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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

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March 10, 2013

Islam and Muslims in the Post-9/11 America

[This paper was read at the book signing held on March 10, 2013 in Fremont, CA.]

By Dr. Abdul Jabbar

Abdus Sattar Ghazali’s Islam and Muslims in the Post-9/11 America is a monumental source book on a topic that is of critical importance not only to Muslims but to all Americans who  care for their civil liberties and constitutional rights. Meticulous attention to facts, painstaking research, and careful documentation make this book a compelling presentation.

The book’s comprehensive coverage of the topic is evident from its table of contents that lists 9 chapters and 6 appendices. The chapters relate to issues of civil rights, Islamophobia, campaign against Muslim charities, Muslims facing inquisition, institutionalized profiling, stereotyping, hate crimes, silencing of Muslim voices, and Muslims’ response to the post-9/11 challenges.

The author has framed the message of his book , using a clear, easily-to-follow, and inviting format. The “Preface” points to the steady “erosion of the fundamental rights and civil liberties, all in the name of national security” in the wake of 9-11 (i). It ends with a compelling analogy: “It will not be too much to say that after the Japanese attack on the Pearl Harbor, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were imprisoned in 10 relocation camps in the United States. But after 9/11, the whole country is converted into a virtual detention camp for the Muslims in America by abridging their civil rights” (ii).

The book proceeds systematically to introduce and discuss each topic with careful attention to historical precedents and root causes and symptoms of America’s post-9/11 syndrome. A brief review cannot do justice to a book of this kind of complexity and depth, but it would be a good start to briefly highlight its main accomplishments.

1. Jaw-dropping, shocking facts and statistics to present the full picture

Among the long list of injustices against Muslims relevant to post-9/11 America, the following stand out:

* Physical attacks not only on Muslims but also on anyone even remotely looking like a Muslim or an Arab occurred with alarming frequency, unleashing a reign of terror that continues unabated to this day.

* Surveillance, wiretapping, and punitive racial profiling of Muslims became a common practice.

* Hate-mongering against Muslims: In July 2005, Colorado Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo called for a nuclear attack on Islam’s holy site in Mecca if there is another terror attack on the U.S., blatantly disregarding the commonsensical fact that the Muslims living in the US had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks (4). Ann Coulter, a right-wing syndicated columnist, went even further in suggesting the US “should invade their [Muslim’s] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity. On July 25, 2005, a Washington, D.C., talk show host repeaed 23 times that “Islam is a terrorist organization.” The problem, he said, “is not extremism. The problem is Islam” (4). Disappointingly to Muslims, in some cases, even of the judicial system failed to defend Muslims’ civil rights : A letter inviting Americans to kill Muslims was published in an Arizona newspaper. Arizona State Supreme Court rejected to intervene, citing the newspaper’s First Amendment right to free speech. The books makes the important point about double standards. In the case of Muslims, hate speech and vicious anti-Muslim propaganda was protected and encouraged under the guise of free speech, whereas such attacks on other religious groups would have been considered unacceptable.

In a high-profile case in Lodi, California, two Imams and a son of one of the Imams were arrested. No charges were filed against them, but they were deported to Pakistan for immigration law violations that would never have received the same scrutiny had the “suspects” not been Muslim.

The 2008 presidential election unleashed a new and particularly vitriolic and damaging form of Muslim bashing in America. The presidential candidate Barack Obama, an avowed Christian was portrayed as a possible Muslim. A picture of Obama wearing a white turban popularized the myth, never mentioning that the picture was taken during the then Senator Obama’s trip to Kenya.  Some Republican politicians, such as Peter King of New York, warned that “if [Obama] is elected president, then the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11”.

In 2010, two more arrows were added to the anti-Muslim campaign quiver: the highly politicized controversy over the 51-Park project known as Ground Zero mosque and the so-called Sharia law threat to America. Even though some prominent leaders, including President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg of New York, supported Muslims’ right to build their place of worship just like any other religious community, the attack on the idea of the Ground Mosque continued unabated. Responding to the perceived Sharia law threat, 13 states started moving toward a legislation that would forbid practice of sharia law as if Islamic law was really going to replace the U.S. constitution. Logic and common sense became notable casualties of this kind of an irrational, hate-propelled mood.

In June 2011, the presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis, and another candidate Herman Cain said that communities have a right to ban mosques. He even went so far as to say that he would not be comfortable having a Muslim member in his administration.

The author sums up this national mood eloquently:

    “As the cottage industry of self-styled national security experts, [many] pundits, Republican operatives, think tanks, and advocacy groups have spent years in fuelling anti-Muslim bigotry . . . . Shockingly, more than $42 million from seven foundations over the past decade have helped fan the flames of anti-Muslim hate in America”.

