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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

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September 19, 2014

American Muslims 13 years after 9/11

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The seven-million strong Muslim American community remain under pressure, 13 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Alarmingly, mainstream American opinion of Muslims is getting worse. According to the July survey of Arab American Institute (AAI) there has been a continued erosion in the favorable ratings Americans have of both Arabs and Muslims. For example, in 2010 favorable ratings for Arabs were 43 percent. They have now declined to 32 percent. For Muslims, the ratings dropped from 36 percent in 2010, to 27 percent in the 2014 survey.

Not surprisingly, a direct consequence of this disturbing downward slide can be seen in the substantial number of Americans (42 percent) who say that they support the use of profiling by law enforcement against Arab Americans and American Muslims and a growing percentage of Americans who say that they lack confidence in the ability of individuals from either community to perform their duties as Americans should they be appointed to important government positions. Thirty-six percent of respondents felt that the decisions made by Arab Americans would be influenced by their ethnicity, while 42 percent of respondents felt that American Muslims would be negatively influenced by their religion.

To borrow Paul Craig Roberts, in the post-9/11 era "a new generation of Americans has been born into distain and distrust of Muslims."

What is the impact of this negative perception? Hate crimes and harassment. Just two examples of this year. In March, Hassan Alawsi, was shot dead in Parking lot in Sacramento CA. Detectives were quoted as saying that his alleged killer, Jeffrey Caylor, did not know Alawsi, 46. But they believe he had a “severe hatred” of people of Middle Eastern descent. In June in New York, a hate-filled taxi passenger smashed a Pakistani cabbie in the face with a skateboard after asking the driver his nationality. The driver suffered a fractured nose and facial cuts. In June also, Amayan Shiha, an Egyptian native who manages a halal food cart in New York, was stabbed 15 times. In an argument before stabbing, the assailant told Shiha "You don't belong to this country. Go back to your country." And earlier this month, Linda Sarsour, a hijab-wearing civil rights activist, was attacked on the streets of New York City by a man who shouted that he wanted to behead her and then chased her into traffic. Thankfully, Linda was not injured and the assailant, a white male, was arrested.

Hate attacks on mosques, harassment of hijab wearing Muslim women and bullying of Muslim students in schools is not uncommon. According to the Muslim Civil Rights Report for 2014, 933 incidents were reported to the four offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in California in 2013. Among other issues, complaints involved: employment discrimination, federal law enforcement questioning, excessive and intrusive travel delays, hate crimes, and school bullying.

A 2013 report identifies a network of 37 organizations that systematically promote anti-Muslim sentiment in America through prejudice, fear and hatred. According to tax filings, this network had access to nearly $120 million between 2008 and 2011. The report’s title, “Legislating Fear,” comes in part from the proliferation of so-called anti-Sharia bills in recent years. According to the report, 78 bills with negative implications towards Islamic religious practices were introduced in 29 states between 2011 and 2012. As of 2013, seven states have made these bills into law.

Undisputedly the horrible acts committed by few Muslims, in the name of Islam, have contributed to the anti-Muslim sentiments.  In the last year alone we’ve seen the Boko Haram kidnappings of schoolgirls in Nigeria, and now the so-called Islamic State terrorists are rampaging through Iraq and Syria. The beheading of two Americans by the IS terrorists further fueled the anti-Muslim feelings. 

Blanket surveillance of Muslim community

The Muslim American communities are target of sweeping surveillance. The New York Police Department (NYDP) has conducted widespread surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods in New York and secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations.  This type of classification allows police to spy on members of the Muslim community without any evidence of wrongdoing. In the years following 9/11, the NYPD's Demographics Unit has infiltrated mosques and student groups, spied on the private lives of Muslims everywhere from their place of business to their homes, and systematically trampled their civil liberties – without any evidence of wrongdoing.

