NY Op Ed: Judging Rolling Stone by Its Cover

Maybe the hysteria about Rolling Stone’s August issue is heat-wave induced. That’s the only charitable explanation for the stampede of critics who have been accusing Rolling Stone editors of trying to turn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the man accused of the Boston Marathon bombing, into a rock star merely by putting him on the issue’s cover. (Never mind the word “monster” right there in big type.)

The drumbeat became so feverish that Walgreens, CVS and a few other stores have refused to sell the magazine. The mayor of Boston hyperventilated that it “rewards a terrorist with celebrity treatment.”

 

Stores have a right to refuse to sell products because, say, they are unhealthy, like cigarettes (which Walgreens and CVS, oops, both sell). Consumers have every right to avoid buying a magazine that offends them, like Guns & Ammo or Rolling Stone.

 

But singling out one magazine issue for shunning is over the top, especially since the photo has already appeared in a lot of prominent places, including the front page of this newspaper, without an outcry. As any seasoned reader should know, magazine covers are not endorsements.

NY Times Op Ed: More Overreach by the N.Y.P.D.

The revelation in 2011 that the New York City Police Department was spying on law-abiding Muslims rightly attracted scrutiny from the Justice Department, which announced last year that it intended to review the program. The disclosure also raised troubling questions about whether the city was violating a federal court order that bars it from retaining information gleaned from investigations of political activity unless there are reasonable indications of potential wrongdoing. The purpose of that order was to discourage unjustified surveillance and prevent police from peering into people’s private affairs and building dossiers on them without legitimate cause.

Now comes a new federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Muslim citizens and organizations saying they have been subjected to illegal surveillance that has disrupted Muslim houses of worship, made it difficult for congregants and their spiritual leaders to worship freely, and inhibited Muslims from openly associating with lawful Muslim charities and civic groups and exercising First Amendment rights.

One striking case in the complaint involves Masjid At-Taqwa, a mosque in Brooklyn, where the Police Department is alleged to have installed a surveillance camera, clearly marked with the department’s insignia and pointed at the mosque door. This seems curious because the mosque’s longtime leader, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, was said in the complaint to be a clergy liaison for the N.Y.P.D. Community Affairs Bureau and a member of the Majlis Ash-Shura, also known as the Islamic Leadership Council of Metropolitan New York.

 

What Islam Says, and Doesn’t Say – Op Ed: Omid Safi

Modern nation states utilize political models that were unanticipated in any of our premodern scriptures. It is anachronistic to ask whether “Islam” endorses constitutionalism or democracy. Islam as such does not proscribe any one particular system of government. (Of course “Islam” doesn’t do anything, Muslims do. We human beings are the agents of our religious traditions.)

Rather, there are general ethical principles that have to be guaranteed under any system of government that Muslims adopt, like social justice; protection of life, property, and honor of humanity; accountability of rulers to law; distribution of wealth; and protection of minorities. All systems of government are imperfect, and it is not only good but also healthy to be perpetually vigilant against abuses of any form of government. However, it may also be the case that a genuine and robust democracy is the least imperfect of all imperfect political models today, as others before us have said.

 

By speaking of a robust democracy, we are not talking about simply copying the American model of democracy, which is in many ways broken — beholden to special interest groups, and perhaps better labeled as an oligarchy or plutocracy. The ideal model that I see for Muslims would be more akin to some of the European models that combine democracy with guaranteed social services like universal health care, widespread education, respect for human rights and minimized military spending.

‘Sikhs are not Muslims’ sends a sinister message

Op-Ed: Such declarations by the news media and others has an insidious subtext: that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim in America.

Almost from the beginning of their coverage of the horrific and deadly shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, CNN and other news media went out of their way to send a message to the American public: “Sikhs are not Muslims.”

But what were we to make of that message? If the temple’s members had been Muslims, would the attack have then been justified?

We say we don’t endorse prejudice against one group or another, but for some reason we also want to make sure people know who the “we” and the “they” really are. CNN would probably say it was simply trying to clear up a common misunderstanding that, in this case, may have been shared by the gunman himself. Fair enough. The assertion that Sikhs are not Muslims is certainly true. Jains are not Hindus, and Mormons are not Methodists either.

WHO THEY WERE: Sikh temple shooting victims

But in the post-9/11context of a deadly act committed by an apparent white supremacist against a congregation that is largely ethnically South Asian — a congregation that includes bearded men in turbans — broadcasting the mantra that “Sikhs are not Muslims” takes on a far more insidious subtext: Don’t blame these people, it implies, for the unspeakable crimes of 9/11. It’s Muslims you want.

