing hijab (head scarf), along with images of a woman in sunglasses, a man in a hard-hat, and a man wearing a cap.

Yesterday, CAIR-NJ asked the bank to review that “inappropriate and discriminatory” policy that would impact Muslim women wearing scarves, observant Sikh and Jewish men who wear turbans and yarmulkes respectively, and would logically be applied to Orthodox Jewish women who often wear wigs for religious reasons or Catholic nuns who wear habits.

“We thank Century Savings Bank for taking prompt action to avoid the appearance that they discriminate against those who wear certain attire for religious reasons,” said CAIR New Jersey Civil Rights Director Khurrum Ali

Ali said CAIR-NJ will work with bank officials to craft a policy that ensures both security and religious freedom.

Who should regulate kosher and halal food?

Food and religion–A meaty question?

KEEPING the government’s nose out of anything with a religious whiff is one of America’s founding principles. With this in mind on January 31st a federal district judge in Minnesota dismissed a lawsuit contending that Hebrew National, a big American meat-products brand, fraudulently labelled its hot dogs “100% kosher”. Critics had claimed that the meat used did not meet kosher requirements. The judge, however, ruled that since kosher is a standard “intrinsically religious in nature”, under the first amendment it was none of the court’s business. Triangle K, the certifying body that gave the wieners the kosher seal of approval, and its Orthodox rabbis, would have to rebut the critics themselves. Unhappy customers could always shop elsewhere.

Few Western countries have laws explicitly regulating kosher or halal products—chiefly meat produced by the ritual slaughter of animals, subject to particular standards of health or hygiene. Governments prefer to rely on private companies and market forces to do the job.

America has been battling with this issue for decades. Of its 50 states, 22 have introduced kosher-fraud laws over the past century. Anxious about the industry’s rampant corruption (half of all “kosher” food was not), price-fixing and bitter rivalries (including drive-by shootings in poultry markets), New York started the trend in 1915 with a bill saying that food labelled fit for Jews must comply with “orthodox Hebrew religious requirements”. But in the past 20 years courts in Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York have deemed such laws unconstitutional. New Jersey firms must merely produce documentary proof that their products are kosher.

Still, Jews are more united than Muslims about the exact nature of their religion’s dietary rules. Jewish law leaves no doubt that stunning animals before slaughter is prohibited. Muslims disagree about that. Hundreds of halal-certification bodies operate, with varying standards and logos. They differ in their methods of slaughter.

The importance of the halal label spreads well beyond food. Many of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims want reassurances that medicines and make-up, for example, are free from animal products or alcohol. Websites are abuzz with the news of a halal nail varnish produced in Poland. Just don’t test it on animals.

NYPD Muslim Spying Lawsuit Moves Forward and Media is Blamed

NEW YORK — “I’m laughing. I’m laughing on the phone right now,” said Syed Farhaj Hassan. “That’s hysterical.”

That’s how Hassan reacted when he heard that the New York City Police Department blames the press for exposing its Muslim surveillance program — and not its own cops for running it.

Hassan is the lead plaintiff in an ongoing lawsuit by the non-profit group Muslim Advocates over the NYPD’s extension of its spying program into New Jersey. The group dropped its latest filing in the case on Friday.

For Hassan, a 36-year-old resident of central New Jersey, the case is far more serious than the NYPD’s legal arguments. It gets to the heart of why he joined the Army months before 9/11 and served his country in the Iraq War.

“I have always been patriotic,” he said. “I have always loved being an American and I knew from a very long time ago that we … were afforded a lot of rights and responsibilities.” But the rights part of that equation was put in jeopardy, he said, when he found out about the NYPD’s extensive post-9/11 program of surveillance of Muslim sites and neighborhoods from Queens to Newark.

In August 2011, the Associated Press began publishing a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of reports on the NYPD’s surveillance practices. The AP revealed the department had sent its officers across state lines to surveil mosques, businesses and even a girls’ school frequented by Muslims. When Hassan learned that the Masjid-e-Ali, a mosque in Somerset, N.J., that he regularly attended, was under the NYPD’s gaze, he stopped going.

In December, the NYPD moved to dismiss the lawsuit, saying it had done nothing wrong. Some legal experts have opined that Hassan and Muslim Advocates face an uphill battle in winning their case. As the NYPD pointed out in its filing, courts have ruled in the past that surveillance by itself, as long as there is no discriminatory intent, is constitutional.

New Jerseyans, including Republican Gov. Chris Christie, were angered to find out that the NYPD had been crossing state lines to conduct its surveillance. So far, no corresponding lawsuit has been filed in New York City against the NYPD for its surveillance activities, but Katon noted a special, long-running legal framework for the NYPD called the Handschu decree complicates making a case in New York.

Hassan says his participation in the lawsuit isn’t motivated by territorial pride — or even solely by his religion.

“This is for everybody, this isn’t just for Muslim Americans. This is for all Americans,” he said. “This is just another way of my personal little bit to defend the Constitution.”

NYPD asks federal court to dismiss lawsuit filed by New Jersey Muslims to halt spying program

NEWARK, N.J. — Lawyers for New York City on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by New Jersey Muslims over its police-run surveillance program.

The lawsuit doesn’t prove its claims that the New York Police Department’s intelligence-gathering activities were unconstitutional, that they harmed the plaintiffs or that they focused on people based on religion, national origin or race, a city attorney wrote in a filing released Friday.

The plaintiffs, which include Muslim individuals and organizations, filed the lawsuit in June. It was the first lawsuit to directly challenge the NYPD’s surveillance programs that targeted entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling the daily life of where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut.

The surveillance was the subject of series of stories by The Associated Press that revealed the NYPD intelligence division infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds of people.

The city’s request for dismissal repeatedly refers to the AP’s stories and documents it published. The city argued that if the plaintiffs suffered any adverse consequences from publicity about their names, businesses or places of worship, it was the AP’s act of publishing confidential materials that caused them harm.

NJ’s attorney general visits mosque as part of outreach after NYPD surveillance flap

NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa quietly visited a Newark mosque Friday that had been listed in a secret report by the New York Police Department, and he reassured worshippers that New Jersey officials do not believe certain groups of citizens have lesser rights than others.

Chiesa attended prayer services at Masjid Ibrahim, a modest, single-story mosque set up inside a ramshackle former commercial space in Newark. The mosque was among several in the report by the NYPD, which conducted surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey and elsewhere.

“It is not tolerable here in New Jersey for us to have people treated differently in this state — period,” Chiesa said.

The attorney general’s visit was part of an ongoing effort by his office to repair relations between Muslims and New Jersey law enforcement after The Associated Press uncovered the NYPD spying. The NYPD has said its actions were legal and it has the right to travel to other cities in carrying out its duties.

Chiesa has said that New York police now meet regularly with New Jersey law enforcement to discuss counterterrorism intelligence and operations. He has also issued a directive requiring New Jersey law enforcement agencies to notify the New Jersey State Police Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness if they hear of outside departments working in New Jersey. Assemblyman Charles Mainor also has introduced legislation that would give such guidelines the weight of law.