    As a consequence of this kind of focused and well-financed anti-Muslim propaganda, it is not surprising that a January 2010 Gallup Poll showed that “53% of Americans have unfavorable views of Islam, more than any other religion, and 43% admit to feeling ‘at least a little prejudice’ toward Muslims”.

    To the author’s credit, while chronicling the systematic attacks on Muslims, he does not fail to mention the very few but important positive positions taken by some U.S. leaders. For example, on September 22, 2004, the California Governor Arnold Schwarznegger signed a bill into law that adds  “mosque” to the list of religious institutions protected by California’s laws

2. Inspiring examples of heroic resistance to injustice and fighting back for one’s constitutional rights

A particularly appealing aspect of Ghazali’s book is his chronicling heroic resistance to injustice by some of the victims. These are inspiring examples of fighting back to take back their constitutional rights even in the bleakest of circumstances.   Two examples stand out:

Brandon Mayfield, a Portland, Oregon, Muslim of Caucasian descent, was imprisoned as a suspect in the May 2004 terrorist bombings in Madrid. His possession of a copy of the Qur’an and a map of Spain contributed to the suspicion. However, the Spanish authorities admitted that the fingerprint tests were inconclusive. The FBI then apologized to Mayfield, but not before he had undergone wrongful two weeks in solitary confinement. In November 2006, Mayfield settled his lawsuits against the federal government for $2 million.

The second outstanding example of courageous resistance to injustice is that of Fred Korematsu, a 22-year old Japanese-American, who refused to obey President Roosevelt’s internment executive order, challenging its constitutionality. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled that Korematsu’s constitional rights were not violated by the executive order and found him guilty.  Nearly 41 years after his internment, in 1983, Korematsu appealed his conviction. The U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Patel of San Francisco overturned the conviction”stating that the government’s case at the time had been based on false, misleading, and racially biased information” (30). Before his death in March 2005 at the age of 86, Korematsu had the satisfaction of receiving the Congress apology and witnessing an award of $20,000 to each survivor of internment (30).

In its final chapter titled “The Muslim Response,” the book moves to celebrate Muslim activism, participation in voter registration, involvement in politics evidenced by highest-ever participation in the 2012 presidential election, reaching out to communities of other faiths, aiding the victims of disasters such as Katrina, and contribution generously to social welfare programs to help the needy. The book also fulfills a very important need to address the often repeated complaint by uninformed Americans that Muslims of America did not condemn the 9/11 terror attacks  strongly enough.  To rebut such false allegations against Muslims, the Fiqh Council of North America issued a fatwa in July 2005, saying “that Islam condemns terrorism, religious radicalism and the use of violence.“ Theis fatwa was later endorsed by more than 200 American Muslim organizations.

It is a befitting way to end this review with Ghazali’s own concluding words:

“American Muslims have a strong sense of optimism and anticipation that the current wave of anti-Islam . . . will recede in due time and they will regain their civic vitality and rejoin the mosaic of other minorities and ethnic groups. The American Muslims will join their predecessors: Japanese Americans, American jews, irish Americans and African Americans who also, in times past, endured national intolerance, social prejudice, and legal injustice” (p-215).

Author's bio: Dr. Abdul Jabbar came to the United States from Pakistan as a Fulbright scholar in 1965. After receiving his master’s and Ph.D. in English from Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, in 1969, he taught English literature and composition and interdisciplinary studies courses for 36 years on a full-time basis at City College of San Francisco, including visiting professorship at University of California, Berkeley. As Chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies for 6 years, he designed and taught several courses, such as Introduction to Islam, American Cultures in Literature and Film, Asian Humanities (focusing on cultures of India, China, Japan, and West Asia), Current Issues and Topics in Pakistan and India, and similar courses.

He received two National Endowment for the Humanities awards.

He has published several articles. His book Reading and Writing with Multicultural Literatureis being used in college-level reading and writing courses.  This book includes selected poems by Omar Khayyam, Ghalib, Iqbal, Tagore, Faiz, and WaseemBarelvi. It also includes selected stories by Saadat Hassan Manto and Khushwant Singh.One of his lectures – “A Mirror to our Faces” --  onKhushwant Singh at an International Sikh Conference was published as a chapter in the book titled Sikh Art and Literature.

At the invitation of a Tunisian university, he went there to offer a series of seminars in March 2012. For humanitarian work, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of Central Asia Institute for 10 years and also served as its Chair from 2009 to 2012. Central Asia Institute is a U.S. charity organization that promotes literacy, especially for women, by opening close to 200 schools in the remote and neglected regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Currently, he teaches literature and Middle Eastern Studies courses at City College as an emeritus professor.