The media aren’t alone in conveying, however unintentionally, this sinister message. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he responded to the inaccurate but surprisingly persistent assertion that he was a Muslim with this statement in a 2008 debate: “The facts are I am Christian. I have been sworn in [as a U.S. senator] with a Bible.”

NY Times Op Ed: Surveillance, Security and Civil Liberties

Taking office not long after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly wisely decided to beef up the Police Department’s counterterrorism program significantly, to help federal law enforcement agencies avert another disaster.

Unfortunately, they did not provide for sufficiently strong supervision of this formidable and far-flung intelligence operation — to check the well-known tendency of all such agencies, operating in secrecy and under murky rules, to abuse their powers. It appears that many thousands of law-abiding Muslim-Americans have paid a real price for that omission. A series of articles by The Associated Press has exposed constitutionally suspect surveillance of Muslims in New York, New Jersey, Long Island and beyond. Unearthed police records noticeably lack any apparent link to suspected criminal activity, or any obvious payoff for public safety.

It is a distressing fact of life that mistreatment of Muslims does not draw nearly the protest that it should. But not just Muslims are threatened by this seemingly excessive warrantless surveillance and record-keeping. Today Muslims are the target. In the past it was protesters against the Vietnam War, civil rights activists, socialists. Tomorrow it will be another vulnerable group whose lawful behavior is blended into criminal activity.

Mr. Bloomberg has reacted in the worst possible way — with disdain — to those raising legitimate questions about the surveillance program. Asking about its legality, and about whether alienating innocent Muslims is a smart or decent strategy, does not translate into being soft on terrorism, or failing to appreciate that it is a dangerous world.

NY Times Op Ed: An All-American Misstep

It is incredibly sad that one person with his own one-man hate group can tap into anti-Muslim sentiment and lead reputable companies to make foolish judgment calls.

At least two advertisers — Lowe’s, the home-improvement retailer, and Kayak.com, the online travel firm — have pulled commercials from “All-American Muslim,” a new reality series on the TLC cable channel, since the show was condemned by David Caton, an anti-Muslim and anti-gay activist, and the shell organization he founded and runs, the Florida Family Association.

Businesses have a perfect right to decide how to spend their advertising dollars. But, in pulling out as they did, Lowe’s and Kayak sent a distasteful message to their customers, their employees, and to the larger public.

“All-American Muslim” tracks the lives of five Muslim-American families in Dearborn, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. Mr. Caton has called on companies to end their sponsorships, arguing that the show is dangerous and misleading “propaganda” because it portrays Muslims as “ordinary folks” just like other law-abiding Americans, not as extremists and terrorists.

Both Lowes and Kayak deny that they were moved to act by Mr. Caton’s campaign, citing instead the show’s controversial nature and, in Kayak’s case, reservations about its quality. “All-American Muslim” may not be the best TV show, but the controversy was manufactured by one man. By appearing to bow to bigotry, the companies earned a self-inflicted black eye.

Op Ed suggests that Canada is a haven for Iran’s elite

Toronto Star – November 21, 2011

This opinion piece by Payam Akhavan, Professor of International Law at McGill University, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, and founder of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Centre  suggests that Canada is the haven of choice for the Islamic Republic’s inner circle.

He says it is ironic that while Ahmadinejad condemns “western imperialism,” his inner circle has quietly established itself in Canada to enjoy ill-gotten fortunes with impunity. A recent example is the former head of Iran’s Melli and Sepah Banks, Mahmoud Reza Khavari, who acquired Canadian citizenship under questionable circumstances and then fled this October to his multi-million-dollar Toronto mansion following a $2.6 billion embezzlement scandal in Iran. Akhavan suggests that their presence may benefit the economy, but is clearly a security threat.

Posing in Playboy as libertion? (Op Ed)

First came Rima Fakih, the first Muslim to win the Miss USA title – and, with her participation in the pageant’s swimsuit competition, to push the public’s perceptions of Muslim women. Then came Sila Sahin, a Turkish German woman living in Germany, who recently posed for a cover of Playboy Magazine. The stereotype of the completely-covered-in-black Muslim woman has once again been challenged –this time with images of no dress at all.

Sahin explained her decision to model for Playboy thus, “I have always abided by what men say. As a result I developed an extreme desire for freedom … I want these photos to show young Turkish women it’s OK for you to live however you choose.”

Sahin’s connection between freedom and posing for a porn magazine is a difficult one to grasp. In leaving behind strict religious interpretations, which can at times be used to wield control over woman’s bodies, Sahin has moved into a more pernicious realm – one where woman are reduced to sexual objects and seen as nothing more than their physical selves. Sexual objectification is not exactly consonant with “freedom.”