In February this year, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit challenging the New York City Police Department’s broad surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) case, Hassan v. City of New York, was brought on behalf of a broad group of American Muslims from a variety of backgrounds – including a decorated Iraq war veteran and the former principal of a grade school for Muslim girls – who have been subjected to invasive NYPD spying. The City had argued that the events of 9/11 justified broad surveillance of any and all New Jersey Muslims, without any indication of wrongdoing.  Hassan is the first direct legal challenge to the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey.

In April, the New York Police Department disbanded the unit that mapped New York’s Muslim communities, their places of worship, and businesses they frequent – based on nothing but their religious beliefs and associations. According to the ACLU, the end of the Zone Assessment Unit – better known by its former, more apt name, the Demographics Unit – doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the NYPD’s unconstitutional surveillance of New York’s Muslims. The NYPD’s discriminatory spying program has many components, of which the Demographics Unit was just one. Other abusive tactics employed by the NYPD need scrapping include: use of informants, designation of entire mosques as terrorism enterprises, discriminatory use of surveillance cameras outside mosques and community events and the so-called “radicalization” theory, on which discriminatory surveillance is based.

The NSA spying of leading American Muslims

In July the American Muslim community was alarmed at the revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) covertly spied on leading American Muslims, including lawyers, and civil rights activists. In Glenn Greenwald’s article published in The Intercept, it was revealed that thousands of community leaders, organizations, and activists were targeted by the NSA. Greenwald details the NSA’s activities in targeting Arab and Muslim Americans, along with respective community organizations, and civil rights groups solely due to political beliefs or religious affiliation. According to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, the list of Americans monitored by their own government includes:

(1) Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights organization in the country. (2) Dr. Agha Saeed, a former political science professor at California State University who champions Muslim civil liberties and Palestinian rights; (3) Faisal Gill, a longtime Republican Party operative and one-time candidate for public office who held a top-secret security clearance and served in the Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush; (4)  Asim Ghafoor, a prominent attorney who has represented clients in terrorism-related cases; (5) Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi, an Iranian-American professor of international relations at Rutgers University. These individuals appear on an NSA spreadsheet in the Snowden archives called “FISA recap”—short for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The spreadsheet shows 7,485 email addresses listed as monitored between 2002 and 2008.

Muslims coerced to become informants

There are reports that American Muslims are sometimes are coerced to become informers for the security agencies.

In April last, four Muslim-American men filed a lawsuit against the FBI, charging that the bureau placed them on the “no-fly list” in retaliation for their refusal to inform on their communities and then denied them the chance to clear their names. “I do not want to become an informant, but the government says I must in order to be taken off the no-fly list,” said Awais Sajjad, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “How can the government tell me that the only way I can see my family again is if I turn my back on my community?” The men say they believe that the FBI used the no-fly list in attempt to coerce and intimidate them into being spies for the bureau. Some were told that infiltration could get their names wiped from the list, while others were threatened with being placed on the list if they resisted recruitment. “Plaintiffs are among the many innocent people who find themselves swept up in the United States government’s secretive watch list dragnet,” reads the complaint. “Plaintiffs declined to act as informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and to spy on their own American Muslim communities and other innocent people.” Being placed on the no-fly list had severe repercussions in all of their lives, including loss of jobs, stigma, and being cut off from family members and loved ones.

How difficult it is to remove your name from the no-fly list?  The case of a Malaysian professor on a student visa is a vivid example:

Malaysian college professor Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, was removed from the no-fly list after seven years court battle. Dr. Ibrahim sued the government back in 2006, after her name mistakenly ended up on a federal government no-fly list. In February, US District Judge William Alsup ruled that she must be removed from the government's various watch lists. In March, a Department of Justice lawyer told the court that the government did not intend to appeal the ruling.

Dr. Ibrahim's case marks the first and only successful challenge to the terrorist watch-listing program, which arose following the 9/11 attacks. But her case, as just one of hundreds of thousands of individuals who have been placed on such lists, shows the system's opacity.

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