Thursday, January 27, 2011

CAMU Director Speaks to Prominent Attorneys Regarding Islamophobia and Protecting Civil Rights

Muhammad Shareef
CAMU Director, Hassan Shibly was invited to speak today with the Human Rights Committee of a major Bar Association regarding challenges faced by American Muslims. The meeting was attended by several prominent attorneys.

Shibly explained that there is a concerning growth of Islamophobia in the US. He noted that such Islamophobia was primarily the result of ignorance and misunderstanding, which has created a political climate where bigoted remarks, discrimination, harassment, and even violence is sometimes tolerated against religious minorities in the US. He went on to say that such bigotry is contrary to American values.

Shibly gave examples of recent violent attacks against American Muslim places of worship and noted that unfortunately, public figures are able to get away with saying bigoted inflammatory remarks against Islam and Muslims, and that such remarks would not be tolerated had they been made against any other minority group.

The committee expressed deep concern for the growth of Islamophobia. Shibly explained that the best way to counter the roots of Islamophobia and prevent discrimination, harassment, and violence is through education and dialog. He noted that Islamophobia tends to result from two misconceptions:

  1. That most Muslims are terrorists.
  2. That most terrorists are Muslims.
However, Shibly pointed out that it is easy to dispel those two myths by pointing out US Department of State, FBI, and Gallop Pole studies which statistically prove that:
  1. The percentage of Muslims that say it may be justified to kill of civilians is actually smaller than the percentage of Americans of other/no faiths that say it may be justified to kill civilians. The overwhelming majority of Muslims who condemn the killing of civilians explained that to harm civilians is unacceptable according to the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). The extremely small percentage who said it may be justified to target civilians during conflict did not use religion to justify their views, but political grievances. 
  2. The overwhelming majority of terrorists worldwide and in the US are secular and not religious. Only a small minority of terrorists are religiously affiliated, and only a small minority of that minority are Muslim.
However, Shibly went on to further explain that presenting the true peaceful message of Islam to the public is sometimes made difficult by Islamophobes who purposely twist and distort the words of mainstream Muslim speakers in order to further their own agenda at the expense of the American public. The following is a quote Shibly has said on previous occasions:
The problem is, when we say the truth which is backed by academic research- that the Quran forbids the taking of innocent life and a true Muslim [who practices the teachings of Islam] would by definition never take an innocent life- then the Islamophobes claim we said that "9/11 was not committed by Muslims," which is not what we said at all!
When we say that according to US government studies, terrorist attacks are not motivated by faith but by political reasons, and are nonetheless never justifiable, the Islamophobes distort our words and claim we said "9/11 was rightly justified due to political grievances." So no matter how much we explain the teachings of Islam and condemn violence and terrorism, nothing we say will satisfy the extreme Islamophobes: They will twist our words to make it appear that we support acts we clearly condemn. And if they cannot do that, then they say we are dangerous because we deceive the American people by making Muslims appear peaceful. Although they have no academic evidence whatsoever to support the notion that Muslims are more supportive of violence than other groups, on the contrary- they ignore the glut of mainstream data that proves otherwise! For such Islamophobes, the only statement that will please them is that Islam is inherently evil and its millions of American adherents must be placed in internment camps!  However the good news is that the majority of Americans we interact with are goodhearted and open minded and are quick to point out that the claims made against us by professional Islamophobes are completely baseless and are filled with nothing but hate and prejudice and only serve to divide our communities.

During the Human Rights Committee meeting, Shibly went on to note that while much progress is being made to counter Islamophobia through education and dialog, Islamophobia has led to a climate where the FBI has harassed innocent law abiding Muslim American US Citizens.

This harassment has included threats with filing false charges, extortion, and entrapment. Such FBI tactics have broken down what was once a healthy relationship between the American Muslim Community and law enforcement and has also hurt local economies and communities by causing  Muslim leaders, business owners, and students to leave the US to more religiously tolerant countries.

Shibly noted that it is important for all communities to have a healthy relationship with law enforcement but that tactics such as entrapment or threats to file false charges, do more to hurt American interests then benefit, by alienating important allies in the fight against extremism.

Some lawyers have expressed deep concern that some of the FBI tactics appear to be motivated by blatant racism and the desire for agents to seek fame and promotion and seemed to be aiming at setting up innocent individuals.

Shibly noted that some of the FBI tactics have resulted in questionable civil rights violations and un-Americana practices. He explained that the civil rights violations are possible when:

  1. Muslim Americans are not fully aware of their rights.
  2. FBI agents think no one is aware of their questionable tactics.
Thus, Shibly proposed that the solution is:
  1. To educate Muslim Americans regarding their rights and how to deal with law enforcement.
  2. To establish strong ties between the legal and American Muslim community.
  3. To make law enforcement aware that the legal community is keeping watch over their actions and is ready to take legal action to uphold the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Shibly noted the good news that incidents of harassment and civil rights violations have gone down as the community has become more aware of their fundamental American rights.

The meeting served as an important step in establishing a healthy relationship between the Muslim and legal community and as a step to forming a committee which will collect information regarding civil rights violations, advicse on courses of actions to protect American liberties, and take legal action when necessary.

The Muslim community thanks the legal community for its continued efforts to protect the rights and liberties we hold dear as Americans and that make this nation so cherished